Wednesday, February 28, 2018


The topic of hammers in blacksmithing is both fundamental - and often contentious.

Individual smiths will almost certainly favour a certain style and weight for their personal forging hammer. Typically there will be just one hammer that they will use for the majority of their work.
Now, hammer style, handle and weight most often will reflect back to body shape and size. These factors in turn will affect the physical motion dynamic used by the smith.

As you might guess - all these elements, merging an influencing each other as they do, makes the selection and use of a personal hammer a very complex choice.

I maintain there is no such thing as a single 'best' hammer.
Unfortunately, there has been a trend over the last decade to 'designer hammers'. Often promoted by those deemed to be 'famous' (who often make and sell that unique type). The dominance of YouTube as an information source has accelerated this.

Let's look at some hammers:

the group, roughly the same scale - (see at '1/2 life' when clicked)
You will notice that all of these have the handles fitted up in a uniform way, and marked with a loop of green tape. These are 'Dad's Hammers' - my personal tools, NOT to be used by students. (Each anvil / toolbox in the shop is colour coded, primarily to match hardie tools to the various hardie hole sizes.)
More on handle adjustments later.

I personally favour a round faced hammer. Many smiths prefer a square, or rectangular face.
I will suggest that a square face will provide a very definite 'line' when you dig the edges into a strike. This can be an advantage if you are attempting to work in tight to a corner. Personally, I find that most of the time, what you naturally will create is a diagonal cut on to the bar - potentially creating more distortions than helpful effect. A round face will allow you to make any edge the front - just by simple (slight!) rotation of your wrist. Do note here that my own working style makes considerable use of the edges to pinch and push the metal around as it is formed.

On the images below, a click will give you life sized versions:

Group 1 - Round Faced
The top hammer is my primary working hammer.
• 800 gms (marked) / 1 3/4 lb / 28 oz
• I have been told that this is a 'German Engineer's' hammer from some time in the 1920's or 30's. (not sure if this is true?)
• I purchased this hammer at a yard sale about 1985, for about $8 - but...
• In all my years I have only seen one other exactly like it. I do about 80% of all my forge work with this hammer. I consider it absolutely irreplaceable!

Middle *
• 700 gms / 1 1/2 lb / 24 oz
'Antique' Farrier's hammer, from the first half of 1900's
• I purchased this hammer used, at a tool swap, about 2000, for $22
• Note the extra wide cross peen

• 700 gm / 1 1/2 lb / 24 oz
• 'Antique' Mechanics / Engineer's cross peen, also likely from earlier 1900's
• I purchased this hammer used, at a tool swap, about 2000, for $22
• I had purchased this one as a back up for my main hammer, when I started actually wearing through the case hardened surface (!)

Group 2 - Square Faced

• 800 gms (marked) / 1 3/4 lb / 28 oz
• 'Swedish' pattern
• I purchased this hammer just as the head, paid about $35, then added the handle.
• Note how sharp / aggressive the cross peen is here.
Also how much of the mass is to the forward, face side.

Bottom *
• 800 gms (marked) / 1 3/4 lb / 28 oz
• 'Ancient' pattern (sometimes called 'American')
I have seen the virtually identical shape and sized head, made in polished stone, dated back to roughly 3500 BC (from Egypt, for working copper!)
• This is one of the series of 'Twin Swallows' brand from China. I paid $8 for it (about 1995). The original imports had bad junk wood handles, the short lived fiberglass where actually better. Now available with (horrible!) plastic handles, these cost about $10.

Group 3 - Crowned Round face
Top *
• 710 gm (marked) / 1 1/2 lb+ / 25 oz
• 'Italian' Ball Peen
• Currently available via Princess Auto, $23 (1)
• I consider this an excellent hammer all round - which out performs its lighter weight = better control, for smaller diameter stock sizes

• 800 gms / 1 3/4 lb / 28 oz
• Crowned / Flat
• I paid about $35 for this hammer
• I find the crowned side here slightly more aggressive than the one below

Bottom *
• 800 gms / 1 3/4 lb / 28 oz
• 'Diamond' Crowned / Flat
• widely available, typically cost about $ 65 (check Professional Farriers)
• although a perfectly balanced, lighter and easily controlled hammer, I personally find the handle too short for my long arm length.

Other Types - Retangular Faced
This group of hammers I purchased as examples - I don't actually work with these.

• 1600 gm (marked) / 3 lbs - / 45 oz
• 'French' pattern
• typically more expensive (plus $60), I found this one used for about $35.
• Note the amount of mass to the face side of the handle line.
I personally find that although this hammer strikes hard, it also puts a huge amount of strain on the elbow as it flips forward on the down part of a swing.

• 1000 gm / 2.2 lbs / 35 oz
• 'Hofi' style
• (this a cheap knock off!) I purchased this for about $35 ('real' ones cost +$100)
• the working style for this type of hammer is radically different than the classic 'European' methods. The hammer is perfectly balanced, and you drop it, rather than swing it

• 900 gm / 2 lb / 32 oz
• 'Hand Sledge' - set up with one flat and one slightly crowned face
• easily found at cut rate tool / surplus stores, usually run about $10 - $15 (although these days often with plastic handles)

You will notice that the majority of these hammers are in the lighter weight class, bracketing about 800 gm.
Although working style most certainly will modify the effectiveness of this size, I personally find for metal stock sizes up to about 5/8 diameter, no more weight / force is required.
Those types marked ( * ) are ones that I also own samples in the next heavier class - in the range of 1000 gms.

Further Related postings to come?
• Handles
• How to Hit

(1) At time of this posting - these are on sale at 50% off - a steal at $11.50 each!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I have an old friend (and good blacksmith) who contends that he does everything with a four pound hammer because he “…has control.”
I counter that I use a variety of hammers based on the job at hand and my physical condition. At least in the 20th and 21st centuries, hammers are relatively cheap and plentiful, whereas surgery on muscles and tendons and joints is expensive and messy and painful.
On the other claw, our late friend, Master Finnr, could do more and better work with fewer tools than anyone I have ever met. The secret to efficient work, as ever, is a balance of the right tools for the right jobs.


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

COPYRIGHT NOTICE - All posted text and images @ Darrell Markewitz.
No duplication, in whole or in part, is permitted without the author's expressed written permission.
For a detailed copyright statement : go HERE