Saturday, July 19, 2014

a bit about HAMMERS

(edited from an e-mail)

Although you can make due with almost anything, precision requires control, and hammers are pretty individual. This is primarily due to the dynamics of the human body. Those who have seen me know I am tall, thin and relatively light framed (5 ft 11 / 155 lbs). This usually means a more balanced head shape, and a longer, typically thinner handle.

The weights are also important. For most lighter weight forging, a 800 gm (1 1/2 lb) is going to be most useful (and desirable). For the heavier work (really much over 1/2 square bar) a 1000 gm (2  lb) is going be required.
I personally find a 1.5 kg (2 lb) a bit heavy, although if the design is good, can manage it with care.
' Impact energy of a stroke is mass times velocity '. Leaving mass penetration aside, with my lighter frame, I tend to use a lighter hammer moving faster, with more stokes and the ability for better control. (I have seen over the years, too many people, especially the hobby smith, will use much too heavy a hammer. Then complain that their elbow hurts! ' It don't matter how hard you can hit - if you miss! ' )

Typically, any smith will have one hammer which is their primary. Then a couple more they use for more specialized forming. And then a pile of hammers they virtually NEVER use. 
A useful piece of advise : Don't rush out and buy an expensive hammer just as you start. Best is to try a number of different profiles, to find one that best suits you personally., * Then * spend the money for what will likely become your primary forging hammer. (A good quality hammer can easily run $75 +) There is no significant reason not to just purchase 'cheaper' hammers - for those you only rarely use anyway.

Check and see if you have any local sources for 'cheap' hammers. Surplus stores and 'low end tool' places can often be a good source.  We can get some square faced cross peens in Ontario that come in from China. While I am * not * in favour of Chinese tools in general, these run less than $10 around here and are acceptable quality, especially as 'seldom used' hammers. 'Twin Swallows' is one brand name.

'Historic - Square'
These are both Chinese square faces, in the classic cross peen shape
These used to come with very poor quality wooden handles (which you basically want to replace with proper ash handles). Then for a while they came with fibreglass as seen. The fibreglass is not ideal, but actually better than what ever crap wood they once used. Lately, these come with * plastic * handles, which is virtually impossible to use. (Every stroke seems to bounce the return into a different direction - very difficult to control!) Balance that against the cost, $8 here last I bought one.
The heads are made of a basic quality mid carbon steel.
I will buy these, take off the handles *, and re-forge the heads to make other shapes. The second hammer is one such, re-shaped to replicate the shape of hammer found in the Mastermyr tool find (Gotland, Norse, c 1150)

'Round Face'
Here are two 'antique' hammers, one at 1 1/2, the other at 2 lbs. This style was common here for farriers in the early 20th. The weight is fairly central to the handle, and they are reasonably evenly balanced, front to rear. The faces are fairly wide, and typically the peen is quite broad. You do have to keep your eyes open, but around here at least there is a fairly good supply of these. Typical prices are about $20 - $25 each.

This is a 1000 gm size (for comparison), with a kind of 'semi octagonal' head shape. The peen is medium to sharp. I find this specific hammer quite balanced and easy to control. I got a number of these, an end of lot from a closing factory here in Eastern Ontario. 

This is  * my * hammer. I've been told it is a German Engineer's Hammer, produced in the inter war period. I have only ever seen one other one in all my years smithing and travelling. This is an 800 gm, I must do at least 80 % of my forge work with this hammer - and have been using it some 30 plus years at this point. (Surprise is that I got this at a yard sale for all of $8, completely at random - just as I was starting to get serious about blacksmithing.)

* Home Hardware (here in Canada) sells a " 16" Blacksmith's Hammer " handle. Get your local to check their inventory, they likely will have to order them in for you. (And keep a spare in the shop!) Cost is about $7. These are an excellent straight grained ash or hicory. They have the required oval eye (not square like a carpenter's hammer). Do remove the varnish (prevents blisters) and re- shape the handle to thin it out below the head. (Better to break a handle than put extra shock into your elbow!) You can see I wrap some hockey tape around the shaft below the eye - this is to protect the wood if I miss when forging elaborate curves around the far side of the horn. (We all miss * sometimes * !)

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

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