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Blacksmithing Hammers

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IForgeIron Lessons in Blacksmithing
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LB0004 Blacksmithing Hammers


Blacksmiths use many different hammers, hand hammers, foot operated hammers, motorized hammers, steam hammers, pneumatic hammers, and others. As you are just starting, we will discuss hand hammers.

These are NOT hammers. You may sometimes see them being used as hammers, but that is both wrong and dangerous. They are NOT hammers, and should not be used as such.

This is a carpenters hammer not a blacksmiths hammer. It will work but is not recommended.

A ball peen hammer or machinists hammer is a much better choice for starting out in blacksmithing. There is usually one somewhere in most garages, at flea markets, or junk stores. Most people will want a hammer with a head that weighs 1-1/2 to 2 pounds.

While your looking for the ball peen, see if you can locate a mini-sledge, again with about a 2 pound head weight.

A cross peen hammer (top hammer in both photos) has the peen cross ways (90 degrees) to the direction of the handle. The straight peen (bottom hammer in both photos) has the peen in the same direction as the handle. Either one with a head weight of about 2 pounds or less is what most blacksmiths use.

The peen may be of different shapes but all three of the above are still called cross peen hammers. The bottom hammers are Hofi hammers, one cast type, one forged type.

This peen is turned 45 degrees to the right and is called a slash peen, or diagonal peen, or right handed diagonal peen.

This peen is turned 45 degrees to the left and is called a slash peen, or diagonal peen, or left handed diagonal peen.

Here you can see the left handed diagonal peen, cross peen and right handed diagonal peen.

The difference in use is the blacksmith being right handed with the hammer in the right hand, they still have the ability to see where the hammer is hitting the work. If they were to use a left handed diagonal peen, the peen would block their view of the work.

The hammer shown are ball peen, left handed diagonal peen, straight peen, cross peen and right handed diagonal peen.

How to hold the hammer

You should grip the wooden handle in such a way it is comfortable to you, thumb down and against or close to your fingernails. If you take a couple practice swings in the air, you will find the distance from the hammer head that is comfortable to you.

You need just enough grip on the handle to keep it in your hand when you swing the hammer. The shoulder, arm, and wrist are all involved in the swing. Keep the elbow next to your side. As you gain more control of the hammer, you will adjust the distance between the hammer head and the grip point. Many times only an inch or so makes a large difference in comfort.

Hammer control

One of the things you need to learn is hammer control. That means how to hold the hammer, and how to hit where you want the hammer to hit. Start 5 or so nails in a block of wood. How take your hammer and hit each nail one time. Continue hitting one nail at a time while you vary the pattern. Practice is what makes the hammer go where you want and hit where you want.

With a pencil, put 5 or more random X's on a piece of pine sheeting or other soft wood. Place the board on the face of your anvil. Now hit each X one time with the hammer. You should see a pattern to the imprints in the wood. A crescent means you do not have a square hit. Crescent at 12 o'clock means the board (anvil face) is too low, at 6 o'clock means the board (anvil face) is too high, left or right is how you hold and or swing the hammer. Your objective is a circular impression with the X in the middle.

This is not a one time project, but a practice that you should do until you gain hammer control. It is also a good way to check the height of the anvil and how you hold your hammer. Use the wood at the beginning of the forge session and again at the end. Compare the impressions. Make changes in your technique if needed.

The Hofi hammer Technique is covered by the following Blueprints.

BP1001 Hofi Hammer Technique
BP1002 Hofi Hammer Technique
BP0344 Hammer Technique

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  1. A good, overall discussion. To my eye, the picture below the hand sledge shows a large cold cut, a tool of indirect percussion. The two hammers with the thin peens (above Hofi's) are Warrington hammers used by woodworkers. The small nail is held between finger and thumb and the peen gets in between to set the nail. Once set, it can be driven home without holding on. However, thinned peens have other uses for the smith. One is when rolling up an unwelded hinge barrel over a mandrel, the thin peen is handy to tuck in the barrel edge to complete the barrel shape.
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