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I Forge Iron

Hammering Technique

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First, I had to learn from an older fellow from the old country who learned his trade from master smiths. When I was told to do something a particular way, it wasn't because he was fashioning me in his mold; it was because the Craft of the Blacksmith has been around for at least three-thousand years and the kinks have been worked out. I had to start my apprenticeship with a 2kg (4.4#) hammer, and use it for a full day every day. I have never, ever wore a sissy band, nor taken drugs or alcohol to deal with any discomfort (and I ain't tough). :D
Now, make the hammer handle fit your hand. If after a while it does not feet EXACTLY right, remove the handle and re-shape it again.
Next, get rid of your death grip on the handle, the hammer is your friend, and if you ask it nicely it will do your bidding. Grip firmly with the thumb and first two fingers, the last two fingers will be used to accelerate the hammer as you swing.
Here is the controversial part for every blacksmith: anvil height - set the height of the anvil at the height where the hammer face is dead horizontal WITH THE AVERAGE THICKNESS OF THE MATERIAL YOU WILL BE COMMONLY USING AND YOUR BACK SLIGHTLY BENT OVER, YOUR KNEES SLIGHTLY FLEXEDAND YOUR ARM EXTENDED AT THE END OF ITS POWER. This is different for each and every person, as we all differ slightly in body height and proportion. If you are five feet tall and work primarily on 3" thick iron, the anvil may only be up to my knees (I am 6'2" tall), if you are an ex pro NBA player and only work on sheet metal, most of us may never see the top of the anvil.
Learn how to swing a hammer. Keep your feet almost together, as it is easier to move around; there's only two things you can ever do with a wide stance - play center for the GreenBay Packers, and answer nature's call. Imagine your body as a whip, the strike has to start at your feet with your body straightening up, the arm moving up as well, then whole body contributing to the swing, the bottom two fingers adding to the acceleration of the hammer. DON'T FORGET TO STAND UP IN BETWEEN EACH STRIKE.
I have taught many smiths. I have even taught some accomplished smiths how to swing a hammer in order to correct the very problem everyone describes.
Why is it that the two things done the most in blacksmithing recieve the least attention? Hammering and managing a fire. :x

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Maybe this doesn't relate much to hammer control but the talk of hammers reminded me of this incident. I began blacksmithing like a lot of us have and a lot more of should by getting in with a crowd of them in a guild or association. Admittedly I was pretty green but really keen. One of the old smiths that had been at it for more years than he wanted to admit struck up a conversation with 'the new bloke' He asked what I did for a living. I told him I'd been in the land surveying game since I was fourteen. He obviously had a two things on his mind. The first was the direction he would like the club to go in and the second that if you hadn't spent all your life as a blacksmith there was very little you could offer the group. To him, surveying was as far removed from 'real work' as you could get. I didn't like where he was heading, especially in the way he asked whether or not I could swing a hammer.

Having had enough of this grumpy old bloke I went out to the ute, grabbed a fourteen pounder and a couple of survey pegs...fourteen inches long 2" square. I then went in and grabbed this bloke and took him out to a well worn gravel pathway. Three hits and the peg was flush with the top of the path with not a scar on it. I then gave him the other peg and the hammer. He never spoke to me in such a derogatory manner again. But I didn't win.

For sure I'd won his respect but that only meant he knew who to ask if he needed a reliable striker! :wink:

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Something that I have found to reduce fatigue is a "livley " hammer handle, By that I mean flexible. Quartersawn red oak is good, laminated Bamboo is better ( think high quality fly-fishing rod ). Stiff handles tend to transmit the shock of the blow all the way up you arm. Think about the cross section of your hammer handles, its usualy round or a pregnant oval shape . Now hold your hand in front of the computer monitor , now make a fist like you are holding a "INVISIBLE HAMMER" do you see anywhere that is concave ? I didn't think so. So why are the hammer handles in the store big fat and round ? And why does it take a death grip to control them properly? I hand carve my hammer handles to a modified thin octagon shape, this keeps them from twisting in my grip and helps reduce fatigue, because I just gently close my hand around them . they look something like this: (Pardon my " drawing " )
.......... /-----------
............. _____/

Of course you may find that a different style of handle suits you better , but if you are suffering this may help. Just because they sell hammer handles in the stores with a round profile, dosent mean it's the best shape for a hammer handle, all that means is that its cheaper to make them that way!!!!!!!!!!
Bamboo and oak hammer handles in this octagon style are comercialy available for smaller hammers ( less than 3 lbs ) from www.japanwoodworker.com they also sell an awesome hand forged Japanese style blacksmith hammer with all of the weight concentrated forward in the head. this makes for almost effortless work. All you have to do is lift the hammer and aim the blow. Those of you with "blacksmith's elbow" might find this style of hammer a god-send. Well that's my $0.02 on hammer handles

PS I just found this forum today, Glad to know it's here!

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'Tis interesting how we all have a different opinion. I pity the poor fellow who has to decide which is the best one to follow. And here's mine.

OWF, The idea of the direction of the growth rings is at odds with mine by 90 degrees. My theory is that the bending strength of a length of wood is greater parallel to the growth rings. Your idea says that the handle is more "lively" and I take that to mean wore whippy if the rings are cross ways. That seems very reasonable and I might give it a go on my next handle. But as with anything there is a compromise. May I suggest that your compromise is in the strength of handle and if we are offereing suggestions to a novice who's aim might not win him a dart comp yet, strength in the handle could well be an important consideration.

All that notwithstanding I mightn't win a dart comp in a million years but my aim at the anvil is good enough (yes...self praise is no recommendation) and based on your experience and the way I swing a hammer I will definitely give the cross ways growth rings a go. Thanks for the tip.

Also when ever I'm down the hardware shop I look at the handles. The number of handles that would fit either your or my criteria amount to about 2%. Some boffin has decided that all handles should have diagonal rings. Is that the compromise between lateral and logitudinal rings? :wink:

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I used to practice traditional archery and the general consensus was that the growth rings in the wooden arrow should be perpendicular to the bow to have to most spine or stiffness. In other words, if the bow is held vertically, the rings would be on a horizontal plane. This makes no difference once the arrow is gone but sufficient spine is required when it'is loosed or the shot may be errant. What does this have to do with hammer handles - only the growth ring comparison... :lol:

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My point wasn't about the anular growth rings of the wood, but the shape of the handle. It should fit YOUR hand. My "drawing " wasn't that clear, I had to put the dashes ( that look like anular grrowth rings )because when you post to the forum the "code" dosen't recognise blank spaces. I had to put something in there. think of it this way : If you were to take a chunk of wet clay about the same size as a hammer handle, Give it a good squeeze till your thumb overlaps your index and pointer fingernails. Now look at the lump of clay, its a perfect mold of your hand ! Just get out your whittlin Knife and make an old hammer handle look like the same contour as that lump of clay you just squeezed. You might be plesantly surprised by how comfortable this is. :D

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Mr Oakwoodforge:

You can draw anything you want in Paint or similar sketching program and load it to the gallery as a picture. Then imbed the picture in your post by using the Img button in the editor you used to enter your message here. One problem with ASCII pictures is that each user has different settings on their screen which can distort your intention past recognizable.

A caution I have with being over-zealous in shaping the handle is that I tend to use the entire length of the handle at one time or another, depending on what I do. So I try to make the whole handle friendly. With that in mind, the store-bought shapes really aren't that bad; they are just too oval.

Daryl: I was surprised that you feel insufficient attention is paid to hammering and fire management. I sorta thought we were getting inundated with these two topics, and too little attention was paid to forging itself. For instance, if you read woodworking magazines, I bet you'd have to work pretty hard to find articles on the correct techniques for hand-sawing and hammering. But you would find the journals teeming with information on how to do classy joins and complex wooden structures. About every other demo I've seen for quite a few years, the demonstrator shows something about hammer control, the fire, and his preference for tools. My guess is that each hammer handle and preference has something unique to each individual and we all feel strongly that we have the right answer.

This is a good thing, of course. I'm just saying I think sometimes we should get on with it; use the excellent fire management and well-shaped tools to make things.

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As far as grain in the handle goes, if you look at all the old splitting mauls and sledge handles that last..... all have the grain in the same direction of the strike.
As far as impact reducing or absorbing handles... that still doesn't cure the problem. One might as well throw pillows under the anvil to soften that part of the impact! :x Learning correct technique does not always come naturally, and for some it takes dilligence AND either someone who can critique your form or video tape yourself and see what is happening. Me, I can't sing or dance and I'm too fat to fly; though I am sure that if I took enough lessons, I might sing or dance okay, but even with dieting and helium underwear I won't fly. We all have attributes which may make it easier or harder to do something; we do have to work at it.
If anyone has learned martial arts or studied the philosophy of Bruce Lee, 'Absorb what is useful (for you), do not forget what did not work for you.'
Also, for those of you in the SCA, you should understand that holding a hammer is the same as holding a sword.
Regarding incorrect hammering because you did it this way or that way - correct the problem if it isn't right or working for you. ie: If you come home one night and kick your dog, is it right? So does it become right if you do it for ten years?
Lastly, when hammering DON'T CLENCH YOUR TEETH OR HOLD YOUR BREATH! (It's okay if you catch yourself once in a while, I still do from time to time.)

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