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nickh

Correct Hammer position/ blows

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Hey folks,

 

Looking for a little help. I am finding after forging for a while the muscle on the top of my forearm connected to my elbow (brachioradial) gets sore and can stay that way for days afterwards. I have tried loosening my grip just prior to striking but I think the issue may be in the wind up..

 

Any thoughts / suggestions?

 

Thanks,

 

Nick

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Any thoughts / suggestions?

 I've got a few:

How long have you been forging? What's a while?  How many days a week? How many hours a day? 

 

It could easily take 6+ months for your body to adapt to a new task.

 

Suggestions:  Ice and rest as necessary.

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Thanks for your guidance Billy. I have been forging about 4 months. A while is roughly an hour and half or so and daily or every other day. On closer examination (mimicking my blows with a small hammer and pillow ) I have found I am whipping my  elbow when striking. I am sure this is the source. I should most likely be coming down straight from the shoulder in a smooth motion rather that whipping and twisting from the elbow.

 

NH

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It's all in the wrists brudda, at least for me it is. Me and my dad are built like dwarves. Short and stocky. Seems the larger joints are good for getting the mass moving while the wrist is good for a little boost at the end.

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YOUR muscle pain says to me you're probably gripping to tightly. Loose grip and let your joints do their thing, every one is a force multiplier. I can generate more force in a blow from my elbow than a lot of guys can with a full swing but I have a lot of practice. I crack the hammer head like a whip, very round motion and I hold the handle in a fencing type grip between my thumb and the first metacarpal on my index finger.

 

With this grip the hammer is pretty free to pivot with my thumb and index finger as the pivot point, the outer three snap the handle into your palm a split second before impact. I adapted a fencing grip after taking a 1/2 hour lesson at a ren faire. The motion I use is adapted from a hammer fist, a martial arts blow. It's a long story and took years to develop so it works for me and the people I've taught it to though some folk can't get the feel so I show them a different grip.

 

Anyway, I keep everything as loose and relaxed as I can while still generating as much speed as possible in the hammer. In the martial arts, at the moment of impact you engage every muscle that is inline between the target and your foot that is the blow's main anchor. After the moment of impact I relax my grip so the hammer can recoil from the work and pivot in my hand. This prevents ANY shock from being conducted through my skeleton and joints.

 

When I'm out of shape a couple hours the first couple days is enough or I'll have finger cramps. Cramps tell me two things, first I'm out of shape or not drinking enough water. The second main thing is I'm a little rusty with the technique and gripping the hammer too hard.

 

Learn when you're getting tired and STOP. If it's early in the day a break may do the trick but if it's getting late just knock off, pick up, clean, etc. etc. You will make more mistakes when you're tired, just the diminishing control will leave more and worse hammer marks. It can also cause damage, already you're getting so sore it takes a day or two to heal up. STOP SOONER!!

 

Ice the muscle, 20 mins. max, once an hour for two hours is probably max. someone who KNOWS the correct answer please speak up. If you're sore for two days you might want to start using moist heat, dry rice in an IV bag works a charm followed by ice. 20 mins. max on the ice and don't get the heat pack too hot.

 

Take care of yourself, it's the only body you have.

 

Frosty The Lucky.

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Also, try using a lighter hammer.  A lot of these kind of problems can be caused by using too heavy of a hammer.  I had elbow issues from it, well the other part was an ASO that was like working on a pillow so I had to really put the steam to it. :angry:  For my wooden handles I'll take a wood rasp and rough up the handle to better the grip.

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I second Frosty's advice.   Listen to what your body is telling you.  Any new activity is going to garner protest from the body part you are suddenly taxing that previously had enjoyed a life of relative leisure.  After the initial grumbling, it gets used to it, but PAIN is also a message that you might be doing something totally wrong.  I don't have the strongest wrists (had surgery on both) and when I'm wielding my bigger hammer to flatten something I have to choke up on the hammer and let my forearm do much of the work instead of my wrist.  If your forearm is protesting, as Frosty pointed out maybe some additional wrist action might help?     Soreness is normal when you're taking on a new activity - pain lasting more than a couple days isn't.   And Double Ditto on Frosty's warning to stop when you're tired... learned that lesson a time or two myself.  When I start getting stupid it's time to quit for the day.  Your body will thank you for that decision later. 

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Ice the muscle, 20 mins. max, once an hour for two hours is probably max. someone who KNOWS the correct answer please speak up.

 

I guess that'd be me ;) (for those who don't know, my paying profession has been a Physical Therapist for the past 20 years)

Most of what Frosty said is solid advice. (hmmm....should that be taken as a general statement????)

You can ice 20-30 min an hour all day if you want. After my knee surgery I iced pretty much continuously for 2-3 days until my post operative swelling went down. 

A few times a day is usually plenty for most overuse injuries. In general, when you have pain in a muscle, and you're not using or stretching that muscle, that tells you it's inflammed.  And you should R.I.C.E. inflammation as necessary:

R est

I ce

C ompress

E levate

The last two are usually only necessary in the more severe injuries. 

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Know your body and it's mechanics. Is your anvil, too low or too high ? It had to be right for you and your particular style. Try to get your shoulder as close as possible to being directly over your work. You want to be over the work not two feet away because the reach will kill your arm and create pain such as you described. Also check the shape of your hammer handle, round handles don't let your wrist snap the finish of the swing and by overcoming this resistance you tweek the tendons in you elbow. I have found a modified rectangular shape with rounded corners works well for me. When dealing with respective motion, your body has to be in the right groove to do this type of work repetitively.

Peter

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** Mark Aspery  GO'S way into depth on teaching GOOD hammer control in his first book & I am sure its on U Tube somewhere also

He is one of the Master Smiths that can teach good hammer control & thats not as easy as It sounds It takes watching how you hold the hammer - the swing of it the -strike & the return  done right It will save you body

 

He has 3 books out now WELL worth ANY  price !!! & very well done ! & if you can ever see him you will agree !

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"Blacksmith's elbow" is not something one can "work their way through"; it can just get worse and worse until intervention is required---sometimes surgical intervention! Rest, ice, anti inflammatories, a band to change the perceived tendon attachment point, changing your grip, changing your hammer size and handle size. (read what they suggest for tennis elbow for starters).

Things that cause problems is a too tight grip on the hammer handle that sends all the impact vibration up the tendons and into the arm. A too large of a hammer handle can cause problems---my wife put a thick steering wheel cover on her car's steering wheel and almost had to get her arm operated on till they figured out that taking the cover off resolved the issue! So rasping down the handle so you can hold it without stretching your fingers, helps. Using handles with terminal bulbs---so a loose grip doesn't make you feel that the hammer can slip out of your hand can help. Beeswax (or pine tar) and the handle cam make it tacky so you feel like you don't have to grip it so tightly to control it. Not forcing a larger hammer's use. Warming up: I tend to use a lighter hammer to start and then when warmed up switch to a heavier and then as I tire back to a lighter one. I used to use my 1500gm swedish cross peen for quite delicate work as I had the control to do so---then decided that showing off wasn't worth the damage to my arm---now I'll switch to a delicate hammer to do delicate work... etc and so on.

What works best for one person may not for you; try a variety of things till you find the one(s) that gets you forging without damaging yourself!

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Hofi's ergonomic hammer method works well for lots of people, I use it some when I can remember to... Body position is important you should be close enough to the anvil that you aren't flapping away at your work way out in front of you. Don't flap your elbow like a chicken wing. If you need more umph, raise the hammer higher, accelerate it over a longer distance, and let the hammer do ALL the work. Your hand accelerates the hammer head, and you are guiding it to the point of impact, then catch it on the rebound and get it up and start to accelerate again, DONT drive the hammer into the work and keep pushing, it doesn't get you more work done it gets you hurt... don't grip too hard, Don't Grip TOO Hard, DONT GRIP TOO HARD...  Go to Hammer-ins, and conferences observe guys who can move metal effectively, and ask for help from someone close enough to see what you are doing wrong. Don't push past your endurance, when you are tired stop. Fatigue often creates bad habits and bad technique.  WHILE YOU ARE LEARNING IT IS CRUTIAL, to practice ONLY GOOD Technique. If you program good technique into your brain, that's what you will get out of your body... Get sloppy, get hurt... Think, THINK, THINK.  Most of the time the hammer should oscillate within a plain parallel to your body, with your shoulder and hand in the plain. Use the whip action of your wrist and handle to get the most out of the hammer.  Let the hammer do the work, pull it faster, don't push it harder.  That's all just the technique advice... 

 

Hammers

Try for a little while to use the lightest hammer you can use to get the job done effectively. It is easier to get a RSI from a heavier hammer.  Try some of the handle modifications suggested...  Slightly flattened oval, or a rounded flattened hexagon.  Experiment with long handles on light hammers, and shorter handles on your heavier handles. You will still need to use the handle as a lever arm to get the most out of your hammer, but that lever works both ways...  Holding a hammer at the end of a long handle with a heavier head is going to put tremendous strain on those tendons that are giving you such pain.  I lamed myself one June 15-20 years ago shoeing too many horses and working on a project with a 4# rounding hammer and I would work to failure, didn't do ANY fun forging for 4 months or better, and wore bands on my arms for a couple of years. You don't want osteo arthritis, and you definitely don't want rheumatoid arthritis

 

Remember Wisdom is the ability to learn from someone else's mistakes WITHOUT having to make them yourself...

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I started blacksmithing again after some 55 years so my physical condition is not great but I have zero problems. My advice is similar to that given by other more experienced men but I formulate it differently: Whatever I do - Blacksmithing, gardening, carpentry you name it - I do it in a comfortable way and the tool does the work not me.

I make sure that the anvil is of the right height, that I can stand comfortably in front of it, that the hammer handle feels right (bought oval or home made rounded rectangular). that the hammer is not too heavy but the heaviest that feels good. Doing this makes it possible to swing the hammer effortlessly with natural movements and a light grip but with sufficient control. If it feels right it probably is right. The swing of the hammer involves the whole body but it is the hammer that does the work.

 

This is not unlike what the swordsman Musashi says about swordsmanship. To mentally lock on using a special joint in the arm is probably wrong. When moving Iron I usually hit 3-5 times and then turn and/or observe the result. During that micropause I hit the anvil beside the work piece to get an effortless rebound and to keep the rhythm. I was told by an old smith who did the same that this rebound hit helped loosening tensions in the arm. I do not know if he was right but it feels right so I do it.

Right anvil height to me means the height that makes the hammer hit flat in an effortless swing - to me about an inch higher than the traditional knuckle height.

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Good call on the anvil height Gote... I am very particular about anvil height, and am embarrassed I neglected that in my post;-)

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Ok SJS... I've decided to take your advice and try to find help before learning bad habits. At the moment I don't have any habits (good or bad) as far as hammer technique is concerned... I just hope I can find some help soon, I'm itching to beat the crap out of hot stuff!

-DM

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Ok... I hit some hot stuff for the first time today.... Boy do I need hammer technique! I didn't hurt myself, but I didn't do myself any favors either. I was surprised at how inefficient my hammer blows were. I tried to not grip too tight, and tried to "let the hammer do the work" but I just don't have any of those muscles yet (the ones in my head that tell my shoulder, elbow and wrist how to implement what I'm thinking). I was almost on target every time and I successfully made a taper on a 1/2" square bar (ABANA's Hand Controlled Forging: Lesson 1)... Wasn't exactly pretty, but hey, I'd never done that before! Hopelessly addicted now...

I can certainly see how, without mentorship on hammer technique, one could build bad habits and cause injuries, fatigue and even long-term damage. So what to do? I doubt there are any YouTube videos that can help - are there? I know I should find someone locally who knows what they're doing and get some help. I'll look for someone over 50 who can still hold a cup of coffee with his hammer hand and not require assistance! Oh, and someone who can produce work that doesn't look like it fell off a truck at high speed.

I hate to say this, but I'm going to hang up the hammer(that I just picked up a couple hours ago) until I can find a mentor.... I'd rather keep my mobility than satisfy my anxious need to pound steel.

Waiting is gonna suck!

-DM

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Welcome to the active section DM! How heavy is that hammer? It's not uncommon for a newcomer to try using too heavy a hammer.

 

The #1 thing to learn is control, power and weight can come later. A 16oz ball pein is a practice hammer I've had a couple students practice with. Rule 1 of practice never, NEVER air hammer, always hit something with the hammer trying to stop a hammer in swing WILL damage you. Okay, here's the exercise I came up with for kids who couldn't set up a forge at home. Set a 4"x4" on end at the correct height. I recommend between knuckle and wrist height when standing relaxed beside it. It can be set in the ground, a bucket of sand or make a stand for it, doesn't matter so long as it's stable. Now, get a package of 6d finish nails. Start a nail. Drive the nail. When you can drive it in one blow turn the hammer around and repeat the exercise with the pein.

 

This exercise will give you practical hands on muscle memory practice. You'll have to learn to drive straight down the nail shaft or it'll bend over. Driving with the pein will give you practical "pinpoint" accuracy and a 16oz. hammer is light enough to take some power to make one blow drives.

 

Do you fly fish? Spin cast? That circular, crack the whip motion is the same one I use to get power to my hammer. It's also the same technique to keep your grip relaxed without throwing the hammer across the shop. We all throw a hammer across the shop now and then or used to anyway. I taper handles wider from the head to the knob end which makes it a pure reflex reaction to tighten the grip if the hammer starts to slip. Anyway, don't sweat the occasional hammer throw, it's usually a sign you've pushed into a fatigue state a bit much. Sometimes it's a product of too much focus.

 

Another exercise for the 4x4 and ball pein is learning YOUR anvil height. Give it a good smack and examine the dent. It should be circular and even depth all round. If it's shallow on one side it tells you your blow isn't parallel with the impact face. If it's shallow towards you, in line with the handle, it's "toeing" meaning the anvil is too low. If it's "healing," shallow on the far side aligned with the handle, the anvil is too high. If it's shallow at 90* of the handle closer to you, your rotating the handle "IN". If it's shallow at 90* away, it's "OUT," you're rotating the handle away from you or out.

 

With practice you will reflexively correct for minor changes in impact height, every time you strike the steel it gets thinner so if we couldn't auto correct we wouldn't be able to do much with hammer and anvil. Heck we probably wouldn't have invented anvils.

 

That's probably enough for now.

 

Frosty The Lucky.

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Frosty... Great ideas! First off, my hammer is nothing fancy, just a Craftsman 2lb cross-pien. I've dressed it to take out the share corners on the pien and cleaned up the face with a smooth flat striking surface a little larger than a quarter with a very shallow chamfer out to the edge of the head.

I can already drive just about any size nail into most wood with a single blow - never occurred to me to try it with the pien to improve accuracy... As for the height, I've already set that pretty accurately. The top of my anvil is right at the top of my first thumb knuckle and when the hammer is lying on the face with the handle straight out my arm is at rest and not under or over extended.

As for fly fishing... I fly fish like the wind! Unfortunately, my ex-wife got my fly rig in the divorce 20 years ago - she now looks more like a Royal Coachman herself - and although I miss my rig, I'm happy about her aesthetic demise...

I'll have to read your post again to try and associate the whip effect with a hammer strike. I'm filling up a bucket with sand and cutting a 4x4 as soon as I get done with this post.. I'm also kinda out of shape - could have aot to do with it - but I have yet to succumb to aesthetic demise. :)

Thanks again for the advice!

-DM

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Another exercise for the 4x4 and ball pein is learning YOUR anvil height. Give it a good smack and examine the dent. It should be circular and even depth all round. If it's shallow on one side it tells you your blow isn't parallel with the impact face. If it's shallow towards you, in line with the handle, it's "toeing" meaning the anvil is too low. If it's "healing," shallow on the far side aligned with the handle, the anvil is too high. If it's shallow at 90* of the handle closer to you, your rotating the handle "IN". If it's shallow at 90* away, it's "OUT," you're rotating the handle away from you or out.

 

 

 

Frosty,

 

This is so much like trying to correct a golf swing it's scary! I never could play golf - although I think a good lesson from golf is the whole thing about letting the club do the work... I would always try to swing a club like a baseball bat because I wanted to "he-man" the ball downrange...  found out that a proper swing gets you farther downrange than forcing an unnatural connection to the ball with brute force.

 

I still can't play golf to save my hide - but that's ok, I only took up golf to get on my ex-wife's fathers' good side...  turns out I don't care much about that anymore and he can go chase little balls all over a 500 acre lawn until he drops - should probably take that overweight daughter of his with him as a caddy!   :blink:

 

-DM

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Frosty,

 

This is so much like trying to correct a golf swing it's scary! I never could play golf - although I think a good lesson from golf is the whole thing about letting the club do the work... I would always try to swing a club like a baseball bat because I wanted to "he-man" the ball downrange...  found out that a proper swing gets you farther downrange than forcing an unnatural connection to the ball with brute force.

 

I still can't play golf to save my hide - but that's ok, I only took up golf to get on my ex-wife's fathers' good side...  turns out I don't care much about that anymore and he can go chase little balls all over a 500 acre lawn until he drops - should probably take that overweight daughter of his with him as a caddy!   :blink:

 

-DM

 

EXACTLY! I always wanted to try golf but never got around to it. I like the idea of being able to direct the ball in 3D over distance but I don't have to find the bullets to take another shot. <grin>

 

Anyway, yes, it's the snap, not the muscle that does the real work. A baseball bat drives farther with snap than muscle, so does a pool stick, a pick, a machete, a two knuckle punch, or . . .

 

Right about now I'm sort of glad Deb's ex passed away.

 

Frosty The Lucky.

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I found this... It's not much but is good info: http://www.americanfarriers.com/file_open.php?id=284
Luckily, I have some major computer skills... I think I'm going to do some motion capture of hammer strikes, try to get a handle on the kinesiology and maybe post a video or two on the subject. High-speed camera would be nice, but it don't have an extra $20K laying around.... Going to see what I can get with what I've got. I'll need some of you folks (Frosty) to chime in on what I find. I also have some cool tech toys to record strike pressure and angle. I used them on a project for a hospital some years back to evaluate walking and running impacts. I'm no kinesiologist - but we're smart enough to gain something from collecting information on hammering... IMHO

-DM

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DM,  Also taking a video of your own hammer striking will help you see where your elbow really is, not where you think it is. 

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