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Bringing High-Tech to Blacksmithing

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As a novice blacksmith, I've found the one fundamental skills that is not well explained - hammer technique and control. I've begun bringing my high-tech skills to bare on this problem and would like to merge what I know well and your experience to more fully understand the mechanics of the hammer strike.

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The key principles for hammer control seem straight forward and have been explained by Frosty and others in ways that make sense. Don't grip too tight, involve your wrist and practice!

However, like most of you, I'm a scientist at heart and have a need to understand the mechanical details - I don't want to over analyze, but I do want to know more about the physics and kinesiology of the hammer strike.

Last night I built a rig with an accelerometer to sample forces at the anvil. It's very cool to see my hammer strikes recorded in G-force and in 3 dimensions... Just trying different hammer holds or applying different amounts of force reveals a wide variety of impact information. If I combine this information with video - and have input from experienced smiths, there's no telling how much we can all get (mostly us nube's) out of it.

Tech without guidance is just information. I can (and have) read a lot about Blacksmithing - but that doesn't compare to expetiencing it myself. So I'd like your ideas on how the information I'm collecting might be used with your knowledge and experience.

Thanks!

-DM

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It would take an incredibly sophisticated "simulator" to begin to measure all the "nuance" that goes into skillful Hammer Control.

 

Quite often, you find yourself using "stroking" blows, ... rather than perpendicular "striking", ... and striking with the face of the Hammer at a variety of angles, rather than "flat", or "square" to the surface of the Anvil.

 

 

 

.

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Tech without guidance is just information.

 

And so the tradition of direct transmission from master to apprentice.  Of course, most of us don't have that kind of experience and often have to figure it out ourselves, or through discussion.  That's why meeting other smiths is the general advice for those new to it.

 

This wouldn't be the first time blacksmithing has been used to further scientific research: Charles M. Keller and Janet Dixon Keller, Cognition and Tool Use: The Blacksmith At Work (Cambridge University Press, 2008).  "The cognitive realm of blacksmithing is of particular interest because it relies on visual imagery and physical virtuosity rather than verbal logic, the conventional yardstick of cognition."

 

Data about forces would be useful for what happens to joints for different swinging techniques, and for the forces applied to the metal with regards to effficiency, etc.  It wouldn't replace hands-on experience, but it's good knowledge and worth knowing, I think.  To be comprehensive, though, it would need a lot of information, ideally from multiple smiths, etc.  Got to start somewhere, though.

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Very good points... I'm not attempting to build a simulator - I'm recording real time forces at the anvil - mostly for my own study at this point - combining the forces recorded with video could capture those nuances (other than head-on strikes). That's very cool...

I also really like that quote: "The cognitive realm of blacksmithing is of particular interest because it relies on visual imagery and physical virtuosity rather than verbal logic, the conventional yardstick of cognition."

Nothing can ever replace the apprenticeship process - and Blacksmithing can't only be a scientific pursuit... Some of us just don't have any link to a master blacksmith except through books, videos and of course IFI. So, for me I have to fend for myself a lot... which is ok... I do like the idea of figuring out the details... Maybe I should change me handle from DigitalMechanic to ForgingNerd :)

-DM

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I was a test engineer in a past life, and enjoy instrumenting things just to see what is really going on.  I'm curious to see your setup.  It sounds as if you are using a tri-axial accelerometer, and if so I'd like to see what the non-normal forces look like.

 

I don't know that you can ever equate the accel data to metal movement, but I think it is a neat and harmless way to get some feel for how changing your hammer strokes changes the total energy in the equation which is what it sounds like you are after. 

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DigitalMechanic

 

I approach this from a different perspective as I'm an estimator, not a scientist.  There's a tendency among inquisitive minds to believe that massive databases of measurements will render a finite answer to dynamic questions.  The problem with this approach (as I see it) is that there's an assumption that having "all the data" implies that your answer is captured in what you measured.  Not knowing what contributes to the solution is how we get problems like flight modeling that "proves' a bumblebee can't fly.

 

The first step to solving the question is to ask what you actually need to know.  As a "newbie" what you need is a perfect example, not a perfect model.  Figuring out what makes a master smith's hammer blow better than a rookie is what you're actually answering.

 

Within the last month I read an article about a group of scientists studying Bruce Lee's "one inch punch" technique.  They analyzed all the footage of Bruce executing the move.  It's my understanding of their conclusion that Bruce was able to perfectly time his musculature to initiate a whipping motion that started in his hips and accelerated through his torso.  He wasn't superhuman strong, he was able to coordinate his muscles with near perfect timing.

 

With all the science, math, modeling, and studying completed, we have their lesson.  Achieve an amazing level of muscular coordination, then learn to time the motions for maximum effect.  Preferably do this before you're too old for the movie business.

 

Not really a short-cut.  In fact, without a means to replicate their findings, it's reasonable to say it's simply a well researched opinion.

 

It seems to me that if some are short and others are tall, some will have faster nerves, or more flame resistant beards.  The master's aren't likely to all look or move the same because they're working with what they've got.

 

Detail is out there to wade through and lots of subjects provide plenty of fodder for those that are inclined.  Ballistics generates an amazing amount of statistical noise with nerdists claiming some configuration is "best" for this or that.  It's merely an open ended question for people to answer with anything between an ICBM and a rock.

 

What's amusing to me as an estimator is that just about everybody has a sense of when it's too small a rock for the trouble at hand!

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This all seems like unnecessary complexity for something that is essentially pretty simple at it's core, though perhaps less simple in it's execution.  It seems to me that a new smith's time would be better spent actually learning how to hit, where to hit and when to hit as opposed to measuring stuff with high tech gadgetry.  While it may satisfy your scientific curiosity I seriously doubt it will make you any better of a smith than plain and simple practice.  I also disagree with your assumption:

 

 However, like most of you, I'm a scientist at heart and have a need to understand the mechanical details 

 

I seriously doubt that most of us are scientists at heart.  I certainly am not.  In fact, the thing that most drew me to blacksmithing in the first place was it's simplicity and purity.  I enjoy smithing the most when I am being the least scientific, when I am working from an idea in my head, not a detailed drawing on paper, when I am estimating and judging, not measuring and calculating, when I am feeling my way through the work, not necessarily thinking my way through it. 

 

I have no interest in how hard I am hitting a piece of steel in terms of foot pounds of energy.  I am only interesting in how much I can and how much I want to  move this bit of metal at this stage in the process with this particular hammer and this particular anvil. I can figure that out in seconds simply by doing it rather than measuring it.  So if that "scientific" stuff thrills you I guess you can do ahead and do it, just don't fool yourself that it is going to make you a better smith.  The only thing that will do that is experience, either by yourself or under the tutelage of someone more experienced than yourself.  The latter method will likely lead to quicker results.  Either method will likely be quicker than measuring hammer blows.

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It seems to me that if some are short and others are tall, some will have faster nerves, or more flame resistant beards.  The master's aren't likely to all look or move the same because they're working with what they've got.

 

Pretty well summed up rockstar.  Especially the above part. 

 

Digital Mechanic, when I first started smithing, I had a similar thought, in fact a search may find that I posted similar requests in the past.  (A bit about my background:  I've been a Physical Therapist for the past 20+ years with an undergraduate degree in biomechanics.)  I followed the line of thinking that if I (we) can come up with a "proper", or perhaps more accurately, a "biomechanically correct" way to do any number of tasks, such as lifting an object off the floor, then we should be able to have a "proper" way to hammer, no?

 

However, as you've no doubt heard, ask 10 blacksmiths a question on how to do something and you'll get 12 or more answers on the right way.  At first, I bristled at this, there HAS to be a right answer.  As experience might teach some, there IS a right answer, and each smith had one. 

 

IMO we can, and should, correct problems when they arise, and you'll recognize them when they show up (read: Pain) but, due to the perhaps infinite variables, it is impossible to say "this is the ...(posture, grip, swing, stance, handle diameter, handle length, hammer weight, anvil height, etc)  that EVERYONE should use. 

 

I'd repeat the suggestions that before worrying about the details, swing a hammer regularly for a few months to build up the strength in your muscles, ligaments and tendons (stop when sore, preferably when tired).  Then you'll know better what issues you're having and we'll be better able to give useful guidance.

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Hand Hammering

I suggest that I would listen to a person who have worked as a full time blacksmith (making a living) "hand hammering" as an industrial Blacksmith 8 to 10 hours a day,

5 to 6 days a week for over a period of several years; would be someone I would give full consideration too of how to hold and swing a hammer as a blacksmith

with out injury to themselves. 

 

They are hard to find now day’s, although I believe that we have had only a few in here at I Forge Iron over the years.

 

They had to work at a stainable pace day after day and with no delay time (rest) in-between heats while waiting for steel to heat.

 

They were not paid when they did not work. As a result they could not afford to spend time off of work due to tendon and mussel injuries. 

Although most shops (depending on the time period) had some type of power hammer (be it human or a machine) that was also used,

they still spent a lot of time at the anvil. 

Doing a lot of constant heavy hand hammering each day was normal.  Not to be confused with doing light hammering as in the craft of Chasing and Repousse.

Now days it would be hard to find someone like that because of our modern means of (making a living) forging makes hand hammering less cost efficient.

 

Here is an example of how new methods of doing things made what I used to do to make a living non-Essential (Un-Necessary).

Years ago they used to cut into concrete roads primarily with Jackhammers. 

The Chisels used in jackhammers (such as moil points and spades that we used to call “Gats”) needed to be drawn out on a regular basis. 

There was a high demand for this type of service and it was also a good (consistent) business.

 

But then they developed the “diamond bit concrete cutting machines’.

When they did, the demand for pointing jackhammer chisels dropped out of sight.

 

Most Hobby Smiths (all-though very skilled) do not work for the long and demanding periods of time,

and at a pace that used to be expected when you were hired to work as a blacksmith.

But it used to be normal many years ago to do a lot of heavy hand hammering. 

 

Striking steel is not the same as hammering a nail. 

Striking steel is not the same as driving a nail in a horse hoof.

 

I have read many opinions about this topic over the years.

But come to find out that most opinions were not supported with “real-time experience” behind their opinion.

Theory based on science and all of its disciplines should be taken into consideration for sure as you determine what works best for you.

But theory by its self will not ever replace "true and tried successful experience" that trumps theory (alone) every time. 

 

Many; and I mean many highly intelligent people who have come before us have developed and honed every aspect of the forging process

including how to hold and strike with a hammer for long periods of time with out physical injury!

 

So this is my opinion and the sum of my experience:

What has worked for me for many years (over 60), may not work for someone else.

I would not even attempt to submit how I do it.  Many have already described it over and over again.  No sense of clouding the issue.

 

It is up to you to take into consideration all that your able to find out about find what works for you and your situation!!

“Pain and injury”, or “no pain and injury” will be your scorecard.

Good Luck to you!

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This all seems like unnecessary complexity for something that is essentially pretty simple at it's core, though perhaps less simple in it's execution.  It seems to me that a new smith's time would be better spent actually learning how to hit, where to hit and when to hit as opposed to measuring stuff with high tech gadgetry.  While it may satisfy your scientific curiosity I seriously doubt it will make you any better of a smith than plain and simple practice.  I also disagree with your assumption:

 

 However, like most of you, I'm a scientist at heart and have a need to understand the mechanical details 

 

I seriously doubt that most of us are scientists at heart.  I certainly am not.  In fact, the thing that most drew me to blacksmithing in the first place was it's simplicity and purity.  I enjoy smithing the most when I am being the least scientific, when I am working from an idea in my head, not a detailed drawing on paper, when I am estimating and judging, not measuring and calculating, when I am feeling my way through the work, not necessarily thinking my way through it. 

 

I have no interest in how hard I am hitting a piece of steel in terms of foot pounds of energy.  I am only interesting in how much I can and how much I want to  move this bit of metal at this stage in the process with this particular hammer and this particular anvil. I can figure that out in seconds simply by doing it rather than measuring it.  So if that "scientific" stuff thrills you I guess you can do ahead and do it, just don't fool yourself that it is going to make you a better smith.  The only thing that will do that is experience, either by yourself or under the tutelage of someone more experienced than yourself.  The latter method will likely lead to quicker results.  Either method will likely be quicker than measuring hammer blows.

If you don't think scientific knowledge is important than this business is at best a hobby for you and will never be more than that. 

Smiths invented steel, higher alloys of steel, machine tools and the science of machining, were responsible for the advent of the industrial revolution, leading to the jet age and eventually the space age. 

Smiths started dynastic tool companies which today serve mechanics worldwide .

 

In the days of yore the most knowledgeable smith became the king and later when all the king ships were established., the King of Tradesmen. 

 

Ours is a long and glorious history, please do not belittle the rest of us by your lack of interest in knowledge, the quest of such being the primary driver of many a smith. 

 

To the OP; carry on good sir and may your results contribute much to our craft. 

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Arftist,

 

Science is a noble and worthwhile pursuit, I don't think that's in contention.  Pedantic pursuits often bristle the practically minded.  Debates between "in theory' and "in practice" tend to fall along similar lines.

 

The scientific method often gets treated like a vestigial appendage rather than a vital means to meaningful discovery.  Replacing science with endless statistics, models, and calculations leads to lots and lots of "noise" and little learning.

 

Ignoring the whole "learn about your subject" part and jumping to tracking measurements isn't showing much respect for the subject or those who went before.

 

What's been presented above is a good example of what I'm talking about. 

 

That being said, I'm sure that I'm guilty of "nerding out" on occasion - I get it and it's nothing to be ashamed of.  I don't confuse those nerdly pursuits with scientific achievements.

 

I really enjoy seeing science applied for fun.  One of the neatest examples that comes to mind was an animation showing a high grade bolt reaching failure. http://www.varmintal.com/

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I started as a horseshoer in 1963, At horseshoeing school in 1964, my instructor complemented me on my hand hammer stance and stroke. That helped, because over the years, I have tried to ingrain that same physical feeling. I was fortunate, as most smiths nowadays don't get that sort of encouragement from a master.

 

Babe Zaharias, the renowned lady golfer, was radio interviewed, and she was asked, "Why don't you swing like a girl?" Her reply, "A swing is a swing is a swing."

 

I started doing Cheng Man Ching's short form of tai chi in the early 1980's. I think it has helped me to relax and focus at the forge.

 

The Scottish blacksmith and farrier, Edward Martin, RIP, received a gold medal in 2000 from The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths in London, England. It was the third such medal awarded in the last 100 years. The medal says, "Awarded to Edward Martin, SUPREME MASTER BLACKSMITH." I've seen Mr. Martin work at two workshops, one in Albuquerque and one in Kentucky. He has visited my shop in Santa Fe, and I have visited his shop in Closeburn, Scotland.

 

In Kentucky, Mr. Martin said this, and I paraphrase. "I have found that when delivering a solid blow, there is a wee bit of a draw-back feeling when contacting the steel...that may be more apparent than real. Perhaps it results as part of the arc of the swing. It is difficult to explain with words." 

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If you don't think scientific knowledge is important than this business is at best a hobby for you and will never be more than that. 

Smiths invented steel, higher alloys of steel, machine tools and the science of machining, were responsible for the advent of the industrial revolution, leading to the jet age and eventually the space age. 

Smiths started dynastic tool companies which today serve mechanics worldwide .

 

In the days of yore the most knowledgeable smith became the king and later when all the king ships were established., the King of Tradesmen. 

 

Ours is a long and glorious history, please do not belittle the rest of us by your lack of interest in knowledge, the quest of such being the primary driver of many a smith. 

 

To the OP; carry on good sir and may your results contribute much to our craft. 

 

 

I hope you will forgive me for pointing out that I was questioning the usefulness of the particular "scientific" activity the OP was engaging in, not all science or all science focused on forging.  I particularly question the usefulness of an accelerometer in determining much of anything in regards to smithwork and I further question the usefulness of a neophyte using an accelerometer to add to the body of blacksmithing knowledge already accumulated over millennium.  Furthermore, I beg to differ on your contention of exactly who it was who developed the wide range of esoteric steel alloys available today, or the elaborate practices of machining. While smiths may have contributed to both areas in their infancy, modern alloys were developed by chemists and modern methods of machining were developed by machinists and engineers, not blacksmiths.

 

Your contention that I lack interest in knowledge is inaccurate and insulting.  Apparently one difference between you and I is that I am quite interested in useful knowledge while you seem to not care whether the information has any value at all.  You are welcome to your own perspective but please have the decency to refrain from making wild accusations and inferences about someone you know nothing about.

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I am a very astute technologist. I've forgotten more about technology than I ever hope to learn about smithing, even if I pounded hot stuff 16 hours a day the rest of life. You might say I'm a "master technology smith". That's not to brag, but to point out - whether I like it or not - technology is my first home (note I didn't say "love"). The first thing I think when I observe any process done by novice or master, is " how can I break that down to its constituent elements and analyze the individual parts". I even carry an engineering notebook with me at all times, or close by, so I can jot down my observations.... It's a sickness ;)

In my heart, I'm a Maker. I'm driven to design, build and fabricate like no other passion I've ever experienced. I've made things out of many different materials, functional things, artful things, and some just plain ridiculous crap! NOTHING has ever affected me like metal... I want to understand everything I can about it, and the people and processes that shape it. For me, that means starting where I have the most skill - technical analysis. Digging into the metallurgy, math, and spatial understanding.... How someone who shapes metal sees what's there and where they want to go - and how they get there. For example scarfing for a weld: making two joining pieces formed to avoid sheer forces perpendicular to the weld so cracks don't form once the weld is done. That fascinates me - I'm WAYtoo green to forge weld, but that didn't stop me from trying tonight! I made some passable scarfs, fluxed the heck out of them and missed the weld. Sure was fun... and I learned a lot.

I guess my point is, that bringing technology to smithing for me is as natural as a machinist or welder bringing their knowledge to the forge... The difference is I have to keep most of my gear away from the heat and come up with ways of applying what I know to help me understand what's going on. Using an accelerometer to measure forces at the anvil to me is really cool! What good is the data? What can I use it for or learn from it? I don't know. Maybe nothing. Maybe something no one has ever seen or considered before... Who knows.

Back in the early 90s I was on a team doing dynamic analysis of human performance on people with Parkinson's. We learned amazing things like how a learned action (a golf swing, free-throwing a basketball, etc) were carried out tremor free. While ballistic tests (testing the same patient at rest) revealed the most pronounced tremors... The team later discovered a "parent" spike in the brain milliseconds prior to the triggering of a muscle tremor.. That was an invaluable find for the research and no one expected it. I just think that everything that can be learned, should.

Personally I'd like to take a master blacksmith and do an EEG while he's working... Then put him in an fMRI and ask him to think through some metalworking while I watch what centers in the brain start lighting up.

For now I'd just like some ideas of how I might use the force data I'm collecting...

Off my soapbox for now. I'm told I MUST take a shower.

-DM

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ok Guys  remember we are all about smithing, in all its various forms and flavors.   Please try to play nice, and not take things personally or make things personal.

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Just a note about metalworkers' health and MRI imaging. We have the right as ferrous metalworkers to turn down MRI's when offered, because we may have small metal particles embedded in our bodies, unbeknownst to us. They may be tiny, but nobody wants their brains more convoluted than they are already. Organs and other body parts may be affected.

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Just a note about metalworkers' health and MRI imaging. We have the right as ferrous metalworkers to turn down MRI's when offered, because we may have small metal particles embedded in our bodies, unbeknownst to us. They may be tiny, but nobody wants their brains more convoluted than they are already. Organs and other body parts may be affected.


Ok... I understand completely. I'm a Marine and have 4 little tiny pieces of inoperable shrapnel in me... So I should probably steer clear of the big magnets too :)

-DM

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In my real job there's a saying, "200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress."  I've modified that for my purposes to "200 years of tradition enhanced by progress."  I'm as new as new can be to smithing, but it seems that the same could apply here.

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cafyrman, you must be Navy! ;)

edit, I misread your quote. for the Navy

" 200 years of tradition, hampered only by progress"

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