Leeknivek

new job - safely swinging a hammer?

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Hi. I was offered an apprenticeship doing sheet metal work, I started about a month ago. First week or two I was fine, but the proceeding, well... my hands and wrists have been extremely sore from swinging a hammer 40 hours a week. I've been doing various metal work for a couple of years now, I've practiced enough prior to this job that I can make steady, accurate blows for a few hours, but I've never previously done that full time. I'm having a hard time keeping up, and my hands can be so cramped up some mornings that I'm afraid I may be hurting myself long term. Is this something I should be worried about, or should I keep plugging along? 

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You may need to adjust the way you hold the hammer and your position.  The Hofi  blue prints have examples of less stressful techniques.

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I'll take a swing

First of all how long has the pain persisted? If it has been a few weeks that's one thing, a couple months is another.

I work a variety of jobs, and when switching from one that doesn't take much hand strength to one that requires gripping, grabbing, holding, and snatching things I always experience a period of discomfort, usually for a few weeks before I get the strength back, and it can take months when first starting a new activity before I find that I can work continually week in and week out without fatigue. The good news there is once you get the strength your body remembers and although the soreness may crop up when you return to the task after an absence you will get the strength back just like old times.

In the mean time I find heat helps, not cold. Like wearing a jacket with pockets now that it is winter to keep your hands in when you are out and about, and warm gloves. Pain rubs like tiger balm work for some people. 

Form as well, as your wrists and hands may be compensating in part for weakness elsewhere when you get fatigued. For example if you have a weak bicep (just an example that is easy to see here) then your wrist may try and lift the hammer by rotating up towards your thumb. this puts a lot of strain on your wrist and forearm, and they will get very sore, but your bicep will not since it was taking a break the whole time.

Make sure you are eating of course as you are using a lot of energy during the day and if you don't get enough protein and carbs your body wont property recover, which can contribute to cramps and soreness.

Lastly if I have pain that I cant get a good grip on I will often look up stretches that target specific muscles (yoga and palates type stuff) and when you find the one that REALLY gets ya you will know what exactly is sore, and can start looking at your movements, or do exercises to strengthen supporting muscles.

Hope this helps!

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I'd kind of expect new job muscle soreness to be a first couple weeks thing unless it's a very physical job, a new guy on the drill crew was typically sore for a couple months or longer.

Sounds to me like you're keeping too tight a grip, it's a common beginner thing. Learn to keep a light grip on the hammer and crack it like a whip to develop power. Think spin casting. Have a case of "trigger finger" yet? Trigger finger is your muscles and such cramping up, you close your hand but can't open it and is a sign of repetitive injury. Not the first time or two but it's a sign you need to change technique or maybe job.

Frosty The Lucky.

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being a carpenter and being around a lot of old carpenters swinging a hammer all day, every day definately takes its toll. ergonomic stretching and learning to switch hands is the best counter i know. good luck.

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I'm surprised nobody has mentioned hammer weight.

When hitting hot metal, I like a heavy hammer, that does a lot of "work" with each blow, in the shortest time possible.

But that's NOT what you're doing, ... so I'd think about trying a lighter hammer.

 

.

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protect your body.  Life is too long to go through it with your body parts screwed up.

If you are clenching your teeth that is a good sign you have the "death grip".  Let the hammer do all the work.

Work slow to work fast.  Be accurate and develop a good technigue that makes things happen with out a rushed death grip.    Maybe some tooling to do both????

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We forgot to ask. What kind of sheet metal work? There are lots of kinds and all require different tools and technique even if the basic method is similar or the same.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Any repetitive motion isolates and strengthens/damages muscles, tendons, and joints. To maintain "balance" in your hammer hand I find it very useful to exercise your extensor muscles and tendons in your off time. I used to get "the claw" when I was younger and the best fix I ever found was this: no death grip....ever and also regular (before and after) stretching and strengthening. Stretches are self explanatory but it is also important to strengthen your extensor muscles/tendons. Do this by putting one or a few elastic bands around your fingers and slowly opening and closing your fingers. Resistance and control is key here. It has helped exponentially in any discomfort. Also, add plenty of onion, garlic and tumeric to your diet. They help with anti inflammatory benefits and also make you seem like a better chef with the propper amounts ;) 

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Good tips Ivan, Touch typing really helps keep my hands flexible and good cooking is never out of order. I didn't k now about tumeric as an anti inflammatory but anything in the Lilly family is. (onion garlic, etc.)

Frosty The Lucky.

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You are asking what you already instinctively know. You are damaging your body long term. Yes, you should be worried. You need to look at and examine exactly how you are working and try to work out a way that exerts less stress on your body. You look rather young in your picture, you have one body, take care of it. All of the things above, loosen grip, and measures to stretch out those muscles and tendons that will contract with use. I met a blacksmith a while ago who couldn't straighten his fingers. He was in his late 20s. There are lots of things you can do to counteract repetitive strain, do them. 

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Hi Lee, I would be worried about the cramping sensation, if it turns out that it is tissue inflammation putting pressure on your median nerve through your carpel tunnel that is causing it, then that is a reasonably severe symptom, it can take quite a while to recover.

Some pretty good advice from the guys.

I can vouch for diet being a problem, I had to cut down my sugars, starches and booze and increase my veggie's fish spices fermented foods etc. Once the vitamin B6 levels got back up in my blood tests I have been a lot better. I am still struggling with reducing caffeine.

A site like eorthopod.com might help to understand what is inside a hand, they are pretty complex little suckers!

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a little damage now when you are young will really expand when you are 69yo.

it's not worth it.

think about it. time flies.:(:(

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7 hours ago, Ethan the blacksmith said:

here is a good video on swinging hammerhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_tLVdaxYyk

now, I have only been forging for a few years or so, and I have a lot to learn, but this technique works really good for me.

Thanks for the link Ethan he uses a slab handle and grips the hammer like I do. I don't absorb any of the recoil shock.

Frosty The Lucky.

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I don't know if anyone else has experienced this, but here is a hammer problem that just surfaced for me.

All my hammers, some 25-30, all kinds, all have oval or round handles.  Hammer weights range from 1/2# up to 4 1/2# (sledges not included since they are used two-handed).  Recently, I bought a new 2 1/2#  rounding hammer that had a slab (rectangular) handle.  I rasped it down a bit to fit my hand better, but it still had the slab shape.  After forging with it off and on for a day or two, I suddenly developed pain in my right elbow that has all the symptoms of tennis elbow.  Nothing changed in my hammering technique except the handle shape.  When I forge with the oval/round hammers, the pain doesn't seem to be aggravated, but after using the slab handle for a short while, my elbow starts to hurt quite a bit.  Next step is to take the slab handle down to oval and see if that helps.  I think the problem is that with the oval/round handles, they can "float" with a relaxed grip as it should be, but I find myself trying to do the same with the slab, and it ain't working.

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Sounds like just the reverse of my experience. I find the standard hammer handles slip out of my hand if I relax as much as I do with the slabs. Could be the taper but I have a couple straight slab handles.

It might just be a matter of getting used to a new grip. Of course if it keeps up it isn't worth using. Hurting yourself isn't worth it.

Frosty The Lucky.

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I feel for the kid's back in that video, seems rather hunched over and wasting a lot of energy by all that movement, I fear it will catch up with him one day! 

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Take it all with a pinch of salt.....big pinch.

none of us have a real answer to the problem of being hurt by the forging we do......you can try and learn by peoples mistakes... ie try and not do what has hurt someone else.

or you can try and follow an (unproved) way of forging that is being advocated by someone as being correct, and hope they are right.

 either way, what is being advocated will not be specific to you so you are going to have to find your own path amongst all of the information that is there.

I would say that from my experience power tools are the answer.....but even then it is easy to over do it as you can get caught in the cycle of doing more, rather than less in an easier way.

a loose grip seems universal as the right way to forge , the rest is anybody's guess.

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I have Fibromyalgia, which means if I do anything for too long I have problems, ranging from cramp, muscle pain, tendon pain, locked joints, inflamation etc. The anything could be hammering, holding or carrying something, sitting in the same position. It is somewhat debilitating and medication does little to alleviate it, so I have learned to "manage" the condition.......I simply do everything in moderation and by regularly alternating grip, position, etc and taking frequent short rests I am able to continue longer and be as productive without the suffering!

If you think about it, everyone has a limit of how long they can do anything, even the fittest and most able will be able to walk no further at some point.

So if you do find you are developing a problem, engineering breaks into your work may help and certainly will not aggrivate a problem, this does not mean do nothing, you could do something else, put the hammer down, use a different hammer with a different size handle, work part of the job with power tools, even swap hands and develop a bit of ambidexterity. You may even stumble upon the case of specific problem that is effecting you!

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Three things that to me are the kiss o' death;

1. Death grip. Don't do it.

2. Raising a weighty hammer from the wrist. Use your elbow & shoulder. An extended forefinger along the handle will help spread the weight out when lifting the hammer (my opinion only).

3. Elbow out. Keep that elbow IN! Did you ever see a derby winner running with its elbows out? No.

As has been said, everything else is personal preference; Hammer weight, handle shape, etc., with the caveat that one should probably start low, i.e. 2lbs.

Slow and steady wins the race.

 

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I want to add; remembering that this is about sheet metal work; It's murder on the hands anyway, but I've found that going with the heaviest possible hammer feasable for the task at hand helps cut down on the number of blows needed, talking about sheet metal here.

Also, I've found few things more knackering to the hands than using snips for any length of time, and also the amount of cold bending you do with sheet is hard on the hands too. So, I think sore hands is probably normal. It's the pain in the wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder that are a greater concern. 

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