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Has this hobby changed your hands?

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I was wondering if you guys experienced this as well, My hands have changed dramatically in the last few years to the point my family is making fun of my "cartoon hands."  I'm a hobby guy only, forge a few hours a week through most of the year.  My thumb meat looks like a drumstick and they have gotten so thick I can barely reach the bottom of my pockets.  I use a standard 2 or 3 pound hammer, nothing unusual.  The guys who did this for a living must have been men to be reckoned with.  My grip strength has improved dramatically. 

 

 

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You might want to think of changing your grip. I've been doing this off and on for more than 50 years and my thumbs don't look anything like that. The only thing I actually take a hard grip on is the tongs if they aren't fitted well enough. I let the hammer float in my hand, I hold it between the joints between thumb and index finger so it pivots. This adds another pivot to the hammer blow, every pivot point is a force multiplier and more importantly to longevity in the craft it isolates my skeleton from impact shock.

I don't have a whimpy grip either.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Okay, as sexist as this is to say, as a woman smith I do pay attention to men's.....HANDS!  (Get your minds out of gutters, guys).  I watch Smiths I've seen doing demos and really have NOT seen the kind of enormous muscle mass, in arms or hands, that you might expect to see based on cartoonish figures of old smiths.  Perhaps because so many of the people who do this for a living also use power hammers?  Not to say they aren't all strong, but I haven't seen one yet who should also be auditioning for Muscle Magazine.  All bodies are different, it's possible what you're seeing is just what the well developed you should look like, once the hand/wrist got some regular use?  Despite what all you guys think, size isn't always a good judge. :)  I've seen puny little guys who could knock you to your knees with a slight swing and big guys with little strength.  Different bodies, different development potentials.

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I think that most folks in this push-button age have forgotten what 'normal' strength is, or should I say was, for farm workers, mechanics, blacksmiths, steam fitters, etc.  My great uncles and uncles that worked for the railroad when I was a kid could crush your hand in their grip. When I was a wrestler in high school and in the best shape of my life, my scrawny looking uncle (two tours Vietnam, Parris Island DI) could still do more one handed pull-ups than I could.

Bill Moran was half my size and twice my age when I met him, and he could still hammer circles around anyone else attending. Peter Ross is the only smith I know that has really well developed forearms, but by no means disproportional or cartoonish.

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Frosty, I never thought about my grip other than to never place my thumb on top of the handle.  I think I do squeeze the handle hard, I see what you mean about a whipping action in a looser grip.  I'll have to experiment.  My tongs rarely fit well even though I have made many pairs, as I mostly forge recycled junk, so I am always bearing down hard on the tong hand it seems like to hold some odd shape.  My left hand is the same size though not as strong. My sister is a physical therapist.  In the US that is a person with a PhD in a medical study that focuses on recovery after an injury, surgery etc.  She noticed my hands had gotten awful thick and brought a device to a family gathering that read out how much force you could squeeze.  I bottomed it out, she said she had never seen that or anything even close, but I am not sure that means anything, since most people squeezing that contraption in her practice are probably hurt.    

John,  I agree with you about men who work for a living, and you must be one, just noticed you holding up an anvil by the horn in your avatar!  I remember as a boy watching a skinny tall farmer I worked for throw a heavy bale that had fallen off the hay rack into the upper hay mow of a very big barn from the ground rather than turn the lativator back on.  That bale must have went 25 feet in the air, I immediately made a mental note to stay on Tony's good side.  One of my fathers friends drove spikes for the railroad.  Pop says he would sometimes take a 12 pound sledge in one hand and touch the tip of it to his nose.  That trick is kind of like doing a flip, seems some danger in trying it out to see if you can.      

Speaking of Peter Ross, you ever see him nearly choke Roy Underhill in those old woodwright shows?  Roy would get in his way, touch everything sharp or hot and yap away wasting at least half the heat before he got out of the way every time Peter tried to demonstrate.  You could tell he was getting mad it was comical.

 

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There are different kinds of muscle, some big and bulky like body builders cultivate and the other, (fast twitch I think?) that's long lean and whipcord strong. doing heavy work for short terms builds BIG muscle, long term moderate to heavy work builds the other.

What brought your "condition" to my attention was you saying this development has happened since you began blacksmithing. Large muscle is in my experience less flexible and can in some cases get in the way of movement. Those were the basis of my suggestions.

Adjusting tongs is easy, just forge them with extra bit length so you can adjust them as necessary. If they're mild you can maybe get away with small adjustments cold but hot is always easier on the tongs and better for the fit.

I call my hammer grip a modified fencer's grip, I took a lesson at a Ren Fair once and found it really improved my hammer technique. Think of it like spin casting, cast with a rigid grip as opposed to letting the rod pivot in your grip and see the difference. It will take a LITTLE practice to adjust to the slight differences in how the blows land but that's not a biggy.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Huh, I will say I currently work a desk job and my grip was always average, yet holding on to my tools and what I am doing after 4-5 hours of smithing is certainly a challenge.

I ended up investing in an adjustable grip strengthener that ranges from 20-90lbs.  I have small hands on the average and that seemed to help me.  However through the duration of using the grip exerciser, I have never developed bulky hand meat. 

Everyone is different though, I wouldn't worry too much about it unless its causing you pain.  

This will sounds funny, but I have a lot of family members with Dwarfism and their muscles develop very differently and in more of a bulky fashion for sure.  You may just be genetically disposed to have large hand muscles.  Nothing wrong with that.  your family is just jealous of your magnificent hands.  lol!

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The only difference I have noted is that my right forearm muscle is noticeably bigger than the left one. This is obviously from the hammer grip, even though I do not have a death grip on the hammer. I am totally useless with the left hand and would be dangerous with a hammer in that hand. I envy the ambidexterity of some smiths.

I notice no difference in the hands - perhaps a few more callouses on the right. Most smiths have a very strong handshake and so do I. You have to be a bit careful sometimes as you can unwittingly apply a too much grip. But there's nothing worse than a wimpy, wet fish handshake. 

 

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True story bro, one night my wife went to rub my back.  She started poking me and said something to the effect, "your backs like rubbing a board", "Quick go get some Crispy Cream donuts and eat a dozen".  I've actually gained weight, all muscle.  I guess swinging a sledge hammer did more than going to the gym. 

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I've had carpal tunnel and trigger thumb operations on my right hand(neither caused by blacksmithing) so my grip can be a fleeting thing, while strong, hammering, chainsaw work, skill saw vibrations can cause me to loose my grip so I drop the tools if I'm not watching, proves quite interesting with chain saw and skill saws.  When I first saw the pictures I was concerned for circulation causing the swelling in any extremity like hands and feet after vein destruction surgery last year I notice these things.  But your professional relative must not have been worried. 

   

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6 hours ago, jmccustomknives said:

True story bro, one night my wife went to rub my back.  She started poking me and said something to the effect, "your backs like rubbing a board", "Quick go get some Crispy Cream donuts and eat a dozen".  I've actually gained weight, all muscle.  I guess swinging a sledge hammer did more than going to the gym. 

It always annoys the xxxx out of me that there are people who pay go to a gym to swing a sledgehammer... so much wasted energy on forging tractor tires... lol

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We do not have much muscle in the hands. The grip comes from muscles in the arm that pull tendons. I would suggest that you have someone look at this.

When skinny people see to have a lo of strength it is partly because they have very good technique.

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A Good Exercise for your hands and fore-arm.

Take an elastic band (quite often found holding brocolli together in the Food Store), put it over the Nails of your Fingers and Thumb.

Slowly open your fingers, hold it for a few seconds,  then relax, slowly open your fingers, hold it for a few seconds, relax, slowly open your fingers, relax, Continue....  If you feel hurt or pain, stop, I keep my elastic band on the outside of my wallet. When you think about it again, take the elastic band, over the nails of your fingers, slowly open your fingers, hold it for a few seconds, relax, etc.

This is working your hand and fore-arm muscles in the opposite direction of your Tool Holding Grip. I used this to help one time, when I had Tennis Elbow problem. No sudden movement, stop if it hurts, keep at it, don't watch a clock, just keep up the exercise.

Enjoy the Journey

Neil

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ahhhh. There are no muscles in your hands. there are in your forearm. So??????????? my hands have swelled up from hours of heavy forge work but never stayed that way. But you may want to look into that medically.

 

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There are muscles in the hand.  Just not in the fingers.  One of the major muscles in the hand is exactly where the OP shows an increase in size.

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my hands have not changed.   Other than I tend to get heat scale bits that fall up my hand an inch or so between my thumb and index fingers.   This makes tiny little burn scars.   You always have to decide whether stop working, brush them off or just let them burn out.   Most are small enough to let them burn out, at least for the work I do.   I have a day job so forging is just a hobby. 

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That fat thub muscle is not normal. Strength and muscle mass will increase with work / exercise but the only way I know of getting a thumb muscle to develop like that is thumb wrestling 

Your doing something wrong and over time your going to hurt yourself! Are you laying your thumb on the back of the hammer shaft by chance? 

 

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A friend of mine had a right hand that looked like that from using a four inch angle grinder with a "chipper" blade in it for working cattle hooves as a professional trimer.  You didn't say that it hurt, but his was just swollen, and he could barely hold the tool.

He got one shot of cortizone in the near wrist and never got it back.  I'm a retired optometrist and hands aren't my specialty but it looks like treatable inflamation to me.......wouldn't hurt to get looked at.  Early intervention means weaker drugs and less chance of lossing the use of that limb.

Thanks for the post, and good luck.

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I spent a good portion of last night swinging a 4lb crosspein against some fairly large pieces of 1080 and 15mm rebar (yuck...but my material pile is dwindling) ...which I find surprisingly hard to move. A lot of drawing out and things...probably 4 - 6 hours of tinkering in total...plus i was running chainsaw for most of the day before that lol. I think I overdid it though cause i noticed today that my hands are stiff , which isnt surprising, but also my pinky fingers on both hand seem to have "trigger finger" ....where they close fine but when opening they seem to hesitate then open as if they were spring loaded.  i've had it before and it went away but i think i went a little too hard and am maybe a bit out of shape as well. This is a new hobby for me. Dehydration may have played a factor also because I tend to enjoy a beverage or two when i am out in the shop ;) .... i think now I just need a power hammer for ...medical reasons.

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2 hours ago, Prevenge said:

i think now I just need a power hammer for ...medical reasons

now there's a good reason!:D maybe I need one too!;)

                                                                                Littleblacksmith

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Thanks for the responses and expressions of concern.  My hands always look like this, not really swollen, just have a bunch of weird meat under the skin.  I have always had "ham hands" but no doubt that they have gotten ticker since I started this a few years ago and I was curious if you all had experienced anything similar.  Sounds like I am an anomaly.  I think I will ask my Dr. about it. 

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Another good exercise for strengthening the hands is filling a 5 gallon bucket with rice and starting at the top, fingers first, try to dig your way to the bottom of the bucket.

 

I notticed Mullsmith mentioned useing adjustable hand grippers. I have a few sets of hand grippers as well, but mine are from Captains of Crush. Those will kill your hands and forearms!

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All I have gotten is arthritis;-)  I do have a funny story along this line.  When I was apprenticing with Jim we had stopped some where in the morning and I had made a full set of shoes with side clips, and then we went to Joyce's.  She is a nurse, and I walked out of the truck with a tool box, and she asked, "WHAT happened to your forearm?!?!" It was summer and I had just a T-shirt on, I looked around to see if anything was wrong and didn't notice anything.  She said, "your arm its obviously swollen."  I told her it was just pumped up.  I have had people tell me I look like a blacksmith ;-)

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