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Is a $140 hammer really that much better than a $40 hammer?


Pancho07

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14 hours ago, TechnicusJoe said:

Either you think it's worth the money or you don't. Either you feel it makes a difference, or it doesn't (to you).
It's a very personal thing.

Personally, I would love to get my hands on a Hofi hammer or one of Ethan's or a Brian Brazeal rounding hammer and give them a try, but for now, what I have works (and if I had an extra couple hundred bucks to spare, I'd probably get a better angle grinder than my current Harbor Freight piece of crap). Aesthetics matter, but in the end, when it comes to tools, practicalities rule.

I don't think that anyone is suggesting that the makers of hand-forged hammers shouldn't be compensated for their labor and skill, and certainly if you're going to buy a custom hammer, you should expect to pay custom price.

The question remains, though: what precisely is the benefit of that custom hammer, what is the benefit that justifies the extra cost? If we're talking about the "intangible qualities of a handmade object", one that has the texture, the slight irregularities, the eye- and hand-pleasing subtle variations of something made (as Ruskin put it) "by a human being for another human being", then we are talking about aesthetic value, and in this case, the maker should be compensated precisely in the same way as the maker of a hand-forged bottle opener, door knocker, candle holder, or gate: for the combination of practical function (unless we are talking about a pure work of art-for-art's-sake) and aesthetic value of their work.

However, if we are not talking about aesthetic qualities, is there some practical advantage to the more expensive hammer (better balance, greater durability, better face geometry, etc) that conveys genuine benefits to the work process? (And remember, we are talking about tools, whose very reason for existence is as part of the process of creating other things.) Does the hammer move the metal in a way that is objectively superior? Does the handle design generate increased hammer control and reduced user fatigue? Again, is there a measurable benefit to justify the extra cost?

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So, sometimes, sometimes not.

And that diagonal peen and some of the oddball sizes/shapes are around if you don't mind reforging or grinding those cheap finds. My go to hammer is a 3 lb that I changed to a diagonal peen following the instructions in one of the knife making forums here.

At this point, I just grab whatever I see at the flea markets at a halfway decent price and modify them.  Almost all my handles are modified, either changed from what was on it, or made from scratch, cut down and rasped broken shovel handles, etc. You get it the way you want it, and if it doesn't suit, well, you're out a $5 flea market find.

But then again, as a hobbiest, my time has less value than my money, and I making them besides. If I knew there was one that I knew suited me well, and I was doing production stuff....well, 150 is cheap for a good tool at the right time if it makes the difference.

Holds true with a lot of things. Putting a couple of bends in a wrench to get to that impossible spark plug or transmission bolt, changing tongs to work with a different shape, like that.

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Francis,

Thanks for the tip, but I was trying to make the point that local tool stores give you a chance to feel the heft and balance of a hammer before you buy it.  They've got a significantly reduced selection compared to the internet stores.

I think JHCC pretty much nailed what I was getting at.  Hammers are a pretty personal tool and the amount paid has less to do with it's value than it's fit to the user's expectations.

If the masterful hand of a craftsman comes at $140 per each, it sure seems reasonable to expect that it will be tailor made for the customer.  Otherwise you're just paying $140 for another person's opinion of what the tool should be.  There's nothing inherently wrong with that, in fact most "collectable" items fall into that pattern of thinking. 

However the original question asked if the $140 hammer would be better.  I think that the easier it is for your customers to spot features worth more than your asking price, the better it's going to be.  I brought up the relative rarity of certain weights and profiles because there are exponents of a given technique that more or less depend on relatively rare hammers.  Brazeal's got videos demonstrating techniques with his rounding hammer, however it's obvious that his hammer has a squarish flat side and a squashed ball on the rounding side.  Most of the typical farriers rounding hammer I've seen aren't shaped that way.  Moreover, they typically weigh less than half as much as his does.  The sheer surface area of the striking face is markedly different from what you'd find at the farrier's shop.  That alone might be worth the custom hammer price to a person.

One thing I've learned to do with hammer handles is to work on the profiles in two dimensions before getting into any rounding or smoothing.  I've also learned that it's much better to seat the handle in the head BEFORE profiling the rest of the handle.  That way I can clamp the head in a vice with the face pointing straight down.  It's amazing how weird a hammer feels in rebound when the axis of the handle is twisted relative to the length of the head.  I made the mistake of shaping a handle then installing it one time.  It turned out that the head had a handle hole that was just a smidge out of plane.  That effectively rotated the handle relative to the head.  It felt like I was swinging a lead mallet with a chunk missing!  The rebound was randomly throwing the head off center, and twisting the handle every which way.  I only buy really thick handle blanks so I can trim them to shape myself. 

 

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As far as the value of a hammer it depends upon your wants, needs, and pocket. Being new to this hobby, I don't have enough time or energy left at my age for this to be considered a hobby by me, I can relate this question to my flintlock experience. I have assembled a few in my time out of purchased parts. I used to spend about $400 for the main parts.

I remember going to a reenactment rendezvous some years ago. Back then you could by a "factory made" flintlock for about $4 to $600 dollars. Semi customs went for around $1200. I came to the display of a well known gunsmith, he had a rifle on display for sale. The price was $20,000!  I had to ask why so much? He graciously took the time to explain to me why. He had meticulously kept a record of the time he spent making this rifle over the course of a year.  He had never done this before and was curious himself as to how much time it took him. When he added up his hours and multiplied by an average hourly wage for a craftsman of his caliber, he realized $20,000 was under valued. This man made the entire gun by hand. He hand forged everything barrel, lock, butt plate, trigger, trigger guard. He also bored and rifled the barrel by hand. The man even made his own tools. This rifle would only increase in value over time, while factory made, and semi custom rifles would depreciate. I bought my hammers from HF for about $9 each. Do they work, yes. Will they be as comfortable to use as a $140 hammer, I doubt it, but for my needs and pocket capabilities they are just fine. When my family disposes of them they will probably be worth about $3 each. So are $140 hammers worth it? Like everything else in life, depends on your wants, needs, and pocket. Years ago I would scoff at a hammer that cost so much, as I worked for a living and had a family to support. Many years later I have come to understand that there reasons for everything, some reasons are better then others.:) 

 

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I don't like most hammers... And I really don't like most hammer handles... When I find one I do like I try and buy it.  I love finding one that feels just right.   I find I like Czech/Hofi style hammers in general. I like Nathan Robertson's hammers too.  I haven't had a chance to play with a Brain Brazeal hammer, but if the handle was close to right I would probably like them too.  I have made hammers that I like, and I modified a bunch of hammers to what I like.  When I am really blessed I am given a flea market find hammer( my old 2nd best helper sledge is an 8# rounding hammer, that a friend found at a yard sale and gave to me... It had been my favorite helper sedge till I made my 6# with Nathan, John and Doug :-)  I still  try to pick hammers up for a few bucks at a flea market or garage sale.  I have a hammer rack full of hammers that I should reforge and rehandle or selll, because I have no use for them as they are.  I have had hammers that just felt good, and then I changed the handle, and couldn't tweak it to feel nearly as good as it had.  Something intangible was lost.  Sometimes I hit it out of the park, and when I rehandle, its just right, and better than before... I am not a one hammer guy, I have two or three main forging hammers, then maybe six other hammers that I use for various specific tasks.  All that to say, sometimes the fancy dancy custom hand made hammer, might just be worth 140$ or more.  If it feels right buy it...  If you get lucky and find something for 2$ that feels like magic in your hand, thank God and buy that too,   If you tinker with your hammer head and your handle and make something that does exactly what you want and feels great, more power to you...  In general I find I like the custom hammers more than any new store bought hammer, some of the old store bought hammers do feel great but you have to get lucky, or you have to do a LOT of soul searching and figure out WHAT you like and WHY, so you can replicate that reliably...  Which can be harder than it sounds.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I don't know why the post I was replying to didn't appear in quotes. Oh well at least it didn't all disappear.

Oh come ON if you don't offend SOMEONE once in a while you aren't posting enough.

New guys :rolleyes:.

Frosty The Lucky.

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I make and sell hammers, I like the ones I make....I like my Jim Austin hammer a lot. I also have 50p hammers I bought from a boot fair I like.  reading through this thread I would say that If you can aford a hand made hammer and like the idea of it then get one or a few. If you can not then with a little time a 50p hammer can be just as good. 

My favorite hammer is an old saw doctors hammer, second favoriute is a £2.00 French hammer ( £2.00 new), then one of mine, then my Jim Austin hammer. For some jobs all are the best. I love other peoples work....like my grandads old jumper , full of living and stories to tell.

 I have a lot of hammers I will end up with more.

$140 is a cheap night out in london...or a hand made hammer that is someones idea of what is the best way to do it.........

I do not like really heavy hammers, they have hurt me and I think that the trend will end up with a lot of hurt people........your experience may vary (if you are lucky)

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I agree Owen, heavy is more dangerous than useful, I don't need the bragging rights of swinging a stupid heavy hammer. My favorites run in the 32 oz - 1kg. range with slab handles.

What is a 50p hammer? I don't know the designation.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Alow me to present the most expensive hammer on IFI, for which I paid over $200,000. Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Beast:

IMG_20160402_130555518.jpg

Now, that may seem excessively expensive, but remember, it came with a house thrown in for free!

2 minutes ago, Frosty said:

What is a 50p hammer?

A hammer that cost £0.50.

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Ive paid a lot of money for good guns, custom rifles capable of planting three handloads inside .300 or even .250 on a good day at 100 yards..They were not cheap but man were they just an absolute dream to shoot. Shilen barrel, 2oz trigger wearing a 36x scope.. I never once regretted buying one..of course this was before I was married,LOL

 Im blessed enough that I can make any kind of hammer I want but if I could not I would not balk at paying $140 for a good tool.. It seems like a lot but its really not after you see how much work goes into making one..

 Custom tools generally are just better at what they do but not everyone is capable of using them to fullest extent.. Ive seen guys buy 5K power hammers but couldent draw a taper with it..Ive seen guys buy Rem 40x's that couldn't hit the ground if they dropped the gun..

 Id suggest buying custom tools with the mindset of it being better at what it does but its still not going to make you better at what you do..

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For me this discussion  is like brandy,  I can tell the difference between an 8 dollar brandy and 20 dollar brandy but I can't tell the difference between a 20 dollar brandy and a 100 dollar brandy.

Or to put it another way.  Some people may have the skill and perception of their technique to tell the difference but I can not and suspect the majority can not.  I use the hammer that seems to suit the job at the time.

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A quick question about the peens of cross/diagonal peen  hammers. which is better, a more radiuses peen or more narrow peen? I understand that less surface area contact is better, so maybe a narrower peen? I personally like the look of a fatter peen, but in the end function out ways looks.

                                                                                                                        Littleblacksmith

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8 minutes ago, littleblacksmith said:

A quick question about the peens of cross/diagonal peen  hammers. which is better, a more radiuses peen or more narrow peen? I understand that less surface area contact is better, so maybe a narrower peen? I personally like the look of a fatter peen, but in the end function out ways looks.

                                                                                                                        Littleblacksmith

Better for what ?

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23 minutes ago, littleblacksmith said:

A quick question about the peens of cross/diagonal peen  hammers. which is better, a more radiuses peen or more narrow peen? I understand that less surface area contact is better, so maybe a narrower peen? I personally like the look of a fatter peen, but in the end function out ways looks.

                                                                                                                        Littleblacksmith

If you think of hot metal as modeling clay, sharp, narrow pein is like a knife, and a wide, blunt pein is like a thumb. Which is better? Depends entirely on the job you're doing and the specific task at hand. The former is better for texturing, such as the veins on a leaf. The latter is better for moving more metal fast, like drawing out a heavy piece of stock.

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sorry for not giving enough info :( I was wondering for spreading metal (ex. leaf).

                                                                                                                                Littleblacksmith

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20 minutes ago, littleblacksmith said:

sorry for not giving enough info :( I was wondering for spreading metal (ex. leaf).

                                                                                                                                Littleblacksmith

Aw, it was a good question. Sometimes an open question will yield a much broader range of results. What happens all to often though is the question is too general to be able to answer in a meaningful way. However some are just open enough to find out how various versions of a tool work. A "which works better" question REQUIRES a certain range of generality. This is a good example, you had one thing in mind but learned two and we're not done with you yet. ;)

Frosty The Lucky.

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32 minutes ago, littleblacksmith said:

sorry for not giving enough info :( I was wondering for spreading metal (ex. leaf).

                                                                                                                                Littleblacksmith

Depends on the size of the leaf.

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My favourite hammer is a cheap 1 kg German Schlosser hammer made to DIN spec. I have not even had to round any edges and I do not think that I would work any better with another type. If I need more purchase I go to a 1.5 kg but that is tiring. Since I have been using it so much it is just an extension of my hand. I do not neet to think about how I hold it or how I hit. I just hit.

On the other hand I have a Japanese kitchen knife, bought in a specialist shop in Asakusa. It is vastly superior to any of my French ones bought in a kitchen ware shop in Paris. The way that one cuts tricky meat and fish is soo much better.  

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  • 3 weeks later...

There's a saying everyone know "A bad craftsman blames his tools" But few people know the second part of that saying "That's because a good craftsman would not use bad tools" 

I've always found good tools fit in your hand better, last longer and are much more pleasurable to use. A tool being pleasing is, I find, can be a defining aspect of your work.

That being said, the best tools are the ones you make and your learn from.

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