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I Forge Iron

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Due to changes in my living situation, I've had to take a step back from smithing. As I look to the future, I'm trying to determine how my forge will change, and what I want in it. I know I'll get a Nimba Anvil, as they are manufactured about 2 hours away from me. 

But I also want to get a power hammer. I've never owned one, so that is where my question comes from.

which type of power hammer to get? I have time to save up money to buy a good one. What I need to know is which type to get, Mechanical or pneumatic? Pro's and con's to both? And I figured this thread would be a good memorial for others in the future who have the same question. 

I want to get into pattern Damascus, and making axes. I already enjoy making architectural pieces, and knives. so those are the things that I would use the power hammer for.   

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Have you used a power hammer? We can't tell you which will work best for you, your skills and intended use. I have a 50lb. Little Giant and it was used to make pattern welded blades for decades before I bought it. The fellow I bought it from replaced it with a modern pneumatic utility hammer, several in fact. Having more than one saved him time changing tooling and as he only uses one at a time they all run off the same compressor. He's NOT a hobbyist though, he probably makes hundreds of knives a month, raw stock to out the door finished.

If I had the money I'd want a 3B Nazel rebuilt by Bob Bergman. I visited his shop when he was located in Wa. I googled him and it appears he's relocated to Wi. Anyway, when I was visiting he allowed me to test drive several of his daily use power hammers. With only a few hours on a 40kg. Kuhn, his 3B let me brush stock and plannish out wire brush marks without moving metal  or turn it into thick foil with one fast stomp to the floor on the treadle. The control was exquisite. His 200lb. Bradley helve (mechanical) was tight, smooth and responsive too, the control was as good as it gets. 

I've used a few of the modern pneumatics but not enough to get good on one. I don't recall the make but the treadle seemed backwards, depress it a little for full cycle and farther you press the slower and softer the blows, all the way to the floor clamps. It's not the hammer, I didn't use it enough to get the controls down to reflex so I was pretty clumsy with it.

What's the better machine is largely on the user's shoulders outside of physical criteria, space, power, production demands, etc.

Frosty The Lucky.

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My intentions are not to go to full time production. just hobby/part time work. 

I understand that a lot of machines are all in the user's skill. And as in all things Smithing, Practice Practice Practice. 

I don't think I need anyting bigger than a #100 and actually don't plan on going that big. though If I want to do axes, and probably hammers, Maybe #100 or better is a good choice?

Size is a non-issue, as the shop will be 40x40. 

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I have worked full time with Molocks, owned a 50 lb Little Giant for years, built two Kinyon hammers, and have owned and used Anyang power hammers from the 33 lb I bought in 2003, an 88 and a 165 that I used when I was in production.  All of the hammers served a purpose and all of them allowed me to do more work than I could do without a hammer.  I fell in love with the power and control I could get with the pneumatic hammer but my only piece of advise is to try as many different hammers as you can.  Everybody who has a keyboard can be an "expert" when it comes to power hammers and forging.  I would get as many opinions as you can but there is no substitute for actually getting behind a hammer and forging with it.  There are real and significant differences between the various hammers.  The other thought is so many people look at the poundage of the hammer and the price.  Poundage is only one component of forging power.  I have seen smaller hammers that can out forge heavier hammers because of the down force of the ram.  Again, you just have to try the various hammers to really see the differences. 

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I started with mechanical, still have a soft spot for them and thing they are elegant tools (often quite beautifull too!) but I prefer air hammers. much better to work with more versatile.

If you have power supply issues you get more hit for your HP from a mechanical. apart from that its (self contained) air all the way for me.

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I love mechanical hammers. I have used about all of them in a wide variety of sizes. Bradley, Beaudry and Fairbanks are some of the best. Little Giants and their variations- Moloch, Murray, Meyer, ect are easy to repair and have good control, but arent as heavily built as the others. Air hammers and steam hammers are a big step up. Steam hammers are the absolute best in terms of power and control, but they are also the most expensive to set up and run. Steamers are power hogs, and while they can be run more ecomonicly on compressed air than steam, the CFM required is truly alarming. Air hammers are a compromise. I have not gotten to use the Anyangs but they look like a good deal given that they are still in production and retail is about one tenth what Chambersburg was quoting at the time of their bankruptcy. As for old machines, in the US the two important ones are Chambersburg and Nazel. Both are absolutely the best hammers you could hope for, provided they arent totaly worn out. Air hammers tend to be way more expensive, but more versatile than mechanicals. My preferance is for Nazel hammers, not for any good reason, but I like the 19th century styling. Size is a big consideration too. A hammer of 25-50 pounds is a good hobby tool, a proffesional shop needs more and should be looking for a hammer in a 100 pound plus size. There is an upper limit too, and hammers over 300-400 pounds tend to exceed the operating cost limit on a small shop. I would recomend avoiding the home brew "utility type" hammers such as the Kinyon. While they do work ok they tend to be a bit slow and under powered, though a huge compressor (15-25 hp) can help.

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