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Hammer technique - physiology ?


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I've been hammering for about 3 years - small tools and useful hardware things mostly.

About 1 month ago I had the opportunity to participate in an iron smelt - that was a great experience.

BUT . . . I was given a hammer to work with that was way heavier than any of my own. After about 7-10 minutes as a striker, my arm was "toast".

Fortunately another fellow stepped in and finished the job.

That lead me to my question:

Is there a good description of good arm / body technique / stance that will prevent injury from repetitive actions? Are there execises that help build up strength in muscles,/ tendons/ ligaments when I'm not at the  forge?

I've done a fair bit of searching and have come up with almost nothing for blacksmiths.

There are spark tests for steel, colour samples for heat treating, lots of examples of tools, lots about protective equipment for eyes, ears, feet etc etc but how about my main tool  - my arm?

I've spoken to experienced smiths that have all related stories about injuries and the amount of time it took to heal - is there a guide about how to prevent injury?   I've watched with horror in some cases the Forged in  Fire program with guys whaling and bashing away at their steel - made my arm sore just watching them.  I'm pretty robust but I don't want to end up like a few guys with damaged rotator cuffs that need surgical intervention to repair.




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Here are a few threads that talk about injuries from hammering, what should have been done to prevent them, the proper stance, the proper way to hold a hammer, etc.  Hope they contain what you are looking for. 

On the last link, or any other blueprint page, make sure you scroll down since the information you want isn't displayed on the screen when the page loads.





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Welcome aboard miro. Buzzkill linked some good threads. One of the main thing, is to start with a hammer weight you are comfortable with. Using too heavy of a hammer is a good way to get injured. Here is a good thread to help you get the best out of IFI. It's full of tips like editing your profile to show your location, best way to do a search and how to keep the moderators happy. By showing your location you may be surprised how many members are near you and a lot of answers require knowing where in the world you are located.


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I tell my students that the proper way to swing your hammer is " from the tip of your nose to the tips of your toes". In otherwards it is a full body movement. I then exaggerate what I mean and make a blow using and moving all my joints. Of course, in reality, These movements are very subtle, but they are always there.

Our bodies are a very complex shock absorbing system, thus all joints do their part.

For some "back in the day" sources concerning this, I was strongly influenced by " the joy of movement" books.

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Wow that is a tough question for someone not your primary care physician to answer on an open forum. Speaking for myself, I was wedging and sledging at ten years old to keep the house warm. When it started, I was sure that I would die. 

How many pounds was the hammer of which you have spoken?  7 - 10 minutes could be a LONG time, if you have never swung one before.....

Anvil, just caught your post - well spoken. Be Water.

Robert Taylor

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Thanks for the links - they didn't come up when I searched on this topic.

The hammer I was handed at the smelt must have been at least 8 -10 lbs - way too heavy for me and way heavier than the hammers I use. But that's all that was there.  I've added info to my profile.


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2 pounds is a suggested starting point for a one hand hammer.  Beyond that it is suggested at a longer handle and two hands be used. 

It takes practice, and realizing what you CAN do, to swing a hammer. If you get tired, stop.  Pushing beyond that causes damage to the body.

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search for Mark aspery sp ? best hammer control I have seen ! Master Smith ! if you can see him in person GO !!!! we are Very blessed to have Him in are group of Smiths ! you can learn so Much from Him


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Uri Hoffie has expert ideas on hammer control and technique. I believe their is a Blue print hidden in the either. 

BP1001 Hofi Hammer Technique

Now my own thoughts on heavy hammers (well hammers in general) is to tilt the hammer up so the handle is vertical and close to your body. This reduces the leverage that multiplies the weight of the head. At 6 I picked up an 8# sledge wile dad was at work and started breaking up a concrete drive way. Figured it real fast I couldn’t lift the hammer at full extension. That lesson has stood me in good stead for the last 45 some of years...

that said you will be surprised how much steel you can move from full overhead extension (and on your tiptoes) but on a sledge used on an anvil it benefits you to lower your anvil a few inches and to shorten the sledge handle so when cradled in your hand the handle tucked into the armpit. If I may also suggest lengthening your hammer handles so the handle fits into the inside of the elbow when the head is cradled in your hand.


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Exercising and building muscle in general will help with hammering for long periods of time but swinging a hammer will be the fastest way to get the strength. Whenever I swing (others have said this) I try to use my whole body. Especially when swing heavy hammers. I normally swing an eight or six pound hammer (one hand) when drifting and I have had to do this for extended periods of time. I don't die after this because I use my whole body to swing the hammer.

As for injuries, I haven't had any except for tight tendons. Maybe because I'm 15 but other Smith's can inform you on how not to get injured.

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I was told by an experienced smith that hammering with the thumb along the shaft of the hammer is not a good practice. For most hammering I use a full grip - thumb around the handle. For some light work though, I get better control and accuracy with the thumb along the handle. Is this poor technique?


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First off..     forget most of what is said..     There are tidbits of gold in all of it.. But.. 

Because of use, we all have a finite number of anything in simple normal daily use and it varies strictly by person..    It has nothing to do with better or worse ways or what have you..  

There are better ways to hammer and worse ways but it all comes down to "WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU"

There are so many varied techniques with people claiming that if you work this way or that way that you will have less pain and a longer useful life span..  If you are a chair jockey and expect to forge like a beast on the weekend forget it. 

My observation is simply this:    Start off with the lightest hammer you can swing for a given amount of time and expect to be sore if you don't do a given activity regularly..      This is weight lifting plain and simple. 


Go and watch the newest video of making the carving chisel.  It shows me in my form for working on an anvil that is 2 inches lower than what I prefer..  I can safely work on and anvil that is 2" lower to 2" higher than what I prefer..  With this said, I was sore after working for 4 hours.. this is normal as I am using more muscles in a way they are not used to. 

With this said. Most can not do this..   I can do this because of getting in better shape and being in better shape or forging shape will offer the best outcome of any hammer adventure..   ( GET IN SHAPE).     This can take 3 months or 3 years depending on how much forging you do.. Going to the gym can help.. 

The  biggest thing that happens is someone will start to forge and move up in hammer size to quickly and also not forge enough for a given hammer size and this leads to injury..  The other thing is to warm up thoroughly before you start swinging hammer..  Start off with a light hammer and make a nail or 2 in a slow fashion or make something that takes swinging but use a light hammer.  Again warm up. 

Now as for hammer size..  I swing a 4lb hammer on a normal basis and also use a 6lb hand hammer as well as up to 9lbs with 1 hand..   But, I have had to work up to the 4lbs hammer over about 2 years and this is the key..  Start with a small enough hammer that you have some muscle soreness but no joint pain.. If you experience joint pain stop and move to a lighter hammer and swing lighter..  Pay attention to what your body is telling you.. 

A 2lb hammer might be good for a general hammer for someone young enough and working as a carpenter or laborer but as you age and sit in an office all day its important to keep this in site..   People often forget that as they age, they still think of themselves as a 20 year old stud..  :(     then at 55 wanna swing that 10lbs sledge and get hurt. 

Blacksmithing is not dangerous as many will have you believe, and taking it on at any age is possible.. But common sense needs to be applied and common sense can run in short supply. 

Many will say not to bend at the waist to stand up straight and swing from your elbow..  Or to keep a light grip on the hammer handle and let it swing or pivot in your fingers using the rebound from the anvil to help bring the hammer back up..  (there is no rebound energy when hot metal is hit so is bogus) until the metal gets cold enough then you move into burnishing vs forging.. 

Anyhow,  get in better shape, use the smallest hammer you can that offers control and if you want to use a larger hammer "DO NOT" start using that hammer all at once but bring it into use over a period of months...  use it for a few heats and put it back down.. 

I have found that introducing a larger hammer this way, most people don't get sore, gain more hammer control on their normal hammer becoming more proficient and with a short time frame move up in hammer size and have great control and they swing it like they own it. 

So, take your time, introduce the hammer on and off till you forget you are swinging the larger hammer..  Get in shape either through hammer time or going to the gym..  Work on bicep, triceps, back, stomach, and legs. 


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On 12/27/2019 at 12:17 PM, miro said:

 After about 7-10 minutes as a striker, my arm was "toast". 

I've watched with horror in some cases the Forged in Fire program with guys whaling and bashing away ar their steel - made my arm sore just watching them.

Is there a good description of good arm / body technique / stance that will prevent injury from repetitive actions?

Note that the OP only mentions "arm" in singular terms. The FIF contestants are not two handed striking, are they?


Robert Taylor

I agree, Jennifer, it is my dominant arm and overall muscle tone that determines the sensibility of the hammer weight that I apply.

Edited by Anachronist58
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Tho I have one handed 8,10 and 14# sledges, I typically don’t go much over 4# on a regular basses. Typically I shift back to my 2# hammer after the initial heavy shaping but As a farrier my 2# rounding hammer more or less lives in my hand. Remember I use longer handles and don’t typically choke up.  

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39 minutes ago, Anachronist58 said:

Note that the OP only mentions "arm" in singular terms. The FIF contestants are not two handed striking, are they?

Also mentioned he was the striker which is what led me to believe two handed.  I agree being in shape helps a lot but good technique helps endurance.   Dosent matter what kind of shape your in if your technique is poor your going to be wore out faster

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Jasent..   See here is the thing..  Good technique is learned and for a given person the endurance is a learned trait for their ability or if conditioned to function in a particular way.. 

I use a European or Swedish method of swinging a sledge so the hammer never goes around the back and over the head, like in a rail road film or in early forging films when working with very large forging with a gang of 10 men at the hammers. Most the hammers even in anchor making were only 6 or 8lbs. 

What constitutes bad form for one person is normal for another..  The problem is specific examples of form vs function..  I work with a mason who uses both hand hammers and sledge hammers daily, but yet is not a very good striker..  Not yet anyway.   He has worked with Lyle Wynn and they use an over the head strike because they are unskilled strikers and need the most bang for the buck. 

I also have worked with a couple of teenagers who worked with me on a regular basis who I taught to swing hammer in that Swedish tradition and they could swing at any angle and move the metal like no one could that did not have experience over head with a larger swing or not.. 

During the story board aspect of the chisel build I took over sledge duty for one heat.. and in 1 heat completed a full tang where the other guy took 2 heats though he was working his but off.  

Technique was key to doing this for sure.. Technique but more important is the skill set behind the reason why I swung the way i did..   And I only use short hammer strokes.. 

After this demonstration for this stone mason, he was surprised how the metal moved so quickly and not once was the hammer blow straight...   

Proper use if the hammer and knowing how to use the hammer can sometimes be 2 different things even asked of 1 person.   

The ability to see the difference between what is shown, what is done and then being able to apply it can be part of the learning aspect..  But overall,  if someone is asked to move outside their comfort zone physically (old, out of shape, not skilled, etc, etc) it doesn't matter how good their technique is.. they will flat line quickly.. 

Most forging heats are only 1minute to 2 minutes...   this can get made longer if the item can be forged quickly enough to finished shape and then burnished in 1 heat then this can be moved outwards to 3 to 5 minutes when working by hand. 

If using a fast press or larger power hammer with large stock sizes this time frame are moot but we are not referring to this type of forge work.   But for hand forging even with a sledge hammer vs hand hammer it's the same window or only 1 to 2 minutes.. 

At some point I have videos in the que for both sledge work, file work, welding work.  But they won't happen anytime soon. 

Anyhow,  While the discussion of this is very complex because of peoples experiences  it always comes back to the same factors for all this blacksmithing work. 

Knowledge, skill, applied skill, forging prowess and physical ability.   (In shape, both mentally, and physically to be able to apply the work needed to the object. )_

There is a reason why every video produced has mistakes in it, and why I always choose to upset or do harder ways vs easier ways for the video. 

If something looks to easy most will dismiss it as impossible.   If made to look to hard no one will ever try it..    but to see someone make a mistake which we all do, then to pull it back around it can show a difference.   Well this is the hope at least..  But, apparently i maybe missing the mark on the videos..  :) 


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today, especially in certain places they use hand hammers with two hands since they are not prepared for strikers..  I've seen it many times at impromptu demos. 

Heck I did a demo on hatchet making at a very great shop of a part timer..  I get there and they had no welding flux..  the hatchet was a wrapped construction..  who doesn't have welding flux at a blacksmtihing shop knowing it was a welding demonstration.. The owner of the shop is a blacksmith in his own right. Knowledgeable and skilled, yet no flux.. 


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Keep in mind what I wrote earlier.. it does not matter whether it's 2 hands or 1 hand or even a foot hammer..  getting in shape for a given activity will indeed offer the best protection against future injury..   Most forging activities are hammer, anvil, vise related so can be the best source for getting in shape but it has to be regular just like going to the gym. 

Same is true for sledge work and the same.. 

If one does start going to the gym it's been outlined in areas to work by muscle groups. 

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