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Beginner Question - Forging with Limited Arm Strength

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I'm as new as they come but I came across this forum and I'm hoping someone might be able to answer a question. I had a total distal bicep tear on my left arm in the fall. For those not aware of the injury - it was a complete tear of the tendon that holds the bicep in place at the elbow. The surgery went well and I'm in physio but I still have limited strength and endurance in my left arm. Fortunately I'm right handed.

My wife signed me up for a beginners forging class where I will be forging an ax head. As I said, my dominant arm is right and is at full strength -  but, would I be able to manage the forging class with my limited left arm (I can lift and hold about 15 lbs right now)? Can one of you experienced smiths provide any insight?


Thanks, Stuart

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Welcome to IFI! If you haven't yet, please READ THIS FIRST!!!

As for your question, there are a number of options you might consider: using a stand or crane to support the workpiece, having someone (your wife?) hold the workpiece for you, etc. At very least, see if you can talk to the instructor beforehand to explain your situation and to brainstorm some possible solutions. Blacksmiths LOVE to come up with creative solutions to unusual problems.

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Is your grip strong?   I think you might be able to forge with your arm in a sling as long as you can hold onto the tongs well.  Probably have to adjust your stance and hammering some.  I worked with folks durn near legally blind and folks missing arms before.  It depends a lot on if the teacher is able and willing to figure out ways around problems. Definite discuss it with them before hand!

I remember one SOFA member that started making 2-3# powerhammers that mounted in the hardy hole of the anvil for folks who didn't have their hammer strength as they aged.

One of my most emotional forge experiences was when a fellow who I believe had been a Thalidomide child wanted to forge at an SCA event.   Rather than telling him "NO!" it was "how can we make this work?"  He managed to do his S hook; though his garb suffered a bit.  (Tong clamps helped a lot where he could put the tongs between what he had as an arm and his body but didn't need to hold them closed.)  His girlfriend showed up later and I was worried I was going to get a chewing out. Instead I got an effusive thank you as he had come back to their camp in triumph having done something---everyone else was trying to "protect him" where I treated him as the adult he was and worked with him to figure out how.

(He was actually easier to work with than the fellow who was nearly legally blind...Strength with little control was much scarier than control with little strength.  Using a longer workpiece and me holding the other end with tongs helped with the vision impaired.)

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Ugh... no fun... windowshade? 


I have brachial plexus Neuritis in both arms with strange nerve and muscle effects. 3 dead to the world in my hammer arm, 2 in my off-arm. 

It sucks sometimes, but I make it work.


I'll echo above, discuss with your would/will-be teacher your concerns and limitations. You want this to be a pleasant and encouraging experience. 

KNOW YOUR LIMITS! Please don't make a frustrating but temporary disability into a frustrating and long-term disability by over-doing it. That said, also don't talk yourself out of it if your instructor is willing to make accommodations. 

Be cautious, but have fun!


Also, congrats on the good outcome of surgery!


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I am not an expert nor a doctor, however, like CtG says do not turn this into a permanent injury if you can avoid it. 

Talk with the therapist you are working with. Maybe they will have some suggestion on what to do. After all many of us can not take weeks or months off work for an injury to heal. Case in point is when i tore my rotator cuff and lopped off my pinky. Anywho the therapist will have had to deal with that and may be able to help. 

Talk with your doctor about it. They will also have had to deal with patients just not being able to take off work for injuries and may have some other ideas than your therapist. The reality of mortgage, car loan, kids, life in general often times disagrees with a doctors advice.

And of course talk with the instructor before hand. Make sure they are comfortable with teaching you and know that you will not be able to push yourself as hard. Also that instructor is most likely a blue collar guy who has had to deal with injuries while having to also deal with life, he may know some things also. Or maybe get you something lighter to work on that will still exercise basic smithing skills. 

When you do take the class take your time, take breaks when needed, and do not worry about finishing the ax. Even not finished you will learn a lot. Heck even just shadowing the instructor and listening to what he is saying to the other students you will learn a buckets worth. 

Welcome aboard, there are some really great people here that are quite knowledgeable. Also take a day and explore this site, so much info you will be amazed.  

Edited by BillyBones
changed "If you take class" to "When you take class"
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I agree with all other suggestions to contact the instructor. 

Not to rain on the parade, but forging an axe head is a pretty involved project for a rank beginner.  Depending on the method used you could end up either punching and drifting a fairly sizable piece of stock, or wrapping and forge welding the eye.  This doesn't even include forging in a bit.  In my experience either path involves a pretty significant amount of off-hand (tong hand) manipulation which will be difficult for someone with limitations in that area.  It is not just the weight of the billet, but the extension of the tong or welded handle, often off-centered stock in the tong,  as well as the gripping of the tongs that can be a challenge.  You also might be called on to partner with another student (or the teacher) for striking with a heavy hammer.

Even if the instructor plans on having their students use a power hammer for most of the heavy processing I think you may end up struggling with one arm of reduced strength.

I'm surprised for a beginner class they aren't making hawks instead.  Perhaps the class is just for forging a very small belt axe, or forging a hand axe out of an old ball peen?  Either of those might be more easy to attempt.

There are likely workarounds for each of these issues (including having another smith holding the stock for you), but will likely require having a fairly knowledgeable assistant standing by helping you with each process.  That may not be easy to setup in a group class.  Also, are you willing to chance re-injuring yourself?

Luck in any event.  Forging axes is a blast, and a very thoughtful gift from the wife.  If it were me I'd reschedule for a later date after full recovery.

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