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I have a 50# Fairbanks and I am dealing with a recurring problem that has plagued me over the years. 

First, the space for the key is 1/4"-5/16". This small a key is prone to bending and mushrooming so removal later can be quite a challenge. I have other hammers where the dovetails are narrower and allow for keys that are 3/8" - 1/2" which is then much easier to deal with. I have never been brave enough to have the dovetails machined smaller to allow for a larger key. Has anyone done this? And would it be a mistake?

The second challenge is the sow block allows for the key to be removed because the dovetail plane is perpendicular to the plane of the machine. The hammer dies sit on top of the sow block and you can only access the key when installing the die. To remove , you have to first remove the sow block to access the key for the hammer die removal. I have reason to change hammer dies somewhat regularly and wish there was a better solution. I know I could replace the existing sow block with a  dovetailed plate and bolt holes so I could use bolt on hammer dies. I have had trouble with this solution because the bolts do not seem to last very long. I hope someone out there has a better way of dealing with this. Thanks.

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Hey Steven, we met years ago when I bought a 50 lb LG out of your shop.  I wouldn't hesitate to modify your dovetails to allow bigger keys.  I run 3 hammers in my shop, 50, 100 and a 250 and have made all of my own dies.  I just make them so they work for me and for what I am doing, I  would even machine my sow block if it meant an easier system,  its only metal and if it doesn't work you can always change it.  If you fit the keys well enough the dovetail system can be as quick and more secure than a bolted die system, the guys who designed these hammers came up with dovetailed keys for a reason!  Take care...

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I remember, especially how we had the hammer lifted horizontally in the air so you could drive your truck underneath. Glad it worked out. Thanks for the feedback. I will cut the dovetails so I can use a bigger key, that makes it so much easier. Hope the die steel isn't too hard for machining. Thanks

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On old hammers with dovetails perpendicular to the frame, later solutions to the key issues were to cut straight dovetails and use a key either side of the die, with opposing tapers. One key locks the die, the other releases it. I dont think this was used on fairbanks hammers, but I don't see why it could not be made to work. This is used in bradley hammers. The long key in this photo is skinney end out and will release the die. The opposite key is fat end out and driven in until the die is tight. Oh and yes I should trim this key...

20210410_100710.jpg

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Thank you this is really helpful. There are two keys on my sow block. I , at first, thought that one was just a spacer but now see that it is tapered. It appears both of your keys are reasonably stout.  I still have the original problem which is that both keys are 1/4" at the thinnest end and start to bend as soon as I try to remove them. This is why I was hoping that  ( when I finally manage to get them out) I could reduce the size of the dovetail and increase the thickness of the keys. Any suggestions?

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