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Not entirely sure where this would go, so I will try general first.

Since more than a few of you more experienced smiths are older (no slight intended), I assume this could be a problem people have dealt with. How do you guys deal with pain in your hands while working? Am I possibly using the wrong tools for the job? I have rheumatoid in both hands, carpel tunnel in both (right has been "corrected"), and my right hand was shattered a little over a year ago. I think the problem with my left is I am not using the right tongs which is causing me to have to squeeze much harder then I should have to but they are the only pair I currently own. For my hammers my go to is a 2lb sledge ( I think its technically an engineer hammer) but have a (I think) 34oz ball peen, 2.5lb cross peen and a 4lb cross peen. Maybe I am using too heavy of a hammer

After forging just two simple hooks last night, boy do my hands hurt. Almost to the point of having to take something for it. Would you guys happen to have any advice for mitigating that? The general rule is if it hurts, you are doing it wrong but maybe my hands are just too messed up and the pain is unavoidable in my case.

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Use only a 2 pound hammer for a week.  Easier to hold, easier to control. 

Make and use a tong clip for holding the tongs closed.  There are several designs for tong clips, choose one that works for you and your tongs.

Check your body position while hammering.  Make sure the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, and hammer are in the same plane when hitting the metal.  When you practice a hammer swing, the hammer should pass just outside your leg or pants pocket.  Now move to put the hot metal into the same plane.

Look at the way you grip on the hammer handle.  It should be much like the grip you use for a tennis racket.  The thumb should wrap around the handle and the tip of the thumb and tips of the fingers should almost touch.  Adjust the diameter of the hammer handle accordingly.  When you swing your hammer, throw the hammer head toward the hot metal and the hand is only there to guide the hammer head to the intended point of impact.. 

You can not push with the hand to improve the impact of the hammer.  At the top of a power stroke, my finger nails touch the top of my ear, then I throw the hammer head down to the metal. Aim the hammer to go into and below the face of the anvil, an inch or two  below the surface. Tap, tap, tap does not move metal, bury the hammer into the anvil and the hot metal has no choice but to move.  For less  force, adjust the height of the hammer at the top of the swing but continue to aim past the anvil face and bury the hammer into the anvil.

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You can make a latch for your tongs to help hold materials and experiment with handle sizes on hammers.  I'm prone to tennis elbow thanks to swinging my mine detector in Iraq.  I've found that making my hammer handles stickier it reduces the amount I squeeze the handle.  Currently I use bee's wax and warm it over the forge to get an even coat.  I also have 1 ball peen that I made a leather wrap backstop on.   I also have been paying attention to my mechanics on the swing. 

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I will definitely look into a tong clip. That would help with the left hand and squeezing. I am very aware of my swing. Due to my carpel tunnel and such, I feel the shock of each impact all the way up my forearm through that nerve. To put it bluntly, a missed strike sucks. The hammer hitting wrong on the material sends a nasty shock up my arm. You could say I literally feel every mistake I make in regards to hammer blows. All my hammers I got from the big box stores and have the rubber shock absorbing grip, which I know WILL wear out, or probably get melted at some point.

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Tong clips will definitely help. Sizing the tongs is critical as well: not just to fit the work, but also to fit your hand. You said:

57 minutes ago, SinDoc said:

they are the only pair I currently own

so get more tongs!!!

Yeah, ditch the rubber grips. In a way, those can be worse, as the softness can make you unconsciously grip harder.

I've been dealing with some nasty tennis elbow lately myself. Three things have really helped in the shop: using mechanical means (the Pressciousss and the nodding donkey) as much as possible for the heavy work, picking a lighter hammer when I can, and focusing on proper technique. Also, my chiropractor did a series of "gau sha" treatments on my arms: REALLY painful, but it helped a LOT. 

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I did think about trying to put a more personally fitted wooden handle on as  when I took the class, Adlai's hammers were much more comfy to hold and felt...nicer? I think that is how I would describe it.

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Get a much looser grip, one old smith told me he "throws the hammer at the work and catches it on the bounce!"  This has several components to it: is the handle sized to fit your hand?  If it's too large then you have more issues gripping it.  I like terminal bulbs on my hammer handles so I know the hammer can slide out of a loose grip.  (I actually can have a hammer handle slide back and forth in my hand when I swing it in a loose grip.)   You shouldn't be holding it such that shock goes up your arm!!! Never wear a glove on your hammer hand!!  (The beeswax trick is so you can "grip" a hammer with much less force---all trying to get you to loosen up!)

Lighter hammers can do a lot of work being swung faster---remember the kinetic energy equation is 1/2 M V^2 so increasing the speed does more than increasing the mass.

Warm up with a quite light hammer and switch to a bit heavier one when your muscles and tendons are warmed up.

And when I asked a Dr friend about suggestions for arthritis she recommended a heated paraffin bath---what she does for her arthritis.

Have NO compunctions about modifying hammer handles.  The commercial ones sold are NOT the best shapes; just the ones they think they can make the cheapest and sell the most to the general population.

Also ask around at SOFA; when I was there a couple of decades ago; one of the older members had built several small, couple of pounds, powerhammers that fit in the hardy hole and used the anvil as an anvil.  You could use something like that for drawing out and save you handwork for more skilled tasks.

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I need to try and hook up with SOFA. I was looking at their site just the other day. I really hope I can manage more classes with Adlai in the future as well. As for the shock, that is just how my hand is now. Unless I have such a loose grip that I am almost not even holding the item, if I hit something I can feel the shock. That nerve is super sensitive even after the surgery. You can just tap on the base of my palm and it will send shocks up my arm.

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Maybe try Uri Hofi's method? I can not explain it, nor do it, but it is almost like he grips the hammer with just the finger tips by the sides and not the palm which seems in line with the top of the handle and not the side. That is not quite it, but the best i can explain it.  He has done a few videos on the ergonomics of holding a hammer. You can find them on the you tube and there was a couple links here but i cannot find them right now. 

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First of all, rheumatoid runs in my family, my mom, aunt and and grandmother and her brother have it real bad. So i'm sorry to hear that, it's an AWEFUL disease, affects joints and organs... It's not your grandparents arthritis.  Maybe you don't have it as bad as them, but from what I know... Your tendons are probably already all messed up, so just listen to your body. .. Use light hammers and the tong clip like suggested...  Hydration is very important as well.

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The SLAG, and JW513, I agree with Irondragon as well; lots of water helps to mitigate the arthritis pain.  A lot of my medications indicate "plenty" of water, gout (a form of arthritis) medication amongst them.  And the less i use my hands the worse they get...

Robert Taylor

Edited by Anachronist58
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I never forget to drink, oh...wait, you mean water. 

Actually that is another thing. Alcohol consumption is also bad, or at least i have been told.

Another thing is meat consumption. I get the gout when i eat lots of jerky. I had a friend who would get it eating raw steak. (yeah i know, but he loved him a raw filet mignon)  I think it is something to do with not cooking it, jerky is dried not cooked after all. 

I also have what my grandmother called shaky hands. My hands will just start shaking out of nowhere. If i am holding something i have to set it down. James Bond likes my martinis though. :lol:

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Have you looked into any of the biological treatments for rheumatoid/psoriatic arthritis? They won't reverse much damage already sustained but will slow down future damage. I have rheumatoid arthritis. I was diagnosed with it before the connection was made to psoriasis but now my doctor calls it psoriatic arthritis because I also have psoriasis. Anyway it's something to think about but definitely do your homework. 

Pnut

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I don't quite have the same problem Billy, but boy are my hands unsteady anymore. Especially my right hand. Turning 3 of my metacarpals into puzzle pieces and my wrist bone into several pieces really did a number on my ability to do fine work with it.

Pnut, I have not just yet. I have the beginning stages of it but it runs in the family and my mother has it really bad (she has plates in her hands/feet) and she has more or less been advising me on it lol. According to my ortho, but right hand is going to get really, really bad due to the damage from shattering it, which by the way, I would not recommend. Having 8 pins hold your hand together was, unpleasant. When I got done forging the other night, I had to actually use my left hand to open my fingers to let go of my hammer :lol: 

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There's airways learning to swing the hammer left handed.   I've been considering doing that to give my right arm a break on some of the heavier drawing out and rough shaping. 

Edited by Chad J.
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I considered it Chad. While my hand was broken I had no choice but to use my left for my every day activities. Got pretty good at using it for typical task. Not sure I would trust it with a hammer though lol.

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I have been following this discussion and it inspired me to do a google search for "blacksmithing with one arm".  It lead me to this thread here from 2013, among others.

It could be worse than having two bad hands after all, if you happen to be short one of them.

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11 minutes ago, LeeJustice said:

It could be worse than having two bad hands after all, if you happen to be short one of them.

O fully agree with that statement. The first few weeks of only having one functional hand was horrible. I could only lightly grip something in my right with my pointer finger and thumb but even then it was rather painful.

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1 hour ago, SinDoc said:

I had to actually use my left hand to open my fingers to let go of my hammer

I understand having some stiffness -- my whole right elbow was screwed back together after a snowboarding accident a few years ago -- the best thing I can offer is loosen up your grip on the hammer. I use hockey tape around the shaft for a little better purchase without needing a death grip on the handle. If you're tense, a lot more force is transmitted up your arm. This aggravates existing injuries and creates new ones over time.

Also, while you're working, you aren't hammering 100% of the time. During your heats doing some finger/hand stretches can't hurt and it might help keep that hand from locking up on you to some extent.

No matter what you do it's never going to be perfect -- I'll never have a full range of motion in my right arm again -- but a lighter hammer, a looser grip, etc. might keep it from getting worse while you're strengthening the muscles and such. I know when I was first starting I wore a brace when I wan't forging because I would get so stiff and sore. That seems to have mostly gone away with time. 

As a side note, staying hydrated is important too!

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Arthritis has been developing in my thumbs for years though I don't know what kind, Mother suffered as she aged and Dad's hands were in pretty rough shape when he passed. I've been pretty lucky though I've really abused my hands including 20 years of drilling with water in Alaska year around. 

I've been taking glucosamine for more than 25 years and it's made a big difference, especially for my knees but everywhere, I start to notice within about 2 weeks if I stop.

Right now I take 2-3 dried cherry capsules in the morning, more if my thumbs start hurting. I'd just eat cherries but being diabetic I try not to load up on sugars. Cherry is a systemic analgesic it eases pain it is NOT a treatment. It really helps though. I favor tall conical coffee mugs because they warm my hands better and the heat eases the pain. My index and middle fingers hurt too but my thumbs are the worst.

Surprisingly hammering has little effect on my hands IF I don't use a store bought hammer handle. I modified Uri Hofi's slab handle after trying a friends slab handle farrier's hammers. What I changed is I tapered them slightly wider from head to end and I made a disk "bulb" on the end. As it turns out the enlarged end hasn't been necessary, I've never had one of these hammers slip out of my grip but they are sort of an expected feature so they all get it.

Being a flat and relatively narrow about 1" thick and tapered makes them index automatically, you always know how the head is oriented left/right. This is how Uri is able to use the edges of his hammers as fullers so accurately. The taper trips a reflex reaction to tighten your grip at any sign of it slipping and being tapered only the slightest tightening will stop the hammer cold. It's unnecessary to "grip" my hammers, I hold them between the first joint of my thumb and knuckle joint of my index finger. My other fingers only apply pressure just before impact and only to snap the handle into my palm at the moment of impact and I relax them instantly.

This allows the hammer to rebound on the pivot point between finger and thumb joint and oh yeah, my other fingers catch the handle before it levers itself out of my hand. I take no as in ZERO shock in my hands, none. It's all absorbed gradually through friction and elastic impact with my finger tips like a shock absorber.

Holding it on a pivot adds a 4th pivot point to my swing. Every pivot point is a force multiplier and I crack my hammers like a whip I only reach high with a heavy hammer I roll my lighter ones down my swing path. Envision the cracker on a bull whip or the action of the fly, fly casting.  

The first pic is the handle on a turning hammer a friend helped me make, the handle is 5//4 clear straight grain hickory I bought at a cabinet lumber store. The second pic is a 32oz straight pein that was a ball pein before I got my hands on it.:ph34r: 

      Hammer2Wh.thumb.jpg.6f2b8ff56c9fa74d23f2b55061a080fc.jpg 1051925940_straightpein02.jpg.703ca0faa363d73dbaf2f236ec6c1a0a.jpg

 

These are posed and a decent approximation of the way the hammer moves in my hand in use. At no point am I actually gripping the hammer, it's floating like a foil in a fencer's hand.

Frosty The Lucky.

153507889_grip02.JPG.8f3bdf944ee11b5bcc1ec53826c54471.JPG  842246623_grip01.JPG.4d0f3f9373be94b02f101c74870633be.JPG  1312843094_grip03.JPG.04dbf8d88b44a432fb06c7768ae541f3.JPG 

 

 

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Working on drilling rigs I can understand why you wore out your middle finger and pointing finger signaling.   I would think that dried cherries would be higher by weight in carbs than fresh ones as removing the water would leave the sugars?

One suggestion further---find a blacksmith near you with similar issues and see what works for them!

Weather change this morning; fingers aching; but cool and just enough rain to foster weed growth without enough to not need to water plants you like. (Out here forecasts give precipitation in hundredths of an inch and a 3" rain is one where the rain drops on the dust are 3" apart.)

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