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Tradition


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I see that that even some amateurs are using Power hammers . What for ? . To me it is more important to develop the skills of hammering . One needs to get the feel of the hammer and the iron . Fair enough , with commercial repetitive jobs one can see the need for it . But , with all due respect -----what are blacksmiths strong arms for ???----- Lets not loose the most treasured thing in life -----Tradition . No offense to anybody , These are my thoughts . Kind regard to all , Alan.

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Alan, you want to talk tradition? Power hammers in one form or another have been around since before roman times, in the form of water powered beam helve hammers. Power hammers are as big a part of the blacksmith shop traditionally as most any other.

I think however the argument can be made against LAZYNESS :D.

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I also feel that some of the folks new to smithing are not spending enough time on learning basic skills. There are a handfull of tasks that should be done until they become as easy as turning the key in a lock. Ability to move those chores to the right brain along with the muscle memory patterns that go with it will get a smith farther down the road in less time without the frustrations of being unable to finish a piece due to lack of basics.

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Tradition for pretty much the entire span of this our Iron/Steel age would have us with *several* trained strikers in our shop as "hobby shops" are non-traditional.

I can afford 3 trained strikers so I do what was traditional in such cases and equip up!

BTW I have no electricity in my shop currently is that traditional enough? (Had to park my powerhammer at a friends place in the country for about a decade...)

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My elbow has a finite number of hammer blows in it. I don't know what that number may be, but I hope it's one more than i need before I die. A lot of forging is isolating a length of stock to a dimension, then making that section different than original. I use a guillotine fuller to get that dimension, and feel just fine PHammering the original section to pretty close, and finishing with a hand hammer. I haven't seen anyone yet who was competant at power hammer forging with out having a strong background at the anvil first. That's a great question, and i feel worthy of my best guess of a response. At local hammer-ins, we all still love getting one to eight strikers together and see what can happen, but I would hate to pay for that many employees.

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Rich Hale had a most excellent suggestion. Master the basics before moving on. Doing things a hundred times til you can do it in your sleep practically is the way to really honestly develop your skills. Being able to show off the fruit of those skills will earn beginners the respect we all crave.

Sadly, most people don't have the patience to take the time, and do the dumb repetitive work that is required to get really good at this. Everyone wants a shortcut, but in the long run there are no shortcuts, some paths are better than others, but still it is a long road, and takes a lot of effort to get good at this or any other art or skill. A power hammer adds capacity and potential(, you have a greater capacity to make mistakes, and a greater potential to hurt yourself and your tools;-) Seriously you can work bigger stock and take on more ambitious projects with a power hammer. But that doesn't make you a better smith really...

A Great smith can do Great work with mediocre tools, look at all the medieval iron work. By our modern standards their tools were uniformly substandard(, for the most part, the highly decorated armourers tools that were used to impress rich clients rock;-). A good smith can do better work with good tools, but he still isn't going to bump up to doing great work, just because he has all the latest and greatest tools. (To be honest I fall in this category probably, cause I find my tooling more limiting that I would like;-) A beginner is going to do beginner work, it will be easier with really nice tools, but it will still be beginner work. Once you really know what your looking at, and can see the processes in the design, it becomes easy to see, who is an artist, who is a master, who is a journeyman, who is a beginner, and who just has poor taste;-)

Learning to do the work with just basic tools will add tools to your mental toolbox, which you always have with you (atleast until you forget things like I do;-) But Mike is also very right in saying none of us know how many hammer blows we have in our arms, and lightening the burden of the stupid part of the work is a Godsend. My hands creak and pop when I flick my fingers out to full extension, and sound aweful, and don't feel too good either. I need to do all with in my power to protect my hands, so I can continue to make a living, a power hammer helps with that. If this were just a hobby to me, would I cough up for a power hammer (probably not, if money were still tight like it is now;-( but I might build one as a fun project to enable me to embark on other fun projects;-)

Another issue is how you begin to think if you have a power hammer... Volume become very important, you can work a larger volume of steel. You can isolate material, and do all kinds of wonderful three handed tricks. Including drawing out those lovely long tapers in heavy stock. But power hammer work requires you add another drawer to your mental tool box, because translating hand forging techniques to the power hammer isn't always easy or obvious...

I would talk longer, but I am on baby duty, and she is being cranky... ;-)

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G'Day all , long story short i had shoulder surgery about 4 yrs ago , find swinging even a 2 lb hammer these days hard ,, i'm an " amateur " , still love my days in shop but need that extra help a power hammer ( in my case a 15 kg Anyang ) will offer me .

Dale Russell

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Remember, its just another TOOL, and a tradtional one in my view, it does not "replace" the hand hammer or knowledge to use it.

I used a hand hammer for about 10 years before I ever used a Power Hammer. I primarily forge knives, about 99.5% of what I do. So im working with either tool or high carbon steels exclusively. The primary steel I use is W-2, in round bar form, from 1-1/4" up to 2" rounds. A power hammer sure makes working that big round bar much easier than doing it by hand, tried it both ways.

To me a Power Hammer DOES NOT REPLACE the hand hammer, it AUGMENTS the hand hammer. I do this for a living, and the power hammer is the prime tool in my shop for effeciency, and that is extremely important when every dollar you make is from that shop.

I do agree that a 'smith should learn to use his hand hammer, learn the basics, learn what to hit, why and where. I relate it to bladesmiths that start making pattern welded steel (damascus) before they even learn how to make a good knife out of plain carbon steel. The difference is you can learn the basics of your craft and still learn to use a Power Hammer. As a matter of fact if you learn the basics, and learn to use a power hammer, your craft will have more room to "breath". Just opens up more opportunity, and if your also trying to make a dollar, it speeds things up WITHOUT sacrificing quality or "tradition".

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power hammers are nothing but a bigger mussle that dosnt wear out... if you cant forge a power hammer just proves it and can hurt you... but if you like working in bigger stock (anything bigger than 1/2 inch) they are almost mandatory . Ive been forgeing for 25 years and havnt always had a hammer... most of what i make i dont need one but .. it limits what i can economically make . I will have one running soon and am looking fowards to it. As far ans beginners useing um i can understand it . I have a couple of friends that have a fairly weak arm ...And some of them will never be able to swing a hammer like i do but they can still work bigger iron with a trip hammer . as far as "tradition" ive heard this argument many times but ... hammers are traditional! trip hammers go back in history in the americas to the 17th century ! and much earlier in europe! and all ironwork was at one time or another "industrial" if you read the book "pounding out the profits" you will see that power hammers were used for many things some of them fairly small (knife blades). so i figure when i hear the argument about tradition that the person dosnt really know history .. the first mechanical hammer built similar to a little giant was patented in 1866. prior to that trip hammers and steam hammers were in abundance ! now your village blacksmith might no have had a hammer... he had 3 aprentices in stead ! also he was not doing a lot of makeing he was more a repair man..

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Take a look at the link posted originally in Vices by JosephPrivott.
Hammers, music and scales
At the very bottom of the page is a picture of what is supposed to be a c. 1285-c. 1360 smithe complete with power hammer.
Note: I am not advocating the use of such by novice (such as myself) smiths, just thought this pic would lend a bit of reference.

Thanks JosephPrivott for posting that link, it was very interesting.

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OK, devil's advocate time. But first, I don't own a power hammer. Not for any traditional reasons, however. I just am tight on space and don't really need one. I do use a treadle hammer every chance I get, though.

So how about if these amateurs are just trying to get what they want out of their craft? The only ones they're cheating are themselves, and maybe not even that. If the work they produce is satisfactory to themselves and whoever is receiving it, then what's the problem? Hopefully there will always someone with the basic knowledge to hand down to the next generation. And I suspect that will always be true.

There will be those who do nothing but forge with coal and hand hammer by the light of lantern. There will always those who do nothing but cut with waterjets, bend with machines, and weld stuff together. And there will always those in between, having a good time making themselves, and probably others, happy.

We all have reasons to do the things we do. None of them are greater or lesser than anyone else's, nor do they require justification. Just my opinion, but I don't think taking up this craft, or any other for that matter, should come with a required set responsibilities.

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I side with Rich Hale and fionnbharr, and then some. Too many times I see newcomers to this Craft, and look in wonder and amazement at the enthusiasm and creativity, and loathe the more often than not, complete lack of dedication. Anything worth learning takes time and patience, Blacksmithing is no exception.

Surely, power hammers, dies and what-not will add to the ease of certain tasks; yet they do NOT, ever, EVER qualify as experience and wisdom at the anvil. I hammer very long and very hard. I do not have problems with my shoulders, arms, hands or back. I was fortunate to have passed down to me, effective techniques and the correct methods of hammering, and I readily offer help to anyone who visits my forge and is willing to learn.

I do not wish to sound arrogant or whatever, though I must stress to everyone, that correct techniques are of critical importance; and if you do not wish to seek out and learn the right stuff, I have trouble justifying to myself a reason to instruct or give advice any further.

Learn the basics, remember them, build on them, they are the base from which you stand.
You can never go wrong.

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I spend a lot of time here in the chat room and review most of the posts on these forums. I read a lot of frustrations from some of the folks on here about getting stuck making something that usually involves basic smithing skills. Years back I started shoeing horses and tried to make shoes from steel bar stock. Pretty sad attempts. I tried to figur out what I wsa doing wrong. It was mostly everything. I did not make the heels right did not make the shape correctly and punched the holes sloppy and in the wrong places. Forme what worked was takein a long bar and making heel on one end colling it and making one on the other end. Cut them both off and start again. Until the bar was about the right length for a shoe..set that aside. When I could make heels correctly every single time I worked on holes. I wouldpunch holes and then cut them open with a saw to make sure the fit the nail correctly. Then I worked on shapeing bar stock into shoes. When those became right I then went back to my original goal of makin hand made shoes. It still was not easy but I had developed skills to get me going without failing each and everytime. Basics. I lacked the basics to do this task. BReak down what you want to do into basics and see if it does not get your learning curved shortened. I mentioned my work to a well respected farrier and he said." make big piles of shoes now and you will improve" If you want to make S hooks and have trouble with the scroll ends work on those until they are really nice, Then when you make a hook it will look right on both ends. However this does not apperntly work on typing.. or speelin. Have fun

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G'Day all ,
I'm readin' ( between the lines ) a lot against an " amateur " like myself buying & using a power hammer ... :(

12 yrs at the anvil , try this , try that , 6 students ( 3 i know of are still actively working hot iron ) later i can't pound iron like i wanna . I started out with a 5 lb hammer ( now usin' a 2 lb hammer ) , then hurt my shoulder ( waited 6 yrs before i finnaly had something done about it . 3 months off work without any $ coming in ....... STUPID )

I know how iron moves , the basic's i do without even thinking about ( i had a GREAT online teacher " Shadow " )

So as a hobbist because i've a " bung " shoulder i'm " not " ment to get a powerhammer ... Be buggered , i'll use what ever tool i can so i can ENJOY 1 of the things i love most ( next to my family )

Like most hobbist i'd like to 1 day turn this inta a fulltime job ,,, NO hammer & i can kiss that goodbye .

My power hammer isn't ment to replace hand hammering ,, just let me do bigger stuff without wrecking my shoulder anymore then needed


Dale Russell

P.S , i pick it up in 13 days .... http://www.iforgeiron.com/forum/f13/get-hammered-moonys-6559/ ... :)

Edited by Dale Russell
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When I served my apprenticeship (way back when) in the shops department of a major steel maker, I started out literally at the bottom. There were 5 Blacksmiths, 6 helpers, and four hammer operators. The shop had three large hammers. All were steam driven (250 lb per sq in. pressure) and controlled by an operator. They were 1000 lbs, 1500 lbs and 3000 lbs respectively.
The first 3 months of my apprenticeship was spent learning what the names were of the various tools and equipment used was called.It was my job to get the correct tools assembled for the helper to use to assist the Blacksmith on the job they were going to do on the hammer that day.It was also my job in those first three months to be a striker on the anvils when needed.
The next three months were spent on the anvil learning hammering techniques, bending and forming both on the anvil and on one of the various presses we had set up.
The next six months were spent doing the same job as the helpers on the hammer. This involved getting and holding the correct size of stop blocks, swadges, fullers, necking down tools etc. that was required to do the job on the hammers with the blacksmith.At the same time there were still plenty of time spent on the anvils ddoing the "hand forging" that was required.
After a year I was finally started on the power hammers. But yet again it started out with the very basics such as straightening cold steel. It was a long slow learning curve to work up to any sophisticated forging under the power hammer with all the same techniques learned on the anvil applied to the power hammer. The same methods are used but the big difference is the POWER of the hammer. You started on the smallest power hammer and worked your way up to the biggest one (it req'd two helpers as well as the operator) to run. On the big boy we used to make the large overhead crane hooks for the plant. Unfortunately they didn't allow cameras in the plant, as I would have loved to have some pictures taken when we made a HUNDRED ton Capcity crane hook. The hook was forged from a 17 inch square billet and took three days to forge. It took a crew of 12 people to make it and when finished the hook itself weighed 6 Tons!
After more than twenty five years in the trade ( and the bad back to go with it) I now just do hand forging in my shop. Even "small" powerhammers can take their toll on you!
I guess the point that I am trying to make is that you have to learn from the bottom up. It is the only way to learn proper technique AND the safest way to learn. Be it power hammer or hand hammer the Blacksmith is still the most adept at making something out of nothing!
How you choose to do it is simply a matter of choice.

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Remember, its just another TOOL -Lamey Knives

Tradition for pretty much the entire span of this our Iron/Steel age would have us with *several* trained strikers in our shop as "hobby shops" are non-traditional. - ThomasPowers

So how about if these amateurs are just trying to get what they want out of their craft? - Marc

We all have reasons to do the things we do. None of them are greater or lesser than anyone else's, nor do they require justification. - Marc

Be buggered , i'll use what ever tool i can so i can ENJOY 1 of the things i love most - Dale Russel


The quotes above pretty much sum it up.

Unfortunately discussions like this are akin to chasing rainbows.
The harder you try to capture it, the faster it moves away from you until you end up in the middle of a field exhausted by the effort.

Blacksmithing, like any other craft is ever-changing, and evolving, sometimes reflecting the latest technologies and other times taking a step back into the past resurrecting an idea or method that had previously been abandoned or lost.

Does it benefit you to learn the very basics? Does it make more sense to start there and work your way up? Sure it does, but at the end o' the day what it comes down to is the quality of your work and whether you're satisfied with it.

Not following the romanticized image of the village smith under the chestnut tree isn't a betrayal of the craft. I'll bet some of those ol' boys would dearly loved to have had a MIG welder . . .
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Where does "tradition" begin or end? If you were in Rome, the tradition of blacksmithing goes back a few thousand years. In America, it only goes back a few hundred years. The "tradition" of your own shop might be only a few years old. Learn the basics with what tools you have and enjoy the learning and progressing of skills. My 2 shares of financial stocks worth.

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Part of it is that our craft is so diverse; an industrial smith may causually use massive sized steel and equipment---but may know little about esoteric alloy heat treating. A bladesmith may be up on esoteric alloy heat treating; but may have never worked with large steel or made an intricate gate. As a hobbiest many folks don't have the time (or interest) to learn it *all*. I mean how many of use have a thorough working knowledge of working real wrought iron as well as high alloy tool steels, titanium, A36, etc---and how many of use *need* to know a bunch of the outlier stuff.

I think we'd all agree that learning the basics is the best way to get started before jumping into the area of the craft we are most interested in; but it can be hard for a student that wants to do what they are interested in *now*! (I often will let such a student attempt such projects so they can see the value of learning the basics first---when they can see how much more effort is required to fix the problems their lack of experience in the simple basics have caused they often get the hint...)

Edited by ThomasPowers
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Thomas,
As you know, I actually do have a pretty good working knowledge of forging most of the alloys you noted, plus the esoteric metallurgical knowledge etc etc etc.

My reasons for owning and using a power hammer:

1. Longevity of health. One of the men who I spent time with when I first started smith work forged full time for over a decade without a power hammer. He has major physical problems because of it.

2. Efficiency-I can do more faster with a power hammer than without.

3. Ejoyment- I flat out love squishing steel. A hammer lets me do that. Since my first hammer purchase (50 lb Moloch) I have moved up to a 300 lb Bradley. I have easily forged alloy steel bars nealy 4" OD for sculptural and tooling applications. You just can't do that by yourself without a big power hammer.

A power hammer lets you treat metal like clay. You can do this a little bit with hand forging, but most hand forging does not illustrate this quality of hot iron. Rather, bars are punched, spilt, tapered and upset. Drastically changing the form of the starting stock is someting that requires so much effort a power hammer is really reqiured to do it efficiently.

Most of my work is not "traditional" in that I don't use a lot of punched holes, forged welded joints etc. I design and make things that I like and can do with the eqiupment I have. The more I work, the more my skills and repatoire grow. I will probably end up doing some traditional joinery using my hammer, but so far the projects I have designed haven't called for that.

Patrick

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As one of the Three (or maybe it's four) folks who learned with Dale and stuck with it I have to say he's bang on. If this (Blacksmithing) is somthing you LOVE doing then I don't care what you have to use to do it. End of.

I would say from personal experience that you get a lot further and faster by learning from the deck up, the bare bones onwards. It's the most natural way to learn in the world don't forget, once upon a time you didn't have the faintest idea of how to even walk let alone use complicated tools. Learning takes time.

I have the most TREMENDOUS respect for what used to be called 'Time Served' Tradesmen. If you've been doing whatever it is you do for 10 years or more then it's a fair guess you're not a muppett. Nor should you be treated as such.
I was SO lucky to meet and learn from many such men (and the occassional woman too) while I was travelling. Every single one of those folks represented a VAST repository of HARD won knowledge and experience (one that they happily shared) that I could use to further my own skills. It's both humbling and inspiring as a novice to see a Time Served man at work and that's WHY I have Tremendous respect for them.

People like Rich, and Dale, and Moony, and a lot of others here are time served men to me, and every single one of started from the bottom and worked their way up.

Edited by Ian
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