The Hammer: An Essential Tool with Primitive Roots

Unearth the history of the hammer. Hammers have been used throughout history as a fundamental tool for producing structures and machines.

| July 2018

  • hammers
    Hammers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The type that works best for you can depend on what type of work you use it for and what you are most comfortable with it.
    Photo by Sully Sullivan Photography
  • art craft blacksmith cover
    “The Art and Craft of the Blacksmith” by Robert Thomas is perfect for those aspiring to try blacksmithing as a hobby. All skill levels will learn the tools and techniques needed to get started, as well as a look at iron and historical forging traditions.
    Cover courtesy of Quarry Publishing

  • hammers
  • art craft blacksmith cover

In The Art and Craft of the Blacksmith: Techniques and Inspiration for the Modern Smith, Robert Thomas provides readers everything they need to know to take on blacksmithing as a hobby. The book introduces readers with the fundamental tools and techniques to modern blacksmithing and provides how-to projects for every level. The following excerpt is from Chapter 2, "Techniques and Tooling."

Hammers in the form of a stone tied to a stick first appeared in history over 30,000 years ago, and they have advanced very little since then. Even in the world of constant global innovation and technical advancement, it's rare that a structure or machine of any real size or consequence gets produced without the use of some sort of hammer.

In our shop, virtually nothing is made without the use of a hammer. We treat the hammer with reverence: the sort of reverence earned from contributing to 30,000 years of human achievement. We have hundreds of hammers — most are made, some are bought. Most of them have a story. Some of them were made on the other side of the globe by friends of ours and embody their personal style and attitude toward forging. Many of them were forged by Matt on a Saturday afternoon or during a hammer-making workshop. They are all different in their own way, but also all very effective in the right hands.

In England, parts of Europe, and North America, many smiths opt for a lighter hammer on a long, thin handle. Their theory is that velocity is most important and high velocity can be best achieved using a longer handle and creating a larger arc in your swing. In Eastern Europe and the Middle East, they believe the opposite — that mass is most important — thus they use heavier hammers on shorter handles. This school of thought hinges on the idea that more mass hits with more energy and leads to getting the job done in fewer blows.

There seems to be a lot of debate about what sort of hammer works best, but I think that is an impossible question to answer.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of different shapes and sizes of hammers used regularly and successfully by blacksmiths around the world. Some are heavy, some are light, some have long handles, and some are short.

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