The Hammer: An Essential Tool with Primitive Roots
By Robert Thomas | Jul 20, 2018
InThe 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.
In some workshops that do very specific and repetitive hand forging, specific hammer shape and weight can be very important. As a shop that does a variety of complex work, we have hammers of all shapes and sizes and we use them all. We use short-handled, 4 pound (1.8 kg) Czech-style hammers and long-handled 2 pound (0.9 kg) ball peens, often on the same project.
I usually work with whatever hammer I’m feeling most comfortable with and that changes frequently.
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