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The Smith's Tools Part III

by Fred Holder

[Illustrations were extracted and edited from Forging and Smithing, 1924, by Lynn C. Jones.]

In Part III, we'll talk about the hammer. After the fire to heat the iron, the anvil to hit it on, the hammer is probably the most important tool. You can't get by without some form of heat to bring the iron to a soft, moldable state. You can't get by without an anvil of some sort to use in forming the soft metal. You can't get by without something to hit the metal withnamely the hammer. Now, hammers take many forms, almost as many as there are smiths to make them, but there are some pretty basic types:

redballbullet Ball Pein Hammer

redballbullet Cross Pein Hammer

redballbullet Straight Pein Hammer

redballbullet Engineers Double Faced Hammer

redballbullet Treadle Hammers (Olivers)

redballbullet Power Hammers

The Cross Pein, Straight Pein, and Engineers Double Face Hammers are generally also available in the long handled, heavy headed sledge hammer designed for heavy forging. Sledges will run from six to ten or twelve pounds, while a hand hammer will seldom run over four pounds. Two pounds is pretty normal for hand hammers, although I've used a double faced, short handled forging hammer for several years that weighs in at four pounds. It had to be short handled because I've never had the muscles to swing a long handled version.

In their 1994/1995 Catalog, centaur forge ltd. of Burlington, Wisconsin list four pages of hammers for the blacksmith and farrier. If you can't find what you need among this listing, then you may have to make it.

Generally, the face and the pein of the hammer are hardened while the body is left soft. The eye is generally an oval (so the hammer head will not rotate on the handle while in use) and is punched with a tape drift from both sides so that the eye is tapered from the outside to the center on both sides. This allows a tapered handle to be driven into the eye and then split and wedged on the opposite side to hold the handle firmly in the hammer head. If you make any hammer heads, make a handle drift that is tapered and oval in shape and always punch in from both sides of the hole.

The Ball Pein Hammer

The Ball Pein Hammer is generally available in sizes from one-half pound to two and one-half pounds, with a two pound hammer being a good weight for a blacksmith shop. The pein on the hammer is shaped like a half sphere or ball, hence the ball pein designation. The face of the ball pein is generally a slightly rounded form which pushed metal in all directions when it strikes the soft metal. Actually, the face is a segment of a very large sphere while the pein is the shape of a much smaller sphere. The ball pein is very good for texturing the surface of the metal and the pein may be used when you are simply thinning a piece of metal and you want it to move out in all directions while becoming thinner. I personally always used the ball pein to rivet with. The basic flattening is done with the hammer face and the rounding of the new head is done with the pein. The ball pein hammer is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The Ball Pein Hammer

The ball pein hammer is probably the most common smith hammer available because it is so commonly used by auto mechanics today and can often be found in the second hand stores and junk shops. Its a good idea to have a range of sizes of ball pein hammers. They are probably one of the most basic hammers you'll ever use. Many blacksmith's books that I've read consider this the basic hand forging hammer.

Figure 2. Using the Cross Pein Hammer to fuller stock to make it thinner and wider.

The Cross Pein Hammer

The cross pein hammer has always been my favorite forging hammer. It could be used to fuller material during the drawing out process as shown in Figure 2. My favorite size is a two pound hammer, but many books recommend a three pound hammer as being a good size for general shop work. Cross pein hammers come in sizes from about one-half a pound up to five pounds. The sizes in centaur forge's catalog range in size from one pound to four pounds. A typical cross pein hammer is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. The Blacksmith's Cross Pein Hammer.

The cross pein has a rounded face like the ball peen (again the surface of a very large sphere) and a wedge shaped pein that runs the width of the hammer with a small radiused edge to the wedge. There is generally more weight below the eye of the hammer head to help keep the hammer head pointed in the right direction, is suppose.

I've been using a two-pound cross pein hammer with a flat face that I made when I first started blacksmithing. This hammer can do some real damage to your forging if you're careless, but it sure will provide a nice smooth forged surface. Feeling I should have a professional blacksmith's cross pein hammer, I purchased a two-pound hammer from centaur forge many years ago. After purchasing the commercial hammer, I reserved my flat faced hammer for the finish forging operations. Without a flatter it is sometimes hard to get a good smooth surface, my flat faced forging hammer took the place of a flatter for me. I'm sure that other smiths use a flat faced hammer for finishing, but to date I've never witnessed one doing so. Perhaps the texture of a regular hammer is preferable, but I've always wanted my work as smooth as possible.

The Straight Pein Hammer

The Straight Pein Hammer is very similar to the Cross Pein, except that the wedge is in alignment with the hammer handle. These hammer ware normally made in weights from 1-1/2 pounds to 3-1/2 pounds. The centuar forge catalog lists three weights of straight pein hammer: two pound, eight pound, and 12 pound. I hope these latter two come with long handles to use as a sledge or with very short handles. For hand hammering, a two or three pound hammer would be best. The straight pein hammer is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Typical Straight Pein Hammer.

I've never owned a Straight Pein Hammer. Therefore, I cannot address their uses. In his book, Forging and Smithing (1924), Lynn C. Jones states that a Straight Pein Hammer is useful when drawing out plowshares, corn plow shovels, etc. Today, the blacksmith does very little this type work. Figure 5 does show straight pein being used to draw out a plowshare. From this illustration, I can see the straight pein being useful for widening and tapering heavy knife blades or anything where you need to fuller along a long area.

Figure 5. Using the Straight Pein Hammer to draw out the edge of the plowshare.

Engineers Double Faced Hammer

The Engineers Double Faced Hammer is the same on both ends. These are generally fairly flat; however, like most hammer faces, they are actually like the surface of a large sphere not really flat, but rounded off in all directions. I can't really state any value for such a hammer over a ball pein or cross pein. Perhaps, in the same length of head, you can get more weight. I like a four pound hammer when it comes to striking a piece of hot steel during the roughing out phase or heavy forging phase. I don't think the Engineers Double Faced Hammer was really designed to forging hot steel. It was probably used more to strike cold steel. For example, it might be used to strike punches, cold chisels, and stakes. In this case the two faces would be useful, as one is damaged from striking cold, hard steel you could switch to the other readily. Thus, in the field, a hammer could be used longer without returning it to the blacksmith's shop for redressing. Figure 6 shows a typical double faced hammer.

Figure 6. Typical Engineers Double Faced Hammer.

Other Hammers

There a large number of other types of hammers used by the blacksmith and the farrier. I'm not well enough versed to address them in any detail, but they do deserve mention here. As I understand it, there are two general types of hammers used by the farrier: the driving hammer and the rounding hammer. These come in a number of different shapes as illustrated in the centaur forge catalog. A basic farriers hammer is illustrated in Figure 7. Such hammers come in sizes from about six ounces up to around 14 ounces. Lynn C. Jones recommends a 12 ounce hammer for a No. 7 shoe nail.

Figure 7. Basic farriers hammer is designed especially for the horseshoer. The face of the hammer is hung slightly under or back and the claws are designed to twist off the shoe nails.

Shaped like hammers, but not really hammers, are the mallets made of wood, lead, and brass. These hammers find many uses in the blacksmith shop. I have used a wooden mallet and a stump to straighten twists while they are still hot from the twisting for many years. Brass, lead, and even plastic are especially useful when working sheet metal cold.

There are also a bunch of specialty hammers that are used for sheet iron work and other specialty applications. The centaur forge catalog lists a fairly large number of such hammers. For example: Embossing, chasing, boiler makers, set hammer, stone masons, goldsmiths, double faced polishing, grooving, bordering, scythe, polishing, planishing, Swedish blacksmiths, German locksmiths, French locksmithing, and Dutch Pattern double face sledge. The catalog lists them and illustrates them, but doesn't tell you how they are used. If you're doing work that requires these hammers, you'll probably know how to use them. Otherwise, their a nice novelty or a hammer to own that you may need someday. How many of us have those?

Treadle Hammers (Olivers)

Because so many smiths today work by themselves, some form of "more power" is needed by a smith trying to do production work or doing work on heavier pieces of metal. A lot of smiths also work in a shop without power. As a result, the treadle hammer or Oliver is a good step forward. It satisfies that more power requirement and takes the work away from the shoulder and transfers it to the leg, which has more muscle power anyway. I addressed this topic very extensively in the May 1994 issue of Blacksmith's Gazette, so will not do more than mention it here. You can obtain plans for building a very fine Oliver from ABANA, plus kits and plans are also available commercially.

Power Hammers

These hammers are almost a necessity when production is a consideration. If you want to compete and still make money, you have to have an edge. The power hammer can be that edge. There use can save many hours of time and lots of hard work on the part of the smith. Although as in using any new tool, practice is necessary to become good with a power hammer, the production advantage can be very rewarding.

Probably the most widely used power hammer was the trip hammer such as the Little Giant. Although these hammers have been out of production for quiet a few years, there were thousands of them made in sizes of 25, 50, and 100 pounds. They are fairly easy to learn to use, especially if the smith has learned to move the workpiece under the hammer and to hammer in the same location each time. Move to the trip hammer and you are relieved from having to swing the hammer, you can now use both hands to move the workpiece under the hammer. I found it fairly easy to learn to use my Mayer Hammer when I purchased it several years ago. I never really got the full value from it; however, because blacksmithing has always been a hobby for me. Writing and publishing has been how I've made my living for the past thirty some odd years. Therefore, when we decided to move to Camano Island in 1989, I sold my power hammer. Its been doing heavy production work in Mt. Erie Forge in Anacortes, Washington for the last eight years.

I've seen several shops set up with three or more trip hammers side by side: a 25 pound, a 50 pound, and a 100 pound, each with different dies for different work. Most smiths doing any type of heavy work or production work will have at least one power hammer.

As the work pieces become heavier, so must the hammer. Originally, they were steam hammers, but today they are air hammers. With the advent of heavy duty electrically powered air compressors with heavy duty, large capacity storage tanks, most of the old steam hammers were converted to air. Then the new breed of air hammer became available. These units were designed to work from air pressure, not steam. They are beautiful to operate and are the ultimate "power hammer". The centaur forge catalog lists several models of the Kuhn Air Hammer ranging in size from ram weights of 75 pounds to 330 pounds. I've seen these hammers in use at ABANA conferences and their simply outstanding. However, you have to have a pretty high dollar shop to afford hammers of this type unless you stumble onto a bargain on a used hammer.

Holding the Hand Hammer

The hand hammer should be held loosely in the hand as shown in Figure 8. One must not choke the hammer, but should grip it comfortably. The hammer will respond well when properly gripped. Grip it too tight and it will complain by hurting your hand.

Figure 8. Correct Method of Holding the hammer

This pretty brings to a close our brief survey of the hammer. Next issue we'll take a look at the various types of tongs that are available and their uses.

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This page was last updated on April 28, 1997.