What Hammer is Right for You?

by Alec Steele

What Type of Blacksmithing Hammer is Right for You?

Introduction

When it comes to hammers, there can be a lot of controversies and strong opinions. In this article, we're going to do our best to explain the different weights and types of some primary blacksmithing hammers. We will talk about when you may use them, and what we like to use.

Blacksmithing and Knife making Hammer Weights

With a variation in weight, there are often different styles of hammering. Those that use a lighter hammer of around 2.5lb (~1kg) often hold the hammer farther from the head, to be able to hit with higher velocity and faster cadence to generate their force. Those who use a heavier weight of the hammer, such as a 3.5lb (~1.5kg) or 4.5lb (~2kg) hammer, often use a slower rhythm and tend to let the hammer's weight do a bit more of the work while holding it closer to the head.

These personal preferences develop through time, the work at hand, and which forging styles a person finds most comfortable. Experiment to find which hammer suits you; give it a solid shot and allow your body to get satisfied with something new before jumping around to a different weight.

Our general recommendation for adults is to start with a 3.5lb hammer. From there, you can decide if you want to try something heavier or lighter, but we find that the 3.5lb hammer is a versatile weight for most work. 

Blacksmithing and Knife making Hammer Styles

When deciding what style of hammer is right for you, it's essential to consider what work you will be doing. Ultimately, it's always worth remembering that a hammer is a lump of hardened steel on a stick and experience will always trump fancy tools. With knowledge and expertise, you can shape your hammer to match your needs.

What are the hammer faces called?

The flat face is just that, a flat face. When the opposite face has a significant difference it's called a "peen". Peens generally concentrate force to do more aggressive forging operations due to their reduced surface area of contact.

Cross Peen

These hammers feature one flat face and a peen that is thinned down and perpendicular to the shaft. The flat face is used for general forging, but the peen allows you to do aggressive spreading operations to widen material. Leaf making, expanding the width of a blade or reaching a hard to reach area.

Cross peens include French Style, Swedish Style, German Style, Czech Style, Hofi Hammers, Harbour Freight "Blacksmith Hammers" and more. 

Straight Peen

These hammers have their peen parallel to the handle. Generally used for aggressively lengthening work from their reduced surface area of contact. 

Ball Peen

The Ball Peen is a classic English hammer. One flat face and one very aggressive ball for the peen. The peen is for spreading rivet heads or texturing material. They are sometimes also called Engineer's hammers.

Square Circle Rounding Hammer

The rounding hammer is used for blacksmithing work and was popularized through Brian Brazeal's education and has become known as a very versatile hammer. It is mostly used in the 3.5lb weight. It features a flat face with generously radiused edges and a gently rounded face to concentrate force where you want it. The contact surfaces of a forging tool can be called a "die." The geometry of these hammers gives you many dies, based on how you tilt the hammerhead.

Hammer Handles: Tips, Care, and Materials

Hammer handles require a hardwood with excellent flexibility. Hickory generally excels for hammers with a close runner up being Ash. The grain should not run off the handle, and you don't want knots along the length. When a handle is installed, it should be installed in an arid state. We found when Alec's shop was moved from by sea in the UK to the dry mountains of Montana, every single handled tool he owned was extremely loose in the head. When wood is wet it expands, so when it dries out the handle can become loose. Fit it as dry as you can and keep it well oiled with Linseed oil so it can stay in as good a condition as possible.

We like to wedge our handles with one wooden wedge as we make them. Over time handles can become loose, and it's good to have the option to add another wedge made of steel. When we do this, we add the wedge perpendicular to the wood wedge.

Handles are made of a natural material, so one has to treat them well. We don't like needlessly messing with them when they're in good shape. Bouncing a hammer on its handle is going to drive the head down and eventually give clearance for the handle to wiggle. I only do this to tighten the fit before a second wedging; we never want to do it needlessly.

Treat your wood well, and it will serve you well in return.

Common Hammer Prices and Other Options

Our hammers start at $200. We know that can be expensive for those beginning their journey in blacksmithing. We do our best to make up for the expense by providing the best quality of hammer. More expensive hammers usually have been rounded on the edge of a face and have a better fit and shape of the handle.

As you know, handmade products are often pricey, but there are other options. If $200 is out of your budget, blacksmith depot sells a drop forged rounding hammer starting at $40. However, the heaviest weight for that model is 2.5lb.

You can also purchase a hammer not designed for blacksmithing and spend some time on it with a grinder. Harbor Freight sells some 3lb cross peen hammers for $8.99 that could be more than serviceable with some time and a belt or angle grinder.

If you choose this option and get a hammer with varnish on the handle, make sure you strip it off with a rasp or sandpaper. Then coat it with boiled linseed oil (the varnish on cheaper hammers can give you nasty blisters). You can give the handle a slightly more comfortable shape by making flats on the sides of the handle. You could also smooth and further round the edges to minimize the sharp marks on your work, and a little polish never hurts! Any blemish in your hammer face will end up in your work!

Alec's Favorite Weight and Styles for Blacksmithing and Knife Making

Alec primarily uses a 3.5lb hammer because anything that can't be done under the power hammer can be finished with as little effort as possible. If he needs to move more material, he will jump to a 4.5lb hammer.

He seldom uses a 2.5lb unless he's working on a super delicate project, like the leaves of the tulip, in which he used a 2.5lb cross peen to bend them to shape gently.

Conclusion

After all, this, remember. It's a lump of metal on a stick. A better hammer doesn't make a better blacksmith. Time on the anvil and patience at your craft will. We hope this article was comprehensive and Happy forging!

-The Alec Steele Company