Blacksmiths Proper Hammering Technique – Complete Guide


Since the hammer is one of the most important blacksmithing tools, knowing the proper hammering technique is crucial. Many things can go wrong if a beginner doesn’t know how to use a hammer properly, like destroying the face of the anvil, ruining the workpiece, developing injuries, burns, etc.

Not so long after I started my blacksmithing career, I managed to do all of the above, except being burned, thankfully. Also, many new blacksmiths on the various forums have a lot of different questions on this topic. So, we decided to write this in-depth guide to the proper hammering technique.

In this guide expect to learn:

  • The ideal height of the anvil
  • How to choose your ideal hammer
  • How to properly swing a hammer
  • How to properly grip the hammer
  • Basic blacksmithing strikes
  • How to prevent injuries

Ok, let’s begin now, shall we?

Consider This Before You Start Hammering

I know you simply can’t wait to start hammering the metal. However, it would be best if you had some things in mind before you do that. For example, if your anvil is placed either too low or too high, you cant strike properly, even if you know proper technique.

Ideal Height of the Anvil

Setting the anvil at the right height is one of the first things to consider before you start working. There are two major reasons for that. The first one is injury prevention, and the second one is preserving energy during work.

As far as injury prevention, wrong anvils height often put a lot of pressure on shoulders and lower back, which can gradually cause various injuries. For example, having the anvil too high puts a lot of stress on your shoulder. In that scenario, there is often a need to swing the hammer beyond the ear level and therefore cause problems.

Contrarily, having the anvil too low makes you bend your back and fully extend the elbows. Now, both examples are not a problem if you do that for one day, but if you do that continuously, it will often cause injuries.

The second reason is preserving the precious energy you spend striking the metal. Blacksmith is known for its need for strength and endurance; therefore, having enough energy to finish projects is of great importance.

When the anvil is not set correctly, you are forced to make postural compensations, which often cause you to drain energy level quickly.

One of the simplest ways of setting the anvil at the ideal height is to stand by its side. Your feet should be at normal shoulder width. If you are using the right hand for striking, stand by your left side. Now, make a fist with your right hand and watch the knuckles height. That is your ideal anvils height.

Perfect Size of the Hammer

After you determined the ideal height of the anvil, now it is time to choose the ideal size of the hammer. Typically, blacksmithing hammers are divided into three major groups:

  • Small-Size Hammers – 1 to 2 lbs (0.5 to 1 kg)
  • Medium-Size Hammers – 2 to 4.4 lbs (1 to 2 kg)
  • Large-Size Hammers – more than 4.4 lbs (more than 2 kg)

As a beginner, rather use a lighter hammer than the heavier one. The heavier it is, the more control and precision it requires. So, for someone just getting started in blacksmithing, we recommend using a hammer heavy anywhere from one to four pounds. Also, the lighter hammer allows you to work longer with minimal chance of injury.

To be even more specific, I would recommend using a 2-pound hammer for beginner blacksmiths. It is heavy enough for most beginner work. While you should make your own hammer someday, I recommend starting with this hammer (affiliate link). I had this hammer for a couple of years and for it I have only words of praise. Almost all my beginner projects were made by using it.

Just because you see someone working with the 8-pound hammer, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it also. Even the smallest adjustments at the anvil can have a significant impact on your joints when using heavy hammers.

Always listen to your body. Hammers heavier than 3 lb often present a higher risk of injury. With enough time spent in the shop, you will gradually move onto using a more massive hammer. In the end, blacksmithing is all about producing items and various other projects. So, if you are not able to hammer correctly, chances are you will ruin the project, and you will have to start all over again.

Adjust the Handle

Don’t forget about the handle. Adjusting the handle and knowing the grip position is very important since it is the part that holds the hammer. Now, most people prefer a wooden handle, mainly because you can adjust it more easily.

The length of the handle should be anywhere from 12 to 16 inches. Some blacksmiths prefer short handle, whereas others prefer longer ones, depending on the type of work they are doing. Small projects don’t require long handles. On the flip side, forging large items often requires having the longer handle as that way, you can produce more force.

Another critical factor is the thickness of the handle. As you already assume, the thicker the handle is, the chances you are gonna have to overgrip it. When you overgrip the handle, you lose a lot of energy and also increase the likelihood of injury.

One simple way to find the ideal length of the hammer is to grab the hammers head and point it to your biceps. The end of the handle should be at the crook of the elbow. To determine the ideal thickness, grip the handle, and observe the fingers. If your fingers don’t reach palm, your handle is too thick. On the other side, if your fingers can easily touch your palm, the handle is probably too thin.

The main goal is to find your sweet spot. There is no reason to keep the handle as you get it. Place the hammer on the vice and use the hand rasp or disc grinder to remove some amount of material. To finish it, we recommend using 120 or 180 grit sandpaper. To protect the handle, you can soak it in linseed oil. Be careful not to remove more material than you have to.

If the handle is not shaped properly, it doesn’t matter what steel is used for making the head. The big problem is that new hammers are no longer made to protect the user from injury. Instead, they are made not to break under the high pressure.

Keep in mind that the upper part of the handle should be somewhat thinner than the middle and lower section. Namely, that upper part acts as a shock absorber that is there to dampen the vibrations that get created from constant hammering.

Proper Blacksmith Hammering Technique

And finally, you arrived in the bread and butter part of the guide. In this paragraph, we will explain every aspect of proper hammering technique, so we don’t leave you with any questions.

Let’s start with the first one.

Stand

First comes the stand. Typically, you want to stand with one leg front and one back. The feet should be at around shoulder-width apart. More specifically, if you are right-handed, your right leg should go front. Of course, there will be situations when having both legs in may be better. Don’t think of yourself as some robot.

Generally speaking, most of the time, you will stand at about 45 degrees to the anvil. That way you are gonna be able to do efficient striking, without discomfort. Knees should always be slightly bent to reduce unnecessary stress on your knees and also your lower back. Namely, standing with legs completely straight forces you to bend your back even more, which often cause problems.

Grip

After you have taken the correct stance, the next crucial element is the grip. Some of the first questions you should ask yourself are; Where should I place the grip on the handle? Should it be near the head or towards the end of the handle? How tight should grip be?

In terms of the grip position, the grip should be position depending on the type of work you are doing. For lighter and more precision blows, place the grip near the head. Contrarily, to produce power blows, place the grip near the end of the handle. The sweet spot is usually somewhere in the middle.

You may find that you generally prefer having grip near the end of the handle while another person does the opposite. However, we don’t recommend extreme scenario in both cases. Meaning you don’t want to grab the handle at the complete end or completely near the head. After you established the right position, now it is time to determine the ideal grip strength.

In most cases, your grip should be somewhat loose, rather than tight. Your hammer should be able to rock a little bit during swinging. Having a loose grip reduces the level of stress caused by the hammering. Contrarily, if you grip the handle too tight, the effect is just the opposite.

A tight grip is very common among blacksmiths, especially in beginners. I had the same problem in the beginning. After every day of the work in the shop, my wrists and elbow were sore. And then, after doing some research, I finally realized how to do it properly.

You may notice that some blacksmiths place the thumb over the handle during striking. That is a great way to develop a wrist injury. However, it does have its place in blacksmithing. Typically, you should do that only to improve accuracy on light work.

Swing

And now it is time to strike the hammer and start forging finally. Make sure your muscles are relaxed to avoid unnecessary loss of energy and minimize chances of developing some injury. Two common mistakes during swinging are fixed elbow or flaring elbows. Relax the elbow to move freely and keep it close to the body.

Try not to raise hammer beyond ear level as that often put negative stress on your shoulders. As we said in the beginning, the height of the anvil has a crucial effect on the hammering technique. When the hammer is coming down in contact with the material, most of the time it should be parallel to the anvil’s face.

Depending on the type of strike, the hammer will land in a different position. More about that in the next paragraph.

Basic Blacksmithing Blows

In blacksmithing, you have five basic hammering strikes, that every beginner should learn, including:

  • Half-Face Hammer Blow
  • Full-Face Hammer Blow
  • Edge Hammer Blow
  • Back-Face Hammer Blow
  • Shearing Hammer Blow

Check the video below to see full instructions on how to do all of them.

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