The Blacksmith’s Hands – the Hammer


Blacksmithing is one of the few crafts where the creator doesn’t actually get to touch the medium during the act of creating – at least not during forging. Glassmaking is another craft where the heated medium prohibits touch.


What the blacksmith has, in lieu of hands, are hammers, tongs, and a variety of tools and jigs. The most elemental are hammer and tongs – one held in each hand by the blacksmith.


In the shop we use a variety of hammers for most hardware made for Horton. Generally we use the lightest possible and for forging, that is about 2 pounds.



Four hammers are used in making a thumber for the HF14 Suffolk Latch. They are, from left to right, three 2-pound forging hammers with faces of slightly different contour, and a flat-faced hammer.



The three two-pound hammers we use for forging have faces ranging from fairly flat to fairly rounded. This is the flat-faced hammer, which has rounded edges. This hammer is used for finishing drawing out the tail of the thumber and for creating the little curl. Since the hammer’s face is nearly flat the forging is smoother and more even than if we would use a rounder faced hammer.



A hammer with a slightly rounded face is used for upsetting the thumb press forging in the vice. This hammer works well for upsetting (changing the mass to a shorter, thicker shape by forcefully driving it) because of the weight and rounded face.



The hammer with the most round face is used for forging the thumb press. It is also used for preliminary drawing out of the tail of the thumber. The rounded face moves metal quickly and is less likely to mark the piece. This is the hammer most generally used for forging cusps on latches.



This hammer is an old-timer purchased at a blacksmith meet. The face is perfectly flat with almost no rounding of the edges. This hammer is used for finishing the forging of the tail of the thumber, right next to the thumb press, because it can get in close. A few seconds of forging here saves time in filing the thumber to fit the slot.



All of the hammers used for forging the thumber have German-style cross peens. Other forging hammers we use have round peens or French-style cross peens. We even have a straight peen hammer where the peen is parallel to the handle, and have seen custom-made hammers with diagonal peens. The cross-peen is used to initially spread stock for the thumb press forging and it is important in the shaping of cusps for the Suffolk latches we make. Because the surface area of the peen is limited, it enables the smith to move metal more quickly and in a chosen direction. This peen is fairly broad, not narrow, so the forging isn’t marked deeply. Wear can be seen on the lower half. Periodically, hammers need to have their faces and peens redone. This is done by careful grinding and polishing.



We use woodworking tools to custom shape all of the hammer handles in our shop to fit our hands (we both have smallish hands) so we can have a comfortably relaxed grip. They are oval shaped, which helps align the face when picking up a hammer. This is the end of the old-timer hammer’s handle. The elongated oval is often seen in 19th century hammer handles.