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.

A Blacksmith’s Finish


There are a number of finishes available for forged work including traditional finishes like paint or wax. The one we’ve found best for interior locations uses a mixture of raw linseed oil and beeswax. We mix the linseed oil and beeswax in the shop, blending them by heating them together in a baking pan over the forge. We use raw linseed oil because boiled linseed oil contains heavy metal driers which are toxic.




For larger items, such as latches, the forging is heated slightly over the fire and dipped in the warm, liquid finish. The forging is then held again over the fire to ensure that all surfaces are completely covered by finish. We allow the forging to cool to a temperature that is comfortable for us to handle before we wipe off excess finish. For smaller items, we apply the warm, melted finish (it feels like melted candle wax) with our bare hands. After a few minutes we wipe off the excess.


Temperature is important in applying the finish. The wax must be hot enough to be liquid. In the winter, the finish can solidify in less time than it takes to hear Ravel’s Bolero on our shop radio — just a few minutes. If the wax is too hot, or the forging is too hot when the finish is applied, the finished surface has a strange “caramelized” appearance.






It is the linseed oil in the finish that transforms the gray scale on the surface of the forging to black. Beeswax helps create a barrier to the environment. Beeswax is extremely stable and has been found to protect items for centuries.




We let the finish dry for at least two days and then the items are given a final paste wax (using Johnson’s). A day later the items are given a second buffing. After a final inspection they are ready to ship to Horton.



Strap hinges with style

Strap It On!

My mother-in-law just left after a weekend visit, returning to her DC home. While staying with us, she and her husband admitted to feeling some kitchen envy for our new remodel. That being said, she is hesitant to tear out her 40 year old kitchen and trade up to something more contemporary. One of the things she doesn’t want to part with: the copper functional strap hinges adorning her cabinets. They have definitely retained their classic beauty, despite the years.

Now, I know most people are not running to the hardware store and clearing out the bins of strap hinges when it comes to updating their kitchen hardware. The majority of strap hinges tend to end up on barn doors and hope chests, bought by men who wear their Wrangler dungarees and plaid flannel shirts in a not so ironic way.

But does that mean you shouldn’t consider these bands of hand forged stylishness for your remodel? Of course not! You are not a kitchen trend follower but rather a style setter. How many European bar pulls must be tolerated to spite the expression of individual personality in the kitchen?

Sure, not every application may suit the strap hinge. You may feel that a complete kitchen outfitted in strap hinges….or even the strap hinge’s less lean cousin, the butterfly hinge….may be a bit too period for you. Still, you can use these traditionally styled, hand forged iron hinges to quirk up the joint–adding some visual interest to an otherwise standard and un-noteworthy space.

This vintage Kohler sink photo should be added to the inspiration file of anyone contemplating a period kitchen remodel for an American farmhouse kitchen. The cast iron apron front sink is just one aspect of perfecting that early American look. Iron strap hinges decorate the cabinets and add beauty to the pared down decor of this functional kitchen.

An updated take on that same traditional style can be seen in this photo from Morgan Creek Cabinetry. All modern conveniences are on hand with a high end range and new fireclay apron front sink while keeping period inspired details like a beadboard ceiling and functional strap hinges mounted on the custom cabinetry.

The clean and modest kitchen of this British cottage rental has a neutral palette and limited cabinets. However, the pantry door adds charm to this otherwise staid space. The large strap hinges and iron knob elevates this cottage kitchen to the expectations of patrons by infusing it with a shot of authenticity amidst the contemporary utilitarian design. 

This kitchen by Karin Blake, as it appeared in Architectural Digest, is a  tableau of simplicity, classic Americana and modern design. A mix of inset slab front drawers and wainscot doors, the vintage style lab stools, farm table and windsor chairs all add to the smooth, seamless allure of a style indicating New England old money when, in fact, this home is Malibu new construction. One of the key details that makes this look work are the barn-style cabinet doors finished with forged iron strap hinges.

While a Karin Blake kitchen may not be in your budget, such a look is definitely attainable with stock cabinetry and the right hinges, of course! Whether your cabinets are inset, overlay or frameless, you can rock this designer look by either using real functional strap hinges or dummy hinges. And don’t forget the other hardware to compliment your look. There are a variety of handles sized to create the perfect drama in your kitchen. At Horton Brasses, there are the oversized Suffolk Grips as well as the modestly sized Iron Grips.

And check out these matching knobs from Horton Brasses. Honestly, this stuff is not just for period kitchens! Imagine how appropriate these would look in some kind of industrial modern space. Like I said at the start of this post, ditch the European bar pulls, people! Nothing screams modern more than industrial. Just think lab coats and beakers and all that mad science that went on, marking a new era. Forged iron is not just barn. Below is a pic of a  kitchen from 1966 that merges the suburban colonial look with modern stylings. This should definitely get you thinking outside of your forged iron box!

The above picture is a great find for anyone with an older home and a budget. There are many ways to update a kitchen, but if you cabinets are in good shape, the most cost effective way involves soap and water and maybe a fresh coat of paint. Strap hinges were definitely more popular in decades past, but hopefully this post will have you embracing your older hardware with a style savvy gaze. Or, even better, taking on that full remodel with courage to add some spark to your kitchen with some well chosen accent pieces. Karin Blake would be impressed!