A Challenging but Valuable Exercise in Hammer Control

Last updated: April 18, 2020

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One of the main concerns voiced by instructors of intermediate workshops is that beginners have not gained sufficient hammer control skills to work effectively at the anvil. This article describes a simple (to explain) but challenging to accomplish method to make great gains in hammer control with a minimum of tooling and NO Forge fire!

Things get hot when you try to compress them!!!!!!!!! Here's how to take advantage of that fact:
Since about 1985 I've been working on hammer control. The Guild of Metalsmiths gave me my first blacksmithing lessons. I remember clearly the first workshops where my hammer hand hurt so bad by the end of the day that my brain wouldn't let it hit anymore. I also remember that I didn't do much hammering between workshops.
-I remember watching Paul Hubler hammering with apparent ease, and that HIS iron seemed to stay hot FOREVER while MY iron seemed to cool after only two or three blows. I didn't understand why.
-I remember watching Bob Bergman and some other guys competing on the Kuhn Air hammers at Centaur Forge to see who could draw a piece of stock out the farthest in one heat. Bob stretched and stretched his stock out and it finally got cold. So he just stuck it back in the hammer, concentrating in one spot, turning it 90 degrees with each blow, and heating it back to red. Maybe I didn't catch on there either.
-I've been making nails for years and it still (until recently anyway) took more than one or two heats.
-I heard, many years ago that there was a blacksmith-instructor somewhere in the southwest who made his students spend 2 or 3 weeks pointing a 1/4" bar. I thought that was pretty dumb.

Fianally, in 1999, the BIG "Ahha" came to me while watching a Czech blacksmith heat up a 5/16" rod with only his hammer. Now I realize there's a wealth of education to be had in striving to accomplish that simple feat. And it's right there for anyone just getting into blacksmithing or anyone who would like to improve their hammer accuracy or their hand forging productivity. It can even help in understanding power forging productivity.

And it only took me 14 years to figure it out!

Here's the deal: If you want to really gain control of that hammer, do this:

Get some 2 foot lengths of 1/4 inch square or round or 5/16 inch square or round, a 2 or 2 1/2 pound hammer and an anvil. The anvil could be a foot or two of railroad rail or any big chunk of steel that won't bounce all over the place when you hit on it.
Practice drawing the end of the bar to a blunt point. Your eventual goal is to hit it so hard and so fast and so accurately that you heat the end of the bar up to red hot.
In order to do this, you need to develop these skills:
1. Learn how to hammer hard with one hand while holding the bar motionless with the other hand, at a given spot on the anvil (so that the hammer always hits it squarely).
2. Learn how to draw to a point. This means that you have to rotate the stock 90 degrees after every hit of the hammer. If you don't turn the stock often enough, it will flatten out and you will not be able to draw it to a point. If you don't make your rotations exactly 90 degrees, the stock will become trapezoidal and you won't be able to get it back into control for drawing to a point without losing a lot of heat.
3. Develop the strength to handle a 2 or 2 1/2 pound hammer. To accomplish this feat, you will have to hammer very rapidly, making EVERY stroke count.
4.You will have to learn how to evaluate the stock to find some that is low enough in carbon content so it won't sliver apart at the end before you get it hot.
5. Learn how to control the rate of taper of the stock so you don't draw it out so thin on the end that you have to start over.

The neat part of all this is that you don't even need an instructor or a forge to do this. And if you do learn this process, or at least are able to get the iron hot enough to turn blue, you will be WAY ahead of the game when you do go to basic or intermediate classes. And if anybody asks to see what you can do, demonstrate this skill for them. If THEY know anything about blacksmithing, you will gain their respect in a minute.

There ARE a few tricks to making this work, but your hammer control skills still have to be very good to pull it off---
Here's what the conditions in that Czech blacksmith shop were:
-It was a warm day in the shop.
-The anvil had been in constant use for a couple of hours before he demonstrated this skill.
-The hammer was warm.
-The stock had just had a part cut off that had been forged at an orange heat.
Why the above is important: All these things worked in favor of minimizing heat loss from the part as it was being worked.

Reheating stock with the hammer:
On your way to accomplishing the above skill, you can try reheating a 3/8 inch square bar by hammering. Get 3 or 4 inches of the bar up to a red heat in a forge. Then, using the same process as above, point the bar, hitting fast enough and squarely enough to cause the bar to get hotter than it was when you pulled it from the fire.