A Concise Guide To The Best Forging Hammers
Whether you are a beginner who is brand spank’in new to blacksmithing, or you are a grizzled vet with calloused hands, it is worthwhile to review the fundamental options available to you from time to time. And there is nothing more fundamental than the blacksmithing hammer.
Luckily these are pretty simple tools.
There are really only 3 variables that can change between different hammer types, and they are the size and shape of the striking face, the size and shape of the peen (opposite end to the striking face), and the size and shape of the handle. That’s it. All different “types” of hammers are just changes in these 3 variables.
With this in mind, let's check out some of the more common hammer types.
1. Cross Peen Hammer
Let's start with the most common type of blacksmith hammer, the cross peen hammer - sometimes spelled as cross pein depending on where you are from. If you were to grip this hammer by the handle, with the striking face facing forward, and were to lift it to shoulder level, you would see that the peen - the thin wedge point opposite the striking face - is parallel with the ground. In other words, this hammer’s peen looks like a horizontal line, or a cross section. Hence the name!
Pretty simple right?
Which leads us to our next type of hammer.
Straight Peen Hammer
To understand this hammer, we will do the same exact exercise that we did with the cross peen hammer. Grab the handle so that the striking face is facing forward. Now lift your arms to shoulder level.
With this hammer, you will see that the peen runs up and down rather than side to side. It’s a vertical line rather than a horizontal line. That’s it. Easy Peasy.
The cross peen hammer and the straight peen hammer are the two most common types of forging hammers for blacksmiths. In fact, some people even refer to them as “blacksmith’s hammers”.
Both the cross peen and the straight peen are great for stretching metal in a line along one direction. However, if you want a radial stretching (all direction simultaneously, you will want a rounding hammer. Which leads me too....
The Rounding Hammer
The rounding hammer has a flat striking face, with a peen that has a slight curve to it. I would say it’s spherical, but it’s not as spherical as a ball peen hammer. This slightly rounded edge allows you to spread steel along all directions. In some situations, this radial stretching will allow you to thin metal much quicker than you could with a conventional peen. A rounding hammer in the hands of an expert can move a lot of steel very quickly, and when the rounded peen is combined with the edge of a good anvil, you can make unusual shapes very quickly.
That being said, the rounding hammer isn’t magic, it’s just a hammer. I want to stress that you can make any shape indent with any type of hammer. You can get good and thin steel very quickly with any type of hammer. It all largely comes down to preference.
Regional Blacksmith Varieties
In addition to the hammers described above, there are a bazillion minor variations of the above hammers that are named after some country or municipality. I don’t try to catalogue every crazy hammer that has ever been found in an antique store or in an estate auction, but I will go over the two most common regional variations.
Both of the varieties below are cross peen hammers.
The French Pattern Hammer
There has been some dispute whether this actually counts as a blacksmith hammer or if it’s something else. I’ll be real with you, I’m not some blacksmith scholar so I don’t have the answer. I do know that I see this design from time to time in the blacksmithing world, so it’s worth mentioning I guess.
The Swedish Style Hammer
The swedish style forging hammer is just another variation of a cross peen hammer. It’s worth taking a look at.
Best Forging Hammers
Like I said, blacksmith hammers are not that complicated. But let's say you want to know which ones are “best”. I’m not sure that is the proper question, but it gets searched for a lot so I will humor you and recommend some of my top picks.
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It’s a bit lighter than I personally prefer, but for beginners you want a lighter hammer. People who start out with heavy hammers tend to injure their hands and elbows, you need to build up your strength before moving on to heavier hammers.
This 2.2lb hammer is perfect for beginners. It has a hickory handle and a hardened striking surface. It’s consistently made well - as you can see by the reviews - and will serve most new smiths extremely well.
I’m not a knife maker myself, but knife makers tend to use straight peen hammers. I like the hammer made by the folks over at Bon Tools. It’s made in the USA and is constructed well.
Oftentimes in life, you get what you pay for. But this hammer is the exception. It has a patented tuning fork design that helps reduce impact vibrations and is built with forged one piece steel. It’s a nice little hammer and will serve you well.
Last but certainly not least, we have this anvil brand rounding hammer. They have been making these for a few years now and have consistently made quality hammers. I believe it will serve you well.
So that’s it, not too hard eh? While all blacksmiths should eventually make their own hammer, I believe buying your first hammer is a smart move as it allows you to focus on more interesting projects early on. You could also be a dim-wit like me, and use a carpenter hammer for your first few projects, but I wouldn’t recommend it - it took forever to do even simple tasks like drawing out steel. At any rate, I hope you find a hammer that works well for you, and I hope you use it to make some beautiful art!