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How to Choose the Best Hammer for the Job



The first hammer Kevin shows is a light one with a small head and a long pick on the other end. Kevin was told that this is a picking hammer. It's for working in tiny areas. He got it at a blacksmithing school that had closed - that's where he got his anvil, too. Kevin uses this hammer for working in small spots and for dealing with little dents.

He shows how you can get a long grip on it - you don't need to choke it up near the head. By holding the hammer toward the end of the handle, you get a lot of force with it. It won't tire your wrist or arm, and you can work in a tiny area and get a dent out - or put one in. You can work from the back side of a piece of metal and put a pattern in it for repousse.

Also from the blacksmith school is a hammer that looks the same on both ends. Kevin was told it was for shaping horseshoes, but he uses it as a flattening hammer. If he wants to work the ripples out of a piece of metal, for instance, this flat-faced hammer has a nice weight, and you can get good power out of it. You can choke up on the handle and still get enough force out of it, and it has a nice striking big area.

Kevin also uses this hammer as a dolly. He'll put it inside of a metal sculpture where he has a rise he wants to take out. He places the hammer with the two heads on either side of the rise like a tiny little anvil and then uses a smaller hammer to fix the dent. That gives the metal room to move.

Next Kevin shows two hammers that are for blacksmithing, as opposed to the ones he just showed, which are actually for farrier work. These hammers are more for pounding red-hot metal on an anvil, for making a shape, like creating a knife out of a railroad spike. You use the bigger hammer to get started, then come back with the smaller hammer to finish the job.

The big one gives you lots of power - you don't have to come from "heaven on above" to get things done because the head weighs so much. So you can get a nice rhythm going and get a lot of work done with it.

The head is for flattening, and the narrow end is for stretching. If you come down on a piece of metal with the narrow end, you'll make the metal expand on both sides of the hammer. If you use the big, round end, it'll expand the metal 360 degrees, more like a pancake. With that narrow end, you can take a big, heavy piece of metal stock and hammer it out and then roll it over and do the same thing to stretch it.

Next Kevin shows two ball peen hammers, pointing out the ball end and the peen (flat) end. These hammers are more for mechanics. The one with the red synthetic handle was one he used himself 25 years ago when he was a mechanic. He used it for beating on cars, beating on engine parts, splitting nuts off with a chisel. It's a dead blow hammer. It's full of shot that absorbs the impact, so when you hit something with it, it doesn't rebound. The other hammer wants to bounce back, but it's older technology - it's been in Kevin's family for at least 50 years.

There are, of course, safety precautions when using hammers. Use safety glasses in case something chips - if you happen to catch the corner of the hammer head on your work and have something go flying, it can be really dangerous.

Also, these hammers are for metal, not like a carpenter's hammer, which is for pounding nails. The difference is easy to see when looking at the heads of the two types of hammer. The machinist's hammer head is curved a little, while the head of the carpenter's hammer is perfectly flat. If you're driving a nail, the carpenter's hammer is going to push it straight in. If you use the machinist's hammer, even if you hit it square, there's more of a chance that the hammer will go sideways and bending the nail.

So always use the right hammer for the job. It's easier, quicker and safer.

Now you can go back to whatever you were doing. Well, you might want to stay to see Kevin playing with his hammers ....


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