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How to Choose Your First Hammer for Blacksmithing

Picking your first blacksmith hammer shouldn't be difficult.

Picking your first blacksmith hammer shouldn't be difficult.

Choosing Your First Hammer

When starting out in blacksmithing, many people tend to become "collectors" instead of practitioners. It's only natural to want to purchase all the best tools to progress quickly.

But in this hobby, collecting expensive tools is a waste of time and money. I recommend purchasing a fairly inexpensive hammer to start. Here's how to choose the best starter hammer.

What to Look for in a Beginner's Blacksmith Hammer

Your first blacksmith hammer should be:

  • Steel
  • With a wooden handle
  • Engineer or cross pein

While you can certainly blacksmith with a claw hammer, an engineer or cross pein hammer will be much more useful in the long term. A claw hammer only has one side which can be used to strike. An engineer's hammer can be dressed on the side as a rounding hammer, which is excellent for drawing out metal. A cross pein is useful for spreading material out, and it would be used if you were adding details to a piece. While the cross pein can be used for drawing out material, a rounding hammer has become favored for this task.

A wooden handle is easier on your hands compared to a rubberized one.

Left: Engineer Hammer. Right: Picard Cross Pein Hammer

Left: Engineer Hammer. Right: Picard Cross Pein Hammer

Cheap Hammers Are Good Enough

My first hammer was $9.99 at Harbor Freight, and I still have and use it at times. It will never be a great hammer, but it will be good enough—a great step forward from a claw hammer. For a new blacksmith, there is nothing better. This is because it requires you to train many of the skills you will need throughout your blacksmithing career. It will enable you to move steel much easier than your typical 16 oz claw hammer. The second side, dressed differently, will give you the flexibility to try new things. Finally, using a cheap hammer will teach you what you like, dislike, and appreciate about better quality hammers. Once I learned basic hammer control, I moved up to my current main hammer, the Picard Cross Pein. The cross pein is useful for manipulating metal in different ways than the inexpensive engineer's hammer. It tends to move metal away perpendicular to the pein, whereas a rounding hammer tends to move metal 360 degrees away from the point of contact.

Rounding side of a blacksmith's hammer.  When Striking, pushes material in 360 degrees.

Rounding side of a blacksmith's hammer. When Striking, pushes material in 360 degrees.

When striking with a cross pein, material is moved above and below the pein, but not much side to side.

When striking with a cross pein, material is moved above and below the pein, but not much side to side.

You Will Learn From Your First Blacksmith Hammer

One of the biggest reasons it is an excellent beginner's hammer is that it will need significant work to dress it to make it ready for smithing. Until it is dressed properly, it will not do a good job. Most inexpensive cross pein and engineer's hammers come with a textured face. For driving nails, a textured face is great, but for blacksmithing it is terrible. You will need to grind down this texture and make it flat, then clean up the edges. Making a tool ready for work in this manner is called "dressing" it.

The easiest way to dress a hammer is with an angle grinder with a grinding wheel. Always wear eye protection when using an angle grinder. However, a good file and sand paper can also be used to dress a hammer.

For an engineer's hammer, dress one side flat, with a very tight radius at the edge. This will be your primary side you will use when doing most of your work. The second side should be dressed with a wider radius, domed out. Using the different edges of this hammer will enable you to direct force at very specific areas of your work.

A cross pein hammer's flat side should be dressed the same way as the flat side of an engineer's hammer. Roughly flat with a tight radius at the edge, with no sharp edges. The cross pein side should have the sharp edges removed as well, and made fairly round. when looking at it from the side. This will put most of the force at the apex of the cross pein portion, spreading the material perpendicular to the pein.

Ridges in blacksmith hammer need to be ground off so that it will strike cleanly.  Otherwise these ridges will be imprinted in your work.

Ridges in blacksmith hammer need to be ground off so that it will strike cleanly. Otherwise these ridges will be imprinted in your work.

You Will Damage Your First Hammer

As a beginner, you can expect to damage your hammer frequently. This will require redressing, otherwise, the damaged part will leave an imprint on everything you are working on. Purchasing an expensively made hammer, which you constantly damage, could be very frustrating. Really nice hammers will need to be shipped to your home, taking time. An inexpensive hammer, which can be had for little or no money, and picked up at any hardware retailer isn't as big of a problem.

Damage at the 12 o'clock and 2 o'clock position of blacksmith hammer.  This hammer should be redressed.

Damage at the 12 o'clock and 2 o'clock position of blacksmith hammer. This hammer should be redressed.

You Will Eventually Make Your Own Hammers

Once you've learned how to use a hammer, as well as what you like in a hammer, consider making your own hammer. While it is certainly easy to purchase a tool online, there is no skill involved. I don't think many blacksmiths chose the profession or hobby because it was easy. Making your own hammers, tongs, punches, chisels, and hardy tools is one of the more rewarding parts of blacksmithing.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Devin Gustus