Updated date:

How to Choose Your First Hammer for Blacksmithing

Blacksmithing is both a hobby and a useful skill. I initially planned to forge knives, but smaller projects are easier when first learning.

Picking your first blacksmith hammer shouldn't be hard.

Picking your first blacksmith hammer shouldn't be hard.

Choosing Your First Hammer

Especially when first starting out in blacksmithing, many individuals tend to become "collectors" instead of practitioners. They want to purchase all the best tools in order to progress quickly. In this hobby, I feel like it is somewhat of a waste of time and money. For several reasons, I recommend purchasing a fairly inexpensive hammer to start and then making decisions about what to purchase later.

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 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.

Engineer Hammer on Left, Picard Cross Pein Hammer on Right

Engineer Hammer on Left, Picard Cross Pein Hammer on Right

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 flexibility to try new things. Finally, using a cheap hammer will teach you what you like, dislike, and appreciate about better quality hammers.

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 must side to side.

When striking with a cross pein, material is moved above and below the pein, but not must 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

Especially when first starting, you will 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 12 o'clock and 2 o'clock position of blacksmith hammer.  This hammer needs to be redressed.

Damage at 12 o'clock and 2 o'clock position of blacksmith hammer. This hammer needs to 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 blacksmith's 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.

© 2021 Devin Gustus