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How to Dress a 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.

Why Dress a Hammer for Blacksmithing?

Dressing a hammer is important for a few reasons, especially when first starting out blacksmithing. First, almost all hammers you will purchase will have sharp edges or patterns on the face of the hammer. These edges and patterns will transfer onto your work as you strike with your hammer. Below, you can see a piece that I struck with an undressed hammer. If you remove the edges and patterns, your work will come out flatter and cleaner, leaving a better-looking final product. Dressing a hammer also gives you experience using an angle grinder and other abrasives, which will become useful with all metalworking.

Two hammer strikes with undressed hammer

Two hammer strikes with undressed hammer

What You Will Need to Dress a Blacksmith Hammer

You will need the following items to dress your blacksmith hammer:

  • Hammer
  • Angle Grinder
  • Abrasives
  • PPE
  • (Optional) Propane
  • (Optional) Torch
  • Vise
how-to-dress-a-hammer-for-blacksmithing

Styles to Dress Your Hammer for Blacksmithing

The first step to dressing a blacksmithing hammer is to decide what style of hammer you wish to make. Different faces are used for different purposes. For this project, we will be making a fairly flat face for general purpose. If you look directly below, the first, upper left picture, is where we are starting. We will attempt to create the second, or upper right picture, with a fairly wide, flat face. A more aggressive face can be used, on the lower left, with a smaller flat area. This will concentrate your force into a smaller area, making moving metal easier, but at the expense of making more chasing work later.

Side view of ways to dress your hammer

Side view of ways to dress your hammer

Side-by-Side Comparison of Aggressive Hammer vs. General Purpose

Pictured below is an aggressive hammer, used for moving metal quickly, compared to a more mild hammer with a wider face. When drawing a piece of metal out, the hammer on the left can be used to speed things up, while the hammer on the right will be used to clean up the piece and make the finishing work easier.

Dressed Rounding Hammer vs Dressed Picard Flat Faced Hammer

Dressed Rounding Hammer vs Dressed Picard Flat Faced Hammer

Removing the Pattern on the Face

The first step to dressing a blacksmith hammer is to remove any pattern on the face of the hammer. During manufacturing, a pattern is frequently put upon the face of the hammer. This is intended to make hammering nails easier, but is unsuitable for general blacksmithing work. This hammer happened to come with a circular pattern, which I removed with an angle grinder.

Removing Texturing to Dress Blacksmithing Hammer

Removing Texturing to Dress Blacksmithing Hammer

Easing the Edge

While the last step flattened the face, the angle that it transitions the the rest of the hammer is very sharp. This will leave a circular indentation on your work, which will then need to be cleaned up. Rounding the transition so that it is no longer sharp will prevent these indentations from occurring during blacksmithing work.

Blacksmith Hammer side of face textured, needs to be ground too.

Blacksmith Hammer side of face textured, needs to be ground too.

Blacksmith hammer ground with angle grinder, ready for further dressing.

Blacksmith hammer ground with angle grinder, ready for further dressing.

Refining the Face of the Hammer

Ultimately, realize that this hammer will be used to strike hot metal. It is going to get dinged, dented, and burnt regularly, and will need to be redressed from time to time. While a large portion of improvement in your hammer is already done, refinements will further increase your performance. However, time invested here becomes a diminishing returns problem. You could spend hours giving your hammer a mirror finish. However, most of the remaining easy improvements can be made working up from 150 or 220 to 400 or 600 grit abrasives.

You can use a piece of wood, sanding block, random orbital sander, or a belt grinder. In this project, a sanding block and sandpaper were used.

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how-to-dress-a-hammer-for-blacksmithing
how-to-dress-a-hammer-for-blacksmithing

Sanding the Face of the Blacksmith Hammer

Ensure that the hammer is still secure in the vise. Using the roughest abrasive, work at removing all the angle grinder marks on the face of the hammer using circular motions. To make it easier to distinguish between the different sandpaper grits on the face, sand at 90 degree angles when switching to a higher grit. For example, you might grind up and down for your first pass with 220 grit, then side to side with 320. This will help you learn when it is time to move up to a higher grit.

Monitor your progress. If it seems like you are making little progress, you may need to drop back to a lower grit(rougher) sandpaper to work out some of the scratches, then return to the finer grit.

As you move to higher and higher grits, the scratches on the face should get finer and finer. This will translate to cleaner strikes on your work. Below, you can see an improvement in the reflection on the face of the hammer as I move from 220 to 320, to 400 grit. I decided to stop at 400 grit for this hammer.

220 grit sanded blacksmith hammer face

220 grit sanded blacksmith hammer face

320 grit sanded blacksmith hammer face

320 grit sanded blacksmith hammer face

400 grit sanded blacksmith hammer face

400 grit sanded blacksmith hammer face

Finishing a Blacksmith Hammer Handle

While there are many ways to finish a hammer, my opinion is that a propane torch gives the best finish. Not necessarily the most attractive, although it is quite appealing at which to look. During the course of blacksmithing, you will likely burn your handle on a hot piece of metal from time to time. The burnt finish will hide this damage quite nicely.

To prepare your handle, remove any stickers, and any residue left behind. You can use alcohol to remove any adhesive, just ensure that the alcohol has evaporated before you scorch the handle. Left over adhesive will burn at a different rate or temperature than wood without adhesive. This will leave a visible irregularity that will not be pleasing to the eye.

I sanded the handle to remove the factory applied coating and paint. Any large splinters should be removed, and pitting should be sanded down as well. However, it is not important the the handle be perfectly smooth, as the propane torch will refine the majority of the roughness. 150 or 220 grit sandpaper is sufficient.

how-to-dress-a-hammer-for-blacksmithing
Charring a blacksmith hammer handle

Charring a blacksmith hammer handle

Scorching Your Blacksmith Hammer Handle

Before you start, decide just how much charring you want. A little bit of charring will leave a beautiful design on your handle, but charring from your work will be easier to see. I decided to give this handle a full burn. I put the head of the hammer in the vise with the handle oriented upwards. I slowly and evenly moved the propane torch up and down the handle to give it an even char. Once the proper coloring was reached, I move on to a different area. This gave it an attractive char on the handle.

Dressed blacksmith hammer face to 400 grit.  Reflection of photographer starting to be visible.

Dressed blacksmith hammer face to 400 grit. Reflection of photographer starting to be visible.

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