Forging iron requires hard hitting and good hammer control. Having a well designed and efficient hammer is essential if you want to produce good work and last the entire day without your arm becoming too tired and/or sore. The weight of the hammer head, the shape of the hammer head, and the shape of the handle all need to be considered when making the perfect forging hammer.
Some would say the heavier the hammer the better. But that’s not necessarily true. When considering the formula for kinetic energy, it is seen that acceleration is the more important factor over mass in producing energy. Other factors being equal, a faster swing at a lower weight is better than a slower swing at a heavier weight.
Obviously you will need a heavier hammer for larger material, but if you’re mostly making average size home decor and tool projects, it is good to have one “go to” hammer which can handle 90% of those projects. In my opinion, a well balanced 2.5 pound hammer is the best weight for this.
The balance of the hammer refers to the amount of weight on each side of the handle. A perfectly balanced hammer will have equal weight on each side. A front heavy hammer will have more weight on the main face side. A Japanese style hammer has all the weight on one side.
I personally prefer a slightly front heavy hammer as it produces a dropping effect and (possibly) helps with acceleration. But that idea is probably just in my mind. I am not a physicist.
The most common forging hammer will have a cross peen on the back side of the hammer. The cross peen is used for spreading out material. You can orientate the peen in others ways to suit the type of spreading you want to do. The peen should be quite flat with rounded edges. With my hammer (pictured above) I made the peen quite wide as I find this works better for what I want it to do. But of course, the narrower the peen, the narrower the fuller it will produce.
The face of the hammer should be close to flat with a slight crown. The edges of the face should be rounded as sharp corners will show in the work piece. Some guys like to work with a rounding hammer which has a pronounced rounded face, like a squished ball. This shape can be helpful when drawing out material. But the peen of the hammer and/or the corner of the anvil work well for that as well.
The gripping part of the handle should fit your hand comfortably. I like my fingers to completely reach around the hammer so that they just touch the ball of my thumb. You don’t want to have to grip the hammer too tightly as that will cause fatigue and soreness in your arm. You should mainly grip the handle with your index finger, middle finger, and thumb. This allows the hammer to pivot as you swing causing a whipping effect as you bring the hammer down. The handle should not be shaped round, but rather with a square/oval shape. This will better conform to your grip.
I shave down the handle between the grip and the hammer head to a relatively small circumference. This creates a spring effect in the handle and helps dissipate the shock of the hammer blows so the vibrations don’t travel up to your arm.
So this is the perfect forging hammer: A good weight you can work with all day; a properly shaped face and peen; balanced on the handle to your liking; a handle which fits your hand comfortably; and a handle which correctly dissipates shock vibrations from reaching your arm.
Here is a way to forge a leaf hook. These are quite popular, and can be made quickly with some practice.
I start with some 3/8″ round bar cut to 9″.
After heating up the bar, make a small square taper at one end of the bar. This will be the tip of the leaf. After that, isolate about 3/4″ from the tip of the taper back by hammering two fullers on the corner of your anvil 90˚ from each other.
Draw out the bar for about 2″ from the fullers back. You can clean this up later. Next, to make the leaf shape, with the corner of the isolated bulb pointing up, hammer the piece down flat. Use the peen of your hammer to widen the leaf where needed.
Next, chisel in on the leaf the veins. I like to use a chisel with a rounded edge so that I can walk the chisel along as I hit.
Now place the piece back in the fire the other way around to start the hook. Forge a square taper on the end and draw out the bar so that a smooth even taper is made from the end to about 4″ in length. Next, round out the taper by forging out the corners — square to octagon — octagon to round.
Next, forge a “curly-Q” at the end of the taper.
Now you’re ready to bend the hook. You can do this around the horn of the anvil, but if you are making several hooks and you want them to be the same, it is good to use a jig with a bending fork.
Next, I like to flatten a couple of points to allow for screw holes. I drill the holes, but not before countersinking them at the anvil. I flatten out the sections using a guillotine tool with a flat die.
Now you can draw out and cleanup the stem between the leaf and the holes. Make the stem as skinny as you like, but make sure you will be able to bend it.
Using scrolling tongs, twist and turn the stem as you see fit. Also, using a v-block and a small cross peen hammer, create some folds in the leaf to make it more realistic looking.
Heat up the whole hook again and place into a vice. Use some tongs or pliers to straighten up the hook and make any changes you want. Then, give the whole thing a good wire brushing to remove scale. Now is a good time to file away any rough spots you don’t want.
While it is still hot, apply some kind of finish. I use a beeswax and coconut oil mixture.
Let it cool, wipe off the excess wax, and drill your holes. And it is done. I like to brush the leaf with a brass brush to give it a golden look.
Related reading: Forging a Wall Hook Rack
Here is a good forging project for any blacksmith. It is a wall hook rack. It can be used to hang clothes, coats, or whatever.
For the project I used a 20″ length of 1 3/8″ x 1/4″ flat bar for the backing, and 4 pieces of 1″ x 1/4″ flat bar each cut at 5 1/4″ long for the hooks. I used eight 1/4″ rivets.
1) To prepare the pieces, start by marking the four 1″ x 1/4″ bars by punching center marks at 2 1/4″ from one end, and 1 1/2″ from the other end. This will then give you 1 1/2″ between the two punch marks.
2) To prepare the back plate, center punch 2″ in from both ends. These are for the holes to be drilled to mount it to a wall. Drilling 2″ in from each end will make the holes 16″ apart, which will line up with studs in most homes. As this hook rack will carry a lot of weight, it is wise to brace it strongly.
Then, place center punch marks 4″ from each end, and 4″ away from those marks — creating four marks, each mark being 4″ away from each other. These punch marks indicate where each hook will attach to the bar.
3) Next, you are going to heat up the four pieces of 1″ x 1/4″ bar and, where the punch marks are, fuller them down to about 3/8″ thickness. It helps to have a guillotine tool for this job. I bought mine from GS Tongs. You should check it out.
4) Now you need to draw out each end of the bar from the fuller to the edge down to about 3/8″ x 1/4″ thickness. Then, round out each drawn out section. These will be the hooks. One section is longer than the other. That will be the bottom hook. The section left flat in the middle will be the rivet plate for attaching to the back plate. Be carful when drawing out the end sections not to hit the center section.
5) Next, drill two 1/4″ holes, in line with each other in the center plate. Do this for all four hooks and make sure the two holes are all the same distance from each other for each hook.
Then, using those holes, mark out where to drill on the back plate, lining up everything perfect for the rivets.
Also, on the back plate, drill out the two holes for the mounting screws, appropriate for the size of screw you want to use.
6) Now, place the four hooks back in the fire for bending. Start with the top hook, which is the shorter of the two drawn out sections. Place the hook in a vice holding firmly to the flat middle section. Hold the tip of the hook with tongs and hammer down to form the hook as shown below.
With the bottom hook (the longer section), curl it around as you would any “J” hook, on the horn of the anvil or around a bending jig. Don’t block the drilled holes.
Clean up all rough areas with a file.
7) Place the back plate in the fire. Knock off the edges to give the bar a less manufactured look. Next, place the bar in the vice and upset each end a bit — again, for a nicer look.
Grab a counter sink and counter sink the mounting holes. Then flip the plate over and counter sink the back side of each 1/4″ rivet hole. The rivets will be hammered flush with the back plate and the counter sink provides a space for the rivet to fill in to.
Now is a good time to add a touch mark if you want.
Clean up all rough and uneven areas with a file.
8) Now, it is ready for assembly.
Cut the rivets so that a 1/4″ sticks out the back of the back plate. Normally rivets are cut to twice their diameter, but as you will hammer them flat and flush to the back of the back plate, you need them to be shorter.
Insert the rivets, line everything up straight and in the correct orientation, and hammer the rivets down flat on the back side. You can hammer the rivets cold. As you are hammering, stop frequently to be sure everything is lining up properly. Hammer them down good and tight so there is no movement.
And you’re done. Put a good finish on it, some beeswax or linseed oil, and hang it up. These hooks will last many decades to come.
Related reading: Forging a Simple Leaf Hook
This project was inspired by a video posted by Black Bear Forge.
When blacksmithing, you can either work with a charcoal forge or gas forge. Both have their pros and cons.
The charcoal (or coke) forge is more traditional. You can get the steel hotter and you can be more selective in what parts of the work piece you heat up over the gas forge as there is more space to move the piece around. If you want to do any forge welding, the charcoal forge is usually the better choice. The charcoal forge is also messy to use and requires more maintenance.
The gas forge is clean and easy to fire up. Propane is usually not too expensive (depending on where you live of course), and a well made gas forge will be quite fuel efficient. A well built gas forge can get up to welding temperatures, but if one is using flux, measures must be taken to protect the lining of the forge. The opening of a gas forge, depending on how it’s built, can be restrictive on the size of work pieces that can be heated.
I personally use a two burner gas forge. I do have a charcoal forge, but most often the gas forge is more than sufficient for what I’m doing and it is quicker and more efficient than a charcoal forge.
Black Bear Forge is one of my favourite Youtube channels. Here they discuss the pros and cons of the two different forges…