It has been a while since I posted, but I thought I would pass on several
comments regarding Harbor Freight hammers, and hammer handles in general.
First, the quality of the Chinese hammers varies to a great extent, but most
are actually pretty good, so far as the steel goes. I bought a large lot of
2 pound smithing hammers a number of years ago to pass out to my
apprentices, one to each man at the start of his time in my shop. The first
task he has to do is remove the handle, clean out the "potting," reshape the
hammer handle to fit his hand properly, and then properly set the handle. It
takes most of them a full day to do this right.
Since I now make or remake most of my hammers, especially Repousse' hammers,
I always put a lot of time and care into shaping the handles to fit my hand
correctly. I recently learned the importance of doing this carefully and
correctly. I had a piece of ironwork that needed to be cold "adjusted," and
it was a simple matter of inserting a feather wedge and driving it home
repeatedly, and testing the fit each time I removed it. It was a task that
took half a day to do the four parts that needed precise fitting. For such
general bashing of cold 1/4" thick by 2" wide iron I don't use my good
smithing hammers, but one of the Chinese hammers that I reset the head on,
but never bothered to shape the handle. That was a huge mistake. By the time
I was done I had a distinct pain in my right hand at the base of my middle
finger. Over the next few weeks the pain got much worse. I finally gave in
and went to the doctor. I was quickly referred to a specialist in hand
problems. I had created a problem called "Trigger Finger," and after six
months of treatment I can either just live with it and be careful, or have
an operation where they cut one of the "pulleys" in the hand. What struck me
right between the eyes was what the doctor said to me. He asked me if I had
been using a hammer with a straight handle a lot lately! When I explained
what I had done, he explained the reason to form the handle carefully. A
straight handle will apply the impact shock to the exact same location on
your hand each time you strike, where a formed handle distributes the force,
and also shifts the point of impact on the hand each blow, preventing the
damage I had caused.
Well, I can tell you that my general "bang around shop hammer" now has a
very nicely formed handle, like all the rest of my 50 or 60 hammers. It was
pure stupidity, and laziness for me not to have worked the handle on that
one hammer too. It has caused a problem that I will live with until I lay
down my hammers permanently. I have been hammering iron since 1958, and not
until this year did I manage to cause permanent damage to my hand. Now-days
most of my heavy forming and shaping is done with my power hammer, or I use
my fly-press, but one time of carelessness and ignorance cost me the
remainder of my life to have a painful problem I need to care for and be
careful of. Shape your hammers carefully, and that means they need have a
very narrow neck to take out the shock, a smoothly contoured swelling in the
center to allow you to grasp it firmly, and another narrow section toward
the back end for the contours of your hand to fit into.
My personal mentor, Nahum Hersom, an 85 year old Repousse' artist, taught me
how to form my handles years ago so that you can hammer all day without
having your hand get tired. As he showed me, you should be able to come up
behind any smith at work and basically lift the hammer right out of his hand
at any time during the stroke, except at the moment of impact. The hand
needs to be relaxed, with the shape of the handle keeping the hammer in
place in your hand, preventing it from flying out. Shaping your hammer
handles correctly is arguably the most important thing you will do in
tooling up of your smithy.
Heed the above words, or not. It is only your entire future of hammering
that may be at risk if you don't shape your handles carefully. As I said, I
have hammered since 1958 without a problem, and four hours of hammering with
a poorly shaped hammer handle and I now have a permanent lifetime injury.
Don't do that to your hand. Being lazy or careless just isn't an excuse. I
regret my stupidity, and will continue to do so for the 15-20 years of my
remaining life. I have learned how to work around the problem, but it was
sure a lot nicer when I didn't have to.
Golden Age Forge
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