After making a hammer a while ago and modifying one recently, I got to
thinking what makes one hammer feel good, balanced, while another
similar hammer just feels wrong, or not as good? So what is it? Is it
the proportion of the head that is either side of the handle eye?
Length of handle?
So lets have some thoughts folks.
length of handle, definitely.
I don't think the head shape makes that much difference TBH,
as long as the handle is the correct length (which tends to be slightly
longer for off-centre heads)
I do find using the light side of an off-centre head a little awkward
tho, but only because I'm using to using a heavy-side or balanced hammer.
Hack to size. Hammer to fit. Weld to join. Grind to shape. Paint to cover.
It's a lever problem. That makes the ratio of head weight to handle length to
forearm length a subject of consideration. Ideally, a hammer should be
tailored to the arm that swings it, just like a sword. Lately, hammer
manufacturers have begun to curve the handles to take advantage of the
'ergonomics' of the human wrist. Think about a hatchet handle; it's curved in
the grip. Look at some of the newer framing hammers; curved grips. You might
try probing Stanley's website for specs.
I was thinking about this the other day, if you hand is closer to the
head you have more control, a the expense of velocity i.e. the end of a
long stick moves faster than the end of a short stick moving at the same
It's a matter of finding the balance point that suits you, and can be
done by selecting the "right" hammer or making a custom fitting.
Swords in history generally weren't tailored to the individual, they
were just made and sold. Swords of the Viking ages were especially
subject to this "mass" production. The common length of a swords grip
from this time was 8 - 9 cm. "But Vikings had smaller hands" is the
statement I usually get, this is an assumption based on the small size
of some archaeological finds. Fact is the people from this time were
pretty much our size, and this is based on skeletal remains. I have no
idea why the grips were made this small, but have to assume that the
wielder would have had to get used to the sword (which was a luxury item).
I've seen hammers with extreme bends in them, I haven't used them myself
and am a little wary... anyone used one?
Yes and they are akward if you learned to use a hammer right. Most folks just
it with no regard to anything other than trying to hit the target. A proper
starts with the shoulder. If you just start swinging most tend to start with the
elbow. That is weak, diffuclt to control and causes joint problems. A hatchet
different beast and has a different swing and requires a different handle. The
"egronomics" is a way to compensate for someone not wanting to learn correct
procedure or not using the tool often enough to get use to using it right.
What makes a balances hammer depends on head weight, distributation of head
handle lenght, the hand and arm of the swinger and finally the shape of the
I did say 'ideally'... I tailored my swords to the weilder whenever possible.
Measure the hand, the arm, the length of the fingers. This will give you the spec
for a one-hander. For a bastard sword (yeah, I know, all my swords are Bastard
Swords...) you extend the arm length measurement to the center of the chest. For
greatsword, you measure from the ground to the sternum for the blade and to the
for the grip. Balance a one-hand 1/7th of the distance from the guard to the tip.
For a thirty inch blade, this works out to a shade over four inches forward of
guard.. You'd be surprized at just how alive it feels in your hand when you get
You know I like to qualify things ;-)
It's a beautiful thing when a sword is born.
I like the whistle you get as you cut though the air :-)
I like to make the occasional heavy blade, I make sure I have a matching
A long time ago I heard a rule of thumb for hammer handle length. Grip
the head in your hand then measure to the end of you elbow. It's a good
starting place to dial in minimum effort for maximum work. I know there
is the Uri Hofi school of thought that espouses heavy heads with short
handles but it never worked for me. This puts all the stress and effort
of swinging the hammer in your forearm and my arms are not proportioned
like a gorillas. Plus those guys always seem to work hunched over the
anvil with their faces inches from the work piece...... not for me boys!
With a longer handle and lighter head I can stand up straight, swing
from over my head with complete control and put my entire body into the
effort. Feels good, no back ache, more like playing tennis and no scale
burns on my face.
But this only indirectly relates to "balance" and balance is probably
not the right word to use in regard to a comfortable hammer. A hammer is
not a sword! To achieve that sort of balance you would need a
counterweight on the opposite end of the handle. Not too practical I
think? The "eye" is the source of a comfortable and efficient hammer.
It needs to be carefully centered (in all planes) within the hammers
central mass. If one end is heavier than the other it will always tend
to wobble when the heavy end is up, facing you. Where the handle passes
through the eye it is vital the head and handle are at 90? to one
another. Double face hammers that have cocked handles will always favor
one end and you will definitely feel this. Plus this cocked position
will constantly cause the head to come loose due to shock stresses.
Hammers that have long bodies (end to end), like for raising or body
work can have faces that are slightly pitched down and in fact work much
better this way but still you need the handle vertical to the central
mass. There are other issues as well. A stubby hammer (very short end to
end) is difficult to use because the face is so out of whack with the
arc of your swing. I have a "rounding hammer" like this that is just
impossible for me to use (pretty though). Finally: flat face vs.crowned
face. A softly crowned face is more forgiving than a perfectly flat
faced forging hammer. A very close "approximation" of a smooth flat
surface is achieveable by even a newbie with a slightly crowned face. A
hammer face dressed dead flat is a nightmare of chinks and divots for
someone not used to it. BUT, if you practice, practice you will gain
control and be able to forge surfaces that look like you used a
"flatter" on them. It is a skill that takes time to develope but one
that pays off if you make a lot of tools or knives and such.
Offset Japanese hammers evolved that way because Japanese smiths use
their anvils at ground level. Which greatly improves the angle of attack
for those striking. I have a set of U.S. made "saw tuners" hammers
which are almost identical in shape. These however were used for tapping
on circular sawmill blades, not hot forging. They do take getting used
to and honestly I see no advantage for forge work done at a knuckle
height anvil. They do look cool though.
As for so called ergonomic curved handles I say bullocks. Think
marketing B.S.here. Save the curved handles for scythes and adz's.
Instead put more effort into shaping a straight handle to fit your grip.
Play with the proportions of the handle taper to get a bit of
springiness without sacrificing strength. I am no Luddite but there are
good reasons why some basic designs and proportions have and should
remain unchanged for millienia.
Strike while it's hot,
Glen G. in Pgh,
For me, a handle's length is not as important as its shape. I skive my
hammer handles down until they are slab sided and about half the width
of a stock handle, then sand them down until they're as smooth as a
baby's butt. I think it's worth the effort because it makes for better
hammer control, more accuracy, and less fatigue.
Well.......first off ya' gotta aquire a baby. Makin' your own is quite a
bit of fun. Whole lot more fun than raisin' the critters is.
After ya' get a baby lay it on your anvil butt up (no diaper), get your
hammer handle and start comparin'. Prett' simple really.
I have large feet, so therefore my forearms reflect this, i.e. the
length of your forearm is the same length as your foot.
In my case this would make an extremely long handle. I will have to
turn a handle as there is nothing close on the market here in Oz.
Gorilla arms run in my family :-)
But I will give it a go.
P.S. It's not bullocks it's bollocks ;-)
You know, I had it spelled correctly then changed it. Just an
ignorant Yank here!
Actually I cut my handles to measure from wrist to elbow. I make a lot
of my own handles. Years ago i cut down an Ash tree and sectioned some
chunks to handle length. Now I just split off "blanks" as needed and
shape them with a draw knife and hand tools. A sort of slab sided oval
cross section works for me. I like to use a cabinet scraper for final
shaping and smoothing. Then I run a "fine"wood rasp over the grip area
for a bit of extra traction. I follow the rasp with enough smoothing to
take off the nubs and splintery bits and I'm done save for some wood oil.
I read a book the other day about off set turning, can get a nice ovoid
from a wood lathe, can get some really different shaped and makes a
change from perfectly round... guess I'll have to make my handles too :-)
I am a voracious collector of old tools (I only really got into
blacksmithing to repair them, and know how they were made in the first
place), and usually have to replace the handles.
I have a stand of ash trees at the back of my yard, which I have
coppiced over the last 15 years or so - this gives me a renewable source
I start by band-sawing my blank roughly to shape, then use
a surform (like a rasp with a disposable, replaceable blade), and
an abrasive disk on my electric drill to make mine.
Start by fitting the end to the hammer eye, then the opposite end to
your hand, then the bit in between.
You need to narrow the neck of the hammer compared to the grip to make
it "spring" a little - I tend to copy shape and length of a comfortable
hammer I already have.
I can make a handle in perhaps half an hour
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