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sore elbow, anvil height, anvil securement, heavy hammer???

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i am killing my elbow, and i am sure there's been discussion i just cant find on this site.


personal anvil/hammer history:

i was hammering with a hammer that was splitting so i wraped in tape and 550cord(shock absorbing?)

my anvil, a short peace of railroad track(photo attached)sitting on a rr track mounting plate and chained down(bouncy) to a birch log(wobbly) that was 40" high.


i was told it should be as high as my knuckles at my side(33") so as to not hurt my shoulder or my back


so i put my forge on the log and:


glued(construction subfloor glue)2x12's to each other on 6x12's and nailed with long gutter nails...

then i rr spiked the track and plate to a 6x12 and no chain is needed as it is very solid.


also i put a new handle on another hammer head and can forge solidly.perhaps too solidly.


1.wayne goddard in $50 KNIFE SHOP said to cut a slot in the length of the handle as long as the head is wide(4.5" i think)

being a new handle i am leary.

anyone tried that who's handle did not break the first day :blink: i tried that on a cherry wood handle and it fell apart immediately. probably cherry was not good handle material.


2. should i loosen the anvil to allow it to vibrate and relieve the shock


my back is fine

my shoulder is fine

my elbow hurts bad :(

celtic-iron-age-black-lion-sgian-dubh-n anvil.jpg

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I'm just starting out, and I've had problems with repetitive stress injuries before, so I've looked into this kind of thing a fair bit. Anvil height is quite important, the knuckles being a good rule, and one smith has told me that too low is quite a bit better than too high, to a point - you don't want to be hunching or anything.


Your anvil should be as secure as possible, but it's technique that will enable you to direct most of the force from each blow into the anvil and not have it come back up your arm. If you let the moment of impact force the hammer back up into the air in a sort of bouncing action, and make each hammer stroke begin not at your shoulder but at your feet, your strokes will do a lot less damage to your body. Any joint taking stress in a direction contrary to its natural movement is going to hurt very very soon, so keep tweaking things until it doesn't hurt at all.


I'm sorry I cant give any really solid advice, I'm just telling you what I'm trying to learn. hope it helps!

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I don't find that hammering hurts my elbow, however, grinding and polishing can cause my elbow to flare up, and then hammering hurts a ton. How big a hammer are you swinging? A big hammer is not always better, and a heavy hammer can cause you to grip the handle harder to try and control it, which in turn stresses your elbow. SO you might consider down sizing the hammer until your arm can take the bigger one. Put the hammer down between heats. Standing there with the hammer clutched tightly in your hand wastes energy for no work. You might also consider slimming the handle down, often I find that store bought handles are way to big around to hold comfortably.


For blade smithing I find that 4 inches or so higher than knuckle height works better than lower. A good anvil returns energy to the hammer head with each strike, so if you are having to pick the hammer back up to get ready for the next blow, that can wear out your elbow pretty fast.


If you find that you are having to place your thumb along the hammer shaft to control the head, that can cause inflammation and pain, though usually in the thumb and wrist. Less hammer and better technique will cure it.


Aspirin, rest, ice, rest, exercise, rest...did I mention rest? :lol:


Once your elbow is inflamed, more work is not the answer, rest and aspirin is.

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I'd definitely agree with the lighter hammer. I switched from a 3 kilo sledge to a 2 kilo cross pein and I was able to forge longer with much less stress on my arms. Another thing is that I also found hammer technique to be absolutely key. This thread on Building up your hammer arm has a ton of good advice. I started following Alan Longmire's advice (2nd post from the top on the 2nd page) and my hammer technique and the amount of stress I put on my arms was greatly reduced.


Also, especially with railroad track, consider just setting it on the ground. I do all my forging on a 3 ft. long section of rail that I just throw on the ground. By dropping it, it kind of sets into the dirt (usually mud around here, though) and is perfectly secure. I just take a knee and keep my back straight. Because the anvil surface is so long, you can adjust your hips until you can make blows with an almost 90 degree bend in your arm. That has worked great for me.


Good luck!



Edited by Dan Scott

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My hammers have the deliberately split handles. They are made by Ed Caffery and reportedly stop elbow soreness by removing the shock, jarring efect. I forged pretty much non stop for 5hrs last week and my elbow was as good as gold next day :D

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After almost 20 yrs of smithing and teaching more classes than I care to remember, here are my tips for avoiding elbow trouble:


-use a hammer that you are comfortable with in weight, design, and handle size... you will know the hammer is too heavy if the TOP of your forearm tires and the hammer begins to "droop" on the upswing

-handles that are either too large, too small, or too slippery tend to make you grip tighter and this is BAD

-grip the handle as you would a handshake... firm but not tight

-let the hammer do the work; do not try to "push" the hammer into the metal on impact

-keep your arm close to your body rather than letting it stick out at a 45 degree angle (top view)

-your elbow and wrist should not be bending much during the swing... almost all motion should be in your shoulder

-the hammer head should travel in a straight line up and down rather than swing in an arc; the hammer will rotate 90 degrees during the swing, but the center of mass of the hammer should travel in a straight line


Elbow pain is generally caused by something in the downswing or impact, and the most common cause is a problem with the way your hand and the handle interact. I have read numerous articles about ways to cushion the handle in various ways and I suspect that most of them work to one degree or another. However, the most important aspect is how tightly you are gripping the handle during the swing and at impact. If you are gripping too tightly you will not only be transferring the impact into your arm, but since the muscles are all tight you will be directing that force directly into your tendons, especially the tendon in your elbow. The handle of your hammer should be a comfortable size for your hand, and I find that most forging hammers have handles that are too large for most people. You do not need a larger handle just because you are using a larger hammer! Most of my handles end up roughly the same size and shape as that of a standard claw hammer and I find that this works very well. If the handle becomes overly polished from use, I put a few wraps of hockey tape on it for better gripping.


Another issue that can cause elbow pain is if you are trying to add too much force to the hammer swing. Let gravity and the weight of the hammer do most of the work for you. Except during finish forging your hand should be rising higher than your shoulder on every blow; if it is not then you are making your arm work too hard. If the material is not moving efficiently, then get a bigger hammer... but don't over do it and jump to the 12lb sledge! For most forging I suggest that you work with hammers in the 1.5lb to 4lb range, and it may take a while before you are comfortable using the 4lb hammer for any length of time. As I said earlier, a too-heavy hammer will affect the top of your forearm well before it causes trouble in your elbow.


My last suggestion is to start looking into a heavier block of material for your anvil. An anvil that is too light drops the efficiency of your blows dramatically, which in turn causes you to try to hit harder to make up for the lack of movement. Actual anvils are often hard to find and expensive when you do, but they are definitely worth the price you pay. I have found that the railroad track anvils are among the worst of the scrapyard anvils due to low weights and poor energy transfer through the web. BAsic anvil performance is much more about mass than it is about how hard the steel is, so even a big block of stone would probably perform better. My suggestion is to track down a shop that does repairs on large equipment such as frontloaders and logging skidders; these places are often replacing large pivots of all kinds, and I have gotten pivot pins weighing over 50lbs for next to nothing. Whatever you end up with, make sure that the mass is in line with the force of the hammer blows rather than perpendicular... which is to say that the end of the pin is where you want to be hitting rather than side.


Good luck.



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Good advise..... above... I think we are all guilty of this at one point in our lives.. for me it was aways getting too tired and then gripping the hammer too hard and not relaxing my grip as the hammer meets the anvil... you can choke up on the handle when your arm gets tired... that will help to not grip it so tight.. you can also get yourself and ace bandage /strap that is meant to be worn on you arm that will help from it developing into tennis elbow... but it is better to stop forging and heal before you get to that pointcool.gif The smaller handle size that Peter mentions makes a huge difference as well... big fat handles make for a tight squeeze to grip them ... And wearing a glove can make the size wrong of the handle... Make your handles sized for either wearing gloves or not...

It is better to hammer in less blows per minuet and be in control than to wail away as fast and hard as you can... and when you feel your arm start to tighten up you are getting tired and you are probably starting to try to swing thru the anvil instead of guiding the hammer to the correct spot and letting it do the work..


A good anvil would provide some rebound also and so you wouldn't feel the need to grip the hammer so tight to pick it back up again.. the griping and guiding of the hammer handle all takes place in the miliseconds of the swing of the hammer... It is something you need to practice at ....



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I agree with everyting except anvil height. I have raised my anvil to belt buckle height and that along with a 3.5 lbs forging hammer, I never have any elbow issues. Now if I go a few weeks with out forging my shoulder gets tired but after two 8 hour days what would you expect.


I guess what everyone is trying to say is experiment and find your nitche for forging as not every way will work for you.



Excpet for one thing a well anchored anvil, if your anvil moves or hops, you will have to keep adjusting your angle. And this alone will cause alot of issues.


Thats my dollar ninetyfive's worth of info

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There is some very good advice above. The one thing that I do different than what is mentioned is I like a larger handle. Most folks view my handles as oversized. If I try smaller handles, it doesn't feel secure in my hand and I grip tighter.

Furthermore, if you have problems with arthritis, oversize handles will be easier to grip than smaller handles.

I will agree a handle too big is as bad as a handle too small, but I find a bit oversize is better than a bit undersize.



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At Don's suggestion, I raised my anvil to a little higher than belt buckle height.

Keep your elbow tucked in close to your body and let the hammer take

the impact, not your hand or wrist (use a looser grip).


My finishing anvil is 8" higher than my forging anvil. It's a chunk of square

steel which I simply put on top of my other anvil. This height doesn't hurt

my back.


But as others have said, I'd suggest getting something better for an anvil.



Edited by Bill Hoffman

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You always want to have your anvil secured to a surface. Bouncing and scooting around robs it of energy, and with the railroad track anvil, you don't have any to loose. That and they tend to hurt when they land on your toes. If you can't find a large piece of scrap that you can stand on it's end, look at some online sites that sell steel. Speedy Metals is one of them. You might be able to purchase a piece of 4340 through Old World Anvils. The last time I was at that site I saw something like 4X4 bar stock that he uses to make some of his tools. I think that it is sold by the pound. Even something that is only 12-18" long would probably be better than the railroad track anvil because the mass of the anvil will be under the work and make it more effecient for its weight than a clasical anvil. Just anchor it in a bucket of concrete. Whatever you do stay away from cast iron anvils, better known as anvil shaped objects.


Doug Lester

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please dont take my slow response as indifference.

i am reading and considering many changes.


am icing and trusting i have not done damage, only precautionary pain.

the icing helps,

i like eds hammer desighn. methinks me can modify handle too. how heavy is ...its an old head, no matkings???

will post pic perhaps.

i also will raise some and definately work smarter with less grip and lighter hammer.


also, i have been doing TONS of hand sanding??? that comment got me wondering when i started noticing pain...hmmmmmmmm


i remember a seal instructor(i saw on a video) say" always F E E L what your body is doing.

this is just a scary painful reminder what can happen when you tell your body, "shut up i'm forgin' " :(


thanks again guys

more later, perhaps


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Several years ago, '04 or '05, I was working on a bunch of pieces and I had built myself a bench so I could sit and watch TV while working. That angle, sitting, elbows at typing height seemed to be the problem. Now I sand and polish either sitting in a bar height chair, hands about shoulder high, or standing, hands about mid chest, and I move between the two fairly often. I have not had elbow problems since I retired the low bench.





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And one other thing that hasn't been mentioned... don't take this personaly Edwin for it is catching up with me as well and will with all of us someday....AGE ... cool.giflaugh.gif


"it's not nice to fool with mother nature"wink.gif


Keep it on ice and let it heal ...



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I'll try to keep this short and use plain English. This is also called tennis elbow, wrench turner's disease.


The height of the anvil, the weight of the hammer head and the amount of time in front of the anvil hammering are minor components of this problem. The medical name of this problem is lateralizing epicondylitis and it's cause is the grip applied to the hammer handle. It is the natural tendency of the human hand to grip tighter when the object being held feels loose in the hand. This is nearly always influenced by some reflexes, so I will dare to say that you are trying to overcome the hardwiring in the spinal cord itself to correct this tendency.


But the greatest proportion of the grip is supplied by the muscles of the forearm. The majority of that force is merely to close the hand. It takes hardly any work at all to open the hand. But, with time and effort the muscles that close the hand become much stronger than the muscles that oppose them. In it's most reduced essence, the large muscles of the grip are balanced by the small muscles behind the lateral epicondyle. When they become stronger they are able to pull or stretch those small muscles via the tendon between them. This sawing back and forth action eventually creates an inflammation at the small fulcrum that holds the tendon in place.


The cures are several. Ice helps with inflammation in the first few days. Heat will help too during recovery. Obviously if you don't do what hurts, things tend to quit hurting. There are reported cases where 90% complete relief with a simple injection of corticosteroid works. This means overcoming your natural resistance to have a doctor look at it. And it involves a needle into a spot that is not natural for an injection. It will hurt a bit if it's done right. NSAIDs are good if you don't like shots. The classic forearm band restricts the forearm muscles from gripping so tightly and that will help with this problem too, but all these remain indirect cures. They only address the symptoms. Once recovered and the same bad habits reoccur, so will the pain.


Watch this fellow:

Uri is an old smith. I always pay attention to old smiths. Especially if they are old and still smithing. They have figured out how to last in the craft by learning to keep the tools from hurting them. He does not have Popeye forearms either. Look and learn.


My advice is to stop putting the grip of death on the hammer handle. Stop trying to hold so tightly to the handle. Stop letting the hammer head swing around in an arc with the center of radius in your wrist. Move that back to the elbow itself. Have someone take a video of your working a hand hammer then watch it. A lot. You'll see what I mean right away. All that action at the wrist requires more grip not less. More grip, more pain.


Observe how a power hammer strikes steel. It's the falling head, gravity, not the head being thrown down onto the work. The head hits fairly flat and is as consistently striking the same way each time. At least as good as a machine can. You have to train your forearm to do the work to take the strain of gripping off the elbow. You have to stop letting your wrist flop around. You have to stop trying to throw the hammer head at the work. You only have to hold the hammer tightly enough to hold the hammer to lift it and let it drop and then control it on the way down so it strikes consistently in the spot your mind tells it. This takes practice. A lot of practice, because you aren't built with ram guides and gibbs and ways and dovetails to keep the hammer falling in the same spot each time.


The best cure I've ever been given comes from Al Dippold. Use a Sunday newspaper strength rubber band. Spread that around the OUTSIDE of your fingers and stretch the fingers open against that resistance. Do this a lot. do it when you're watching TV, any time you have to take a break when you're not using your hammer hand. Remember you've been gripping the hammer, screwdrivers, golf clubs, knives, forks, anything all your life up to this point without ever increasing the strength of the small oppositional muscles. You'll get some relief fairly quickly, but you took a lifetime to get here and the cure will require practice and repetition. So what if you look strange. You already look strange, you're a blacksmith. It's your elbow and you want your ability to play with a hammer to last the rest of your life.


If your anvil is too high or too low and causes you to force the grip on the hammer handle, then adjust the height of the anvil. If your hammer is too heavy and requires more of your grip to control it, or the head needs dressing so the face won't kick all that weight in an uncontrolled direction requiring More grip, then dress the hammer head or use a lighter one. If you can't figure any of this out, buy a power hammer and let it take the strain, or a press. Crap, you're still going to run into this problem gripping tongs that don't fit the work...the problem does not go away does it?


It is correct to say that feeling and observing and paying close attention are keen skills to develop for a smith. This runs a little deeper than where you guys were looking. It's the grip, the brain tool interface if you will, not the tools.

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Thanks Mike! I think this might also tie into a question I was pondering asking.

Mine had to do with handsanding a blade. Sounds like it is related to the grip on the sanding block, so I'll make a new one.


Possibly even adjusting the height I'm sitting in relation to the blade. I'd been sanding with it at about belly level while sitting, but Geoff said changing that helped him.


I was getting soreness in arms which isn't so bad, it's like doing pushups, but what was concerning me was the fingers and elbow a bit. I'd not really had it happen before, just this last time as I'd sanded a bunch of blades all together. had a bit of fatigue, soreness and the most concerning was a bit of numbness, so I quit shortly after noticing it.


What was interesting is the numbness matched up to descriptions of my dad's for an ongoing problem he's had with one of his arms where the ring and pinky finger have a lot of numbness to them. Only other time I'd experienced it was whacking my elbow on something or sleeping on it wrong.

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I think I'm going to print that post and put it on the wall of my shop... or my bedroom... no, my living room... all three, actually... yeah. The 'bold' points, anyhow.


Actually, maybe I'll just use Alan's. ;)

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for sure.

it was rainy that injurious day, very rainy indeed. my handele is quite large,smooth, hella-waterproof, thus slippery as can be on a soggy day forging in the new edinbourgh marshland were i reside.

with no roof

cold hands


"relax", i can hear my old tai chi sifu saying in a hushed tone, ..."follow the hammer as it does the work."


after seeing the hofi handle, i intend to make a few tools new handles with all the wood i will cut off the handle.

also it needs reshaped perhaps.


and i need a roof :mellow:


as for the weight of hammer???

perhaps ya'll can guess

its a cross peen like in the pic below



1.75"square except octagon head and cross peen

its a vaughan head i put a handle on.

i may need a lighter one.


i may need to lighten this one...hmmmm :huh:


thanks again everyone

i am on light duty this weekend. melting copper oh, wait i need to make some tongs for my new crucible :o:mellow::angry: left handed forging practice???


is left handed forging considered rest :mellow:

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