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Chris Christenberry

Most recommended metal for forging hammer heads

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Posted (edited)

Okay, so I'm a newbie.  Got to put metal in a gas-fired oven for the first time last week.  That's the extent of my experience with the craft!!! :D

While at the forge that evening,  one of the guys had a new dogs head hammer.  It was this one:  https://picclick.com/DIY-Japanese-Blacksmith-Hammer-25-lb-Dog-302936320583.html   Nice looking hammer, but didn't quite satisfy my desire for one.  I like the more traditional Sawmakers Dogs Head hammer shape.  But in talking with people and researching dogs head hammers, I've stumbled across a lot of videos of folks forging them.  Looks like a lot of fun and doesn't look all that hard to do.  (remember, I said I'm a newbie...........that makes me also naive!) I have access to all the tools and equipment at this Thursday night gathering I've started attending.   I've been researching metals for the project and have found the consensus of many is that 1045 makes a good hammer head.  It's also very forgiving in the heat treating department.  (that should be helpful for a newbie)  So is 1045 a good one...............or am I headed in the wrong direction?

Edited by Chris Christenberry

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Yup 1045 or 4140 makes nice hammers.

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That's the first time I've heard those two mentioned.:o  Why would you recommend those over 1045 or 4140?

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That's a bit mean-spirited, Gerald.  :rolleyes:

Those steels are not hardenable.  You can make a hammer out of them if you forge-weld a hardenable steel face on them, of course.  The lesson here is do a little reading to get a basic grasp of steel alloys and their properties.  Otherwise you might try to make a knife out of the "weldable steel" they sell at Home Depot.

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10 hours ago, Gerald Boggs said:

Because you don't know the answer :-)

Ask an honest beginners question and get a smart a**  answer.  Not something I'd expect from someone who claims to be a teacher in his own blacksmithing school.  I feel sorry for your students.

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1 hour ago, Alan Longmire said:

 

Those steels are not hardenable.  You can make a hammer out of them if you forge-weld a hardenable steel face on them, of course.  The lesson here is do a little reading to get a basic grasp of steel alloys and their properties.  Otherwise you might try to make a knife out of the "weldable steel" they sell at Home Depot.

Thank you, Alan.  I've been reading what I can find, but had never come across 1018 or A36, which is why I asked the question.  Your answer was helpful.

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I think It's just an old school way of making you see how much you have to learn. I dont think he was trying to be rude, just the way he teaches. My grandpaw had some of the same flavor of "Red Forman" attitude. Makes you get your gears turning.

1018 and A36 are your 2 most typical types of mild steel. 

Good luck!

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17 hours ago, Chris Christenberry said:

Looks like a lot of fun and doesn't look all that hard to do

Hammer making is a lot of fun, but is deceptively difficult to do well.  If you aren't machining the eye for the head it is a fair challenge for a beginner.  That 2.5# chunk of metal puts off a whole lot of heat when you are trying to punch a hole in it.  Unless you are Brent Bailey it is nice to have a striker, press or treadle hammer to assist with the hole punching.  Then you need some tooling to do it safely and efficiently.  At minimum a punch/slitter and hammer eye drift (which arguably could be the same tool, but typically is not) and set of tongs sized to hold the billet securely will be required.  Your group may have some of these things, but improper use can damage them, so you may not get a loan without some supervision/training.  After rough forging you need a way to grind the final shape.  Of course you could hot rasp it, if you know how, and have an adequate vise, but it is still a lot of work.  Finally the hammer should be properly heat treated for safety and quality.  Unless you  have an experienced smith on-hand directing you I expect your first few won't measure up to a cheap Harbor Freight engineer's hammer.

Gerald is certainly correct that making a hammer out of mild steel is easier for a beginner (easier to form and punch) and ultimately safer (as it is unlikely to be hardened without being properly tempered, leading to potential failure).  Initially a soft hammer face (as made out of mild steel) is probably better for a beginner as well, as you are less likely to damage your anvil with miss strikes.  Forge welding a high carbon face on is certainly an option, but in my opinion more difficult than forging a mono-steel hammer.

To be clear, 1045 and 4140 are great choices for hammers and  I've used both making some of mine.  I have also forged them out of wrought iron and forge welded high carbon faces on.  It is a great feeling to make your own tools and use them.  I highly recommend it, just think you need to get more experience  forging before you jump in the deep end.  At least you should try a couple of different styles of hammer to see which one you would like to make.

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Thanks to both of you.  I realize I've a ton to learn and lots of questions to ask, which is why I'm asking.

Thankfully, there are about a dozen experienced blacksmiths in this group who, for the most part, work with we neophytes.  Sometimes it's one-on-one and sometimes it's just a comment or two when they pass by the anvil.  That's why, even though I have no idea what to do, I'm not hesitant to buy a chunk of 4140 and get one of the "old guys" to walk me through the process.  There are more power hammers, sanders, surface grinders, gas forges, induction heaters and anvils in the building than can be used all at once.  There are more racks of hand hammers, and tongs than I ever expected to see in one room.  The owner just sits and grins at everyone getting to forge and use all his tools.  He wants everyone to treat the shop as if it were their personal shop. " Use any tool you want.......and if you don't know how to use it, just ask."  That's what he told me the first night I stopped by.

As far as jumping off the deep end..................well, right or wrong, that's what I typically do.  I ask a lot of questions and dive in.  I fully understand my limitations, but sometimes rolling up my sleeves and "doing it" is how I learn.  It's just not in my nature to do it the smart way and begin with beginners projects. Sometimes it's my downfall...........but I'm learning all the while.

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29 minutes ago, Chris Christenberry said:

He wants everyone to treat the shop as if it were their personal shop. " Use any tool you want.......and if you don't know how to use it, just ask." 

Hope you appreciate how generous this is.  I've been to a blacksmith school where I was paying to attend  training and was told that I couldn't use the hydraulic press because I had never used one before, and it wasn't part of the anticipated curriculum for that class.  Of course they were probably just being safety conscious, but I sure wish they had adopted your forge owner's policy.  Hopefully no one ever gets seriously hurt and it comes back to bite him.  Some of those tools can be dangerous if used incorrectly.

As I mentioned earlier, with good direction and the right tools and equipment you can certainly forge a hammer as a fairly new beginner.  It will likely take a fair commitment from an experienced smith, so be sure to thank them (at least) for their efforts.  Perhaps you can learn to strike first and offer to assist them with one of their projects in return for the training/supervision.   Good luck and post the results of your experiment.

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Oh, believe me, I realize how generous he is.  I've been prodding him to put in a "kitty" for the use of his gas, steel and equipment.  He just laughs at me.  He said "just bring in a case of pop, water, or sacks of candy occasionally to keep the troops happy" so he doesn't have to buy all that crap.  He either won the lottery,  just received a large inheritance or has a wealthy benefactor................I don't know which, but what I do know is he's a nice guy who should never be taken advantage of.

Here are a couple of good examples of his generosity:  The first night I stopped by his shop during the gathering, I took my railroad anvil to ask if it was good enough for forging knives.  I had only leveled half of the top surface (about a "hundred" years ago) when I owned a business that included a machine shop.   He said, heck yeh, but the entire surface needs to be flat.  Told him I couldn't afford right now to take it to a machine shop to have that done.  He grabbed it out of my hands and said to follow him.  Took it to his 2x72 belt surface grinder and in about 15 minutes it had a perfectly flat surface.  When I asked what I owed him he just said forget it.  While I was there last Thursday night, I took with me an old adjustable wrench (been in my family since I was but a wee one) to see if It would make a good twister if I welded on a second handle.  It is in perfect, pristine condition.  He said he'd shoot me if I wasted a nice tool like that on a twister.  So he took me to a dark shed out back and managed to pull a nasty, rusty old wrench out of the mud floor next to a pile of other rusty old junk and gave it to me.  Asked if I could clean it up good enough to use.  I told him it'd be like new when I brought it back.  Once again, when I asked what I owed him.  He simply said it would be one less piece his wife would have to try and sell after he died, so take it.  It looks like a new one today and I'm looking forward to his surprise this Thursday night.  He's quite a guy and in talking with other people in the group, it seems he is responsible for hundreds of new people getting involved in blacksmithing (at one level or another) in our area.  It's dedicated teachers and people like that who make me proud to be a part of the teaching community.

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18 hours ago, Gerald Boggs said:

Mild steel

 

Good one LOL

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, Zeb Camper said:

I think It's just an old school way of making you see how much you have to learn. I dont think he was trying to be rude, just the way he teaches. My grandpaw had some of the same flavor of "Red Forman" attitude. Makes you get your gears turning.

1018 and A36 are your 2 most typical types of mild steel. 

Good luck!

Yes :-)

Until someone has both skill and experience, mild steel is your best choice for almost every thing.  Most of my tools are made of mild steel, including some of my hammers, they all work quite well.  As for that matter, most of the tools of old were made out of iron.  From a point of view of cost and effort, mild is far less expensive and easier to work.  Which both means you'll have more to work with and be able to accomplish more in the same time.

Edited by Gerald Boggs

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5 hours ago, Chris Christenberry said:

Ask an honest beginners question and get a smart a**  answer.  Not something I'd expect from someone who claims to be a teacher in his own blacksmithing school.  I feel sorry for your students.

Does this mean no Christmas card?

 

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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

That's a bit mean-spirited, Gerald.  :rolleyes:

Those steels are not hardenable.  You can make a hammer out of them if you forge-weld a hardenable steel face on them, of course.  The lesson here is do a little reading to get a basic grasp of steel alloys and their properties.  Otherwise you might try to make a knife out of the "weldable steel" they sell at Home Depot.

Nobody gets my teaching style :-)  

On the question on the hardenability of mild steel, I'll have to disagree.  While not to the degree of higher carbon steels, mild steel is hardenable, just don't temper it.  I find it to be and good first choice for almost all tooling.

Edited by Gerald Boggs

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You do have a good point there.  A36 (the most common grade of "structural" steel, the 36 means it can withstand 36,000 psi tensile) usually has enough carbon to harden a fair amount in a water quench.  1018 does not harden much at all (the 10XX series of steels are straight carbon steels, with only manganese as an alloying element, with the last two digits indicating the carbon content in tenths of a percent, thus 1018 is iron with 0.18% carbon, 1095 is iron with 0.95% carbon, and the New Jersey Steel Baron adds a pinch of vanadium to his 1084 which technically should remove it from the 10XX series and make it a tool steel similar to W2, but the manganese level is much higher).  

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