If I had a hammer

Happy New Year fellow Orchidians!

I am an amateur jewelry maker and I work in a home studio. I have
discovered that working metal with hammers is one of the most
satisfying aspects of jewelry making for me. Accordingly, I want to
expand my hammer collection to expand and improve my work. So I am
turning to all of you for suggestions.

The Fretz hammers that Rio, and others, sell are incredibly sexy. Do
they function as beautifully as they look? Having a mechanical
background, I realize the value of well-made tools and will pay more
for a functional, durable tool. But I don’t like paying for
aesthetics; beautiful tools that don’t function well are a waste.

What are the hammers that you reach for again and again when making
pieces? What brands and suppliers would you recommend? Are there
brands you would not recommend? Any tool buying remorse that you want
to share?

I look forward to all the tips, suggestions, etc that I know are

Thank you in advance!

My hammer collection is still small, being a newcomer, but the two
Fritz hammers that I own are great. What really annoys me are two of
my other hammers, where the head is slightly loose (sorta like a
spindle being loose in a chair). I don’t like the feel of them, and
wonder how easy they are to repair.



Fretz hammers are worth every cent. (They are sexy…) The handles
are wonderfully made and balanced, and the heads are
awesome…drool Ahem.

So, yes. They are worth it.

They have taken over as gifts from my husband on Valentine’s - the
hammers will last, the flowers won’t. He mentioned that if we could
afford it, he would get me 6-12 of them and arrange them in a small
vase - a bouquet of hammers, instead of a bouquet of roses. (I


I started out as a blacksmith and have been been forging silver and
gold more in the last year or so, and share your love of hammers. I
love making tools as well as using them so that is what I do. I’ve
long kept an eye on ebay looking for blacksmith tools and had
accumulated quite a few old hammers (cross peen, ball peen, cobbler’s
hammers, you name it) that were too small for most of my blacksmith

I start with a good quality forged hammer head that is close to the
size I’m after and modify it to suit my needs using grinders, files,
and / or hot forging if needed. Once I have my basic shape, I either
clean it up with files / abrasives and then give it a high polish
(some of my hammer heads are textured intentionally).

I like to use my arcwelder to lay down a hardfacing using 3518 rod.
If you are doing this you ought to use a rosebud tip to pre-heat the
hammer head before hardfacing.

Cheree- I have a hammer collection that I started in 1969. Not
surprising considering my last name.I have no idea how many I have. I
used to be a liturgical silver smith before I was jeweler.

Mine range from a goat horn hammer to a giant circus tent stake
hammer. It looks like something from the Acme Hammer Co that Willie E
Coyote would use.

My favorites… An old Dixon heavy plannishing hammer and a really
well balanced chasing hammer.

No one touches my Dixon plannisher. Not even my husband Tim.

When I helped put the Portlandia Statue together, (she’s about three
stories tall), we used sawed off croquette mallets and hand held
auto body anvils.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer


The Fretz hammers are sexy, no doubt. They’re also hard. RC-50.
Which means they’ll hold up to nearly anything. (It also means
they’ll likely dent your anvil if you miss, but that’s up to you.) I
don’t have many of them because, frankly, I need more hammers like I
need a hole in the head, but I’m planning on getting at least one of
his planishing hammers sometime soon. (and I already have a set of
the old German Allcraft planishing hammers.)



If the handles are wood?? put them in a pail of water and the wood
will swell and close the gap


Rosa and Dallas - re. loose hammer heads - I have lived in dry
climates for a long time (NM, CO) - the word from the old-timers is
to soak your (axe, hammer, etc.) handle overnight in (new) radiator
coolant, as that doesn’t just dry out and present the same issue
like using water will. Rinse well, and keep away from your pets.
Alternately, you get a tiny wood or steel shim from the hardware
store and bash that in from the top - takes up the extra space from
the shrunken wood permanently.

Susan “Sam” Kaffine

I had a hammer with a loose head. Soaking in water only lasted for
short time, then it was loose again. Finally I resorted to duct
tape–yes, duct tape to the rescue. I cut a long length in half,
lengthwise, then wrapped it around the head of the hammer and the
handle, using the low tech method invented by the cave men of the
stone age to wrap their stones around wooden branches. Doesn’t look
very elegant, but it works and the handle and head have not separated
since I have married them to each other with good old duct tape.


I had a hammer with a loose head. Soaking in water only lasted for
short time, then it was loose again. 

Loose head can be result of several things:

  1. The eye of the hammer is not tapered. The remedy is to through
    hammer away.

  2. The eye is tapered but put on the handle upside down. The remedy
    is to reverse the head. Wider opening must be toward the bottom.

  3. The taper of handle should be close to taper of the eye, handle
    itself must be made from wood with very low moisture content.

To assemble the head and the handle place harrow end into the eye
and tap the bottom of the handle with wood mallet. If all is well,
the head shall travel up the handle and wedge itself securely. Trim
excess of wood and drive a thin metal wedge diagonally into narrow
end to fix head in place.

Issues with technique:

The face of a hammer is either flat or convex. Convex is preferable.
In well designed hammer, the center of the arc corresponding
convexity of the face, is located in the center of the eye. If that
is the case, there is nothing to worry about. If the center is
outside of the eye, depending on the center been above the eye or
bellow, you either get loose head, or broken handle. That is because
with every blow, the head will be driven up (loose head) or down
(broken handle due to shearing wood fibers)

With flat face head, unless every strike is perfectly centered, you
generating displacing forces. In case of chasing hammers and most of
them have flat faces (tells you how much manufactures actually know
about the hammers) broken handle concern is mostly theoretical,
because chasing hammers are used gently, but if contact with punch is
bellow face center loose head is unavoidable and only the matter of

Some of you probably wonder, how is possible to make contact with
punch dead center every time? It is important to use the center of
the face or slightly above it and it is controlled by how high your
shoulder above chasing surface, in another words - by the height of
your bench. Paint hammer face with chalk. A few minutes of
experimentation would tell you the height that you need.

Leonid Surpin

Hi Leonid,

2. The eye is tapered but put on the handle upside down. The
remedy is to reverse the head. Wider opening must be toward the

I generally agree with you, with one very important problem. Your
point #2. Last time I checked, the taper of the hammer’s eye needed
to be the other way around. Eg, the wide part of the hole facing
up, away from the handle end. The idea being that the handle
swells out into the wider throat of the hole as you drive the wedges
into the handle after you fit it. That way, you end up with the upper
end of the handle being wider than the eye, so it can’t come off.
(Think of it like a wooden rivet.) If you put the head on
wide-side-down, there’s nothing to hold it in place, and it’ll come
off (suddenly) in very short order.

As far as loose handles go, that’s normally caused by natural
shrinkage of the wood fibers. Wood breathes, and as the humidity in
the area changes, (seasonally, usually) the wood swells & shrinks. A
hammer that’s tight in the summer may well be loose in the winter. I
used to have all my gear in a shop with steam heat. You could tell
when the heater started up for the season by the number of hammer
handles on the deck under the hammer rack.

I’ve used two solutions over the years: either set the hammers in a
tray of mineral oil, head down, overnight, so that the oil soaks
into the end grain, or use antifreeze. Either one will work, but the
mineral oil isn’t toxic. They swell up the wood cells, but then
don’t evaporate the way water does.


up the empty space and you can file down any excess from the top
although as long as you don’t use to much there really isn’t any
need. Gorilla glue expands as it hardens. It is the Duct Tape of


I used to help a carriage maker repair wheels. One of the standard
treatments for rejuvenating a wheel where the wood had shrunk away
from the iron tire was to soak it in a mixture of half water and
half anti-freeze. Worked nicely, even on century-old wheels here in
the desert.

It’ll work on hammer handles as well.


Last time I checked, the taper of the hammer's eye needed to be the
other way around. Eg, the wide part of the hole facing *up*, away
from the handle end. 

There are 2 basic handle designs. You describe the one with a seat on
the handle, that prevents head sliding downward. For that type of
handle, the method you describe is fine. I like handles which evenly
tapers from top to bottom. This type requires that tapers of the eye
and the handle to match. It is a matter of preference, but I believe
that evenly tapered handles give better control and better shock

Leonid Surpin