Throughout the past week, a week frantically filled with ranch work, car repair, warm weather prep for a strong cold front and numerous other frantic activities, thoughts of working at my recently set up blacksmith shop remained simmering on the back burner. There was also a nagging in my mind in terms of the rough texture of the small item I produced while testing my new forge parts. The problem was not with my technique, but with my tools.
It has been a few years since I have done any smithing, and in that time, my hammers have continued to be used for other things. Some of my hammers are wonderful antiques I have picked up at flea markets or that have been passed down through my family, while others are somewhat newer. They all have one thing in common, ABUSE. The amount of damage to a hammer face is not all that noticeable when hammering stubborn parts into place, straightening shafts or striking a chisel, but every stroke on properly heated steel will show every imperfection. With these things in mind, I decided to set aside a portion of the weekend to address these issues.
Needles to say, there were a lot of imperfections, making the work at hand also imperfect. The answer to this consideration is simple, fix or replace the hammers. If you will notice at this point, I said SIMPLE, not EASY.
Replacing sounds like the easiest of the choices, at least on the surface, but there are two major drawbacks. One of the big drawbacks is price. Of course, the value of good tools cannot be overstated, but when you consider the variety of hammers used in the blacksmith shop, the combined price would be quite high. Another drawback is quality and availability. Most hammers made these days are not used in the blacksmith shop, so the quality of material and workmanship is geared for other purposes. The finish on the face of many new hammers is another issue. In short, if you can see grind marks on the hammer face, you can also see them on your work, so you have to work on them before use. Add to these considerations the fact that many of the more specialized hammers are no longer produced and those passed down through the family are not replaceable. The option of replacing suddenly becomes not so easy after all. Besides, repairing the old ones gives a much better appreciation of what you have.
With the decision made to repair instead of replacing, I was truly appreciative of a good bench grinder. Yes, I know that is a departure from the handcrafting way but with serious time constraints, it came in pretty handy. The bench grinder, used carefully so not to overheat the metal, was quite effective for re-shaping the faces and getting past the chips and dings, but the grinder marks were another issue. One by one, the hammers were placed in the vice and gently attacked with a good flat file to remove the marks left by the grinder. When the filing was done, you may have already guessed it, there were plenty of file marks left behind. This had to be remedied with the use of very fine emery cloth and lots of elbow grease.
By the end of the weekend, all of the hammers I currently have in my shop for working metal, now have brand new shiny faces that I can see my own face in, and no dings or grinder marks. It was a lot of work, but though it took most of the weekend (leaving barely enough time to plant a few potatoes), the time spent was certainly no more than would have been spent making money to buy new ones. The satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that bringing these old tools back to life gives, simply cannot be measured.
Needless to say, there won't be a great deal of tolerance for people using my hammers incorrectly and the handles of those used for shaping metal and those used for chisels and such will be color coded for easy identification. A sign is in the works which will read, "Ding my tools, I'll ding your head". Of course I won't likely ding heads, but I may well hand the culprit a file and some emery cloth and make them fix the dings.
Though my antique anvil, passed down from my great grandfather, has a few imperfections that can't be addressed at this time, it isn't too bad. At first hint of an opportunity, I will have the neighbors wondering where all the noise and coal smoke is coming from. And I will smile while I am doing it.