There are lots of jewelry tools out there to love. Recently, though, I read something from our friend and Soldering Queen Lexi Erickson that really made me think. And it was about hammers.
Yep, hammers. Of all my jewelry tools, hammers are the one I’ve had the longest love affair with. Especially unique battered and worn ones and even handmade ones. While cleaning out my mom’s garage a few years ago, we found the neatest old copper hammer that I just love (on the far left, below). The head is mallet-shaped but very short, and it appears to be solid copper. The copper is so battered, though, that it makes fabulous textures when I hammer with it, though subtle, since the copper is kind of soft. I love that, with each blow, the hammer changes the metal and the metal changes the hammer a bit, too. (Now who but a hammer geek would say that?)
There are currently only seven hammers in my collection, including two mallets and one that’s kind of part pickaxe! Maybe I need to create a GoFundMe page to get myself a wall of fancy hammers like Lexi has!
If you haven’t been bitten by the hammer bug, you might be wondering, “What’s so great about hammers?” I’m so glad you asked! Here are six things to love about the unique jewelry tool that is the hammer.
1. Unique Shapes
When hammering on an anvil or stake, or even just hammering on your work bench, you can create dimensional shapes and even textures if you move the metal, not the hammer. Keep the hammer bobbing in a straight-up-and-down motion and just turn the metal between blows. Hold the hammer lightly in your palm and let it bounce off the metal.
2. Planishing Hammers
A planishing hammer with flat and slightly rounded faces will not only help you draw curved shapes from your metal, it can also be used to size rings, flatten metal stock, forge metal, and create bezels. It’s the number-one hammer master metalsmith, instructor, and tool designer Bill Fretz (aka the Hammer King) would recommend if you only had one hammer (quel horreur!).
The material of your hammer’s faces determines what kind of surface you should hammer on to create various effects in metal. Anvils and blocks are usually wood, plastic, or steel, and you can use steel, wood, rawhide, or plastic hammers with them. Determine if you want to stretch the metal (flatten and compress it into a larger piece by deforming it) or move the metal (make it curved or dimensional without deforming it). If you’re hammering on steel blocks, anvils, or stakes, use steel hammers to stretch the metal and wood, plastic, rawhide hammers to move it. If you’re hammering on wooden or plastic forms, use steel hammers to move your metal. To help you figure out which combination of tools (hammers + surfaces like anvils, mandrels, blocks, or stakes) will create the results you want, remember this:
steel + steel = stretch
steel + wood, plastic, or rawhide = move
When hammering on metal, the metal generally takes the shape of the harder surface. If you strike metal on a wood block (soft) with a steel hammer (hard), because the steel hammer is harder than the wood block, the metal will curl up toward the hammer. Alternately, if you hammer curved or bent metal on a steel block with a rawhide, wood, or plastic mallet (softer), that curved metal will flatten down toward the (harder) steel.
But what if both surfaces are hard? If you hammer a flat piece of metal with a steel hammer (hard) on a steel block (also hard), the metal won’t curl up or flatten out–it will move away from the hammer, creating texture in the metal.
We mustn’t forget the sound! I absolutely love that sound, when a (usually small) hammer really starts singing while I’m shaping a piece of metal. You know what I’m talking about, right? When you have a considerable task ahead of you and you get in a good rhythm, the hammer bouncing just right in your hand and that almost bell-like pinging sound that it makes. It makes me feel like an Old World craftsman, forging metal in my blacksmith shop.
I didn’t even mention how much I love the worn old handles! Speaking of the love, the quote that Lexi posted on Facebook about hammers was this line that she has hanging in her studio: “Work always from the heart. Love the hammer, let every blow gently knead the metal … listen to the metal and do not make it cry. Love the metal and it will love you back.” –Hirotoshi Ito
You heard the man! Love your jewelry tools, especially hammers, and don’t make your metal cry! With Andrea Harvin-Kennington’s shell-forming video workshop, Shell Forming for Jewelry Making with Hammers and Stakes, you will learn to create eye-catching concave and convex shapes, synclastic and anticlastic forms, tubes and spiculums, flowers and other three-dimensional creations for your metal jewelry designs.
Originally posted July 27, 2014. Updated April 12, 2022.
Master metal forming with expert jewelry and jewelry tool designer Bill Fretz!