Blacksmiths practice their trade by shaping metal into desired shapes, usually by striking the metal while it is hot with a hammer or other heavy tool. A power hammer is an electrical means of controlling a blacksmith’s strikes while making the process of metalworking more efficient. Power hammers come in many varieties, from large striker power hammers to air power hammers. The idea behind the power hammer is to save the blacksmith exertion, while offering more control and precision.
The largest power hammers are free-standing tools that can occupy a significant amount of space in a blacksmith’s workshop. Most are powered by an electric motor that spins metal hammer heads at a very high rate of speed. A blacksmith using a power hammer will stand or sit in front of it with his work, and will use the power hammer in place of a traditional hammer to shape metal.
The earliest power hammers were designed as simple machines for a single metalworking task. As technology advanced, however, so did the range and scope of the power hammer. The blacksmith power hammer quickly became an essential tool, leaving the image of a blacksmith sitting with his mallet a relic of a past era.
Most power hammers today come with adjustable settings, and can accommodate projects of varying sizes. Anything from sheet metal to wrought iron can be used with a power hammer, often with no more than a simple change in setting. The hammers usually have changeable strike speeds, and can often be set to clamp or squeeze metal to a preset thickness.
Although the goal of most all power hammers is the same — to aid a blacksmith and shape metal — the means through which the tools accomplish those ends varies. Some are powered by a ram and cylinder design that channels power through pumping pistons. Others are powered by treadles, or foot pumps. Still others are air hammers, which means that they draw much of their power from compressed air being forced through chambers.
Power hammers can be purchased or built, depending on a metal worker’s needs and skills. Price typically fluctuates according to how sophisticated a hammer is, how many features or settings it has, as well as overall quality of material and workmanship. Self-made power hammers are typically designed for a particular, often personalized, purpose.
Power hammer building associations and groups coach metal workers on how to build their own tools out of scrap metal and recycled motor parts. Although homemade power hammers can save a lot of money, they can be dangerous for the inexperienced user. All power tools, of course, carry some risks of injury, even with proper use. Any power hammer tool, even one that is commercially purchased, should only be used by an experienced professional, or under the supervision of someone properly trained in power hammer use.