Historians trace the history of forging back to roughly 4,500 B.C., and the shaping of metal with heat and force had grown common across most communities by 1,000 B.C. While the basic processes of heating, pounding, and quenching metal to shape and strengthen it has remained the same, technological advances have greatly expanded industrial forge output. One of the most consequential developments is the power hammer, which automates the pounding part of the forging process.
In this Power and Forge Hammers Buying Guide, we will list the most popular types of power hammers, explain what you should look for when purchasing a power hammer, and discuss various safety concerns.
Popular Types of Power Hammers
Pounding heated metal is an integral part of the forging process, and a common implement found in blacksmith shops is the forge hammer. These flat-headed hammers are used to shape metal when it comes out of the forge hot. However, forge hammers have the obvious downside of relying on a blacksmith’s physical effort, which limits output.
Power hammers — which are also called open die power forging hammers — remove that obstacle. These reciprocating devices consist of a sturdy frame, an anvil-like working area, and a striking die. The die will repeatedly strike the anvil in much the same way a blacksmith would manually work hot metal with a forge hammer, although with significantly greater force.
Power hammers are differentiated according to the ways in which they’re powered. We’ll discuss the three most common kinds of power hammers below.
The earliest kinds of power hammers were driven by steam, and while technology has largely advanced beyond them, some still exist and are in use. These exceptionally large hammers rely (at a minimum) on steam to lift the piston connected to the power hammer’s striking die. Steam directed into the cylinder that houses the piston provides the lifting force, and in simpler models, the downward energy comes solely from gravity. However, some steam-powered hammers can also inject steam into the top of the cylinder, greatly increasing striking force.
Pneumatic (aka air-powered) hammers function essentially the same as steam-powered hammers, but they introduce compressed air into the bottom and top of the cylinder to drive the die. Some pneumatic hammers may also use fluid to drive the die. Such power hammers are more commonly used than steam-powered hammers. Some steam hammers do not have an integral compressor, requiring operators to connect a third-party device, and this subclass of air hammers is called a utility hammer.
Mechanical hammers employ electrically powered motors to drive a crank. The crank is connected to the piston and, in turn, forces the die downward. Mechanical hammers are very common in smaller machine shops due to their smaller physical footprint.
Other less common kinds of power hammers include lever-spring hammers (which are driven by laminated springs) and trip hammers (which are driven by cams).
Steam vs Air vs Electric Power Hammers
While power hammers are primarily grouped on their method of power, the different groups vary significantly in other ways. Because they require the generation of steam to power them, steam hammers are by far the largest devices. Older models were more or less permanent installations, and their anvils were often sunk into the ground.
Newer air hammers enjoy a smaller footprint and provide their operators with greater control. Virtually all pneumatic hammers allow for the injection of air into the bottom and top of the cylinder, which often leads to greater striking force.
Electric (aka mechanical) power hammers are even smaller than most air hammers, and they appear in many machining and blacksmithing contexts. Because of their relatively tiny size, they allow for a single operator to set the machine and hold the forged material. However, mechanical hammers are significantly louder than other options due to their electric motors.
What To Look for When Buying a Power Hammer
There are several common considerations to consider when buying any piece of new or used equipment, such as operating capacity, anticipated life span, manufacturer reputation, and part availability. But there are several issues specific to power hammers that a potential purchaser must think about, such as:
This is potentially the most important factor in buying a power hammer. Many other factors are linked to the way in which a hammer is powered. Additionally, options such as utility hammers may require you to provide your own power source, which can increase costs.
Size and Weight
Some power hammers are so large and heavy as to make movement and installation prohibitively challenging and/or expensive. Additionally, their operating clearances may mean that a device which can technically fit into a space is not able to safely perform their designated job.
The asking price of any power hammer is an obvious consideration, but operating costs also deserve attention. The available power options may translate into higher day-to-day expenses. Similarly, certain models could require additional expensive maintenance.
Safety Considerations for Using Power Hammers
The safe operation of power hammers entails the use of certain best practices, such as keeping personnel clear of any moving parts. Power hammers also require the use of personal protective equipment such as eye protection, ear protection, and hand protection. Additionally, personnel should take care to thoughtfully examine older equipment for signs of wear and tear. If a die or some other part of the hammer fails during operation, the potential for injury increases.
Power hammers are primarily used in metalworking and manufacturing, and individual fabrication, machining, and blacksmithing shops will employ smaller hammers usable by one or two operators. While forging is the main area in which power hammers are used, steam hammers see use as pile drivers in construction contexts.
Accessories for Power Hammers
Most of the accessories available for power hammers consist of spare parts, including engine parts, striking dies, fabricated arms, and compressors. Appropriate personal protective gear includes safety gloves, hearing protection, and eye protection.
Tips and Tricks
Finding the right power hammer that you need is easy when you’re using Surplus Record. Start at our homepage and type “power hammers and forging hammers” into the search bar at the top of the page. Click on your desired category in the dropdown menu to see the offerings we have available.