Hammer Time
by Helen I. Driggs, Senior Editor, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine

A hammer is probably the tool that most defines the art of metal manipulation. The word ''smith'' has its root in the verb ''smite.'' That means to hit. And boy, do we love doing that! From the big metal in the blacksmith's shop to the fine metal of the jeweler's bench, most of us move it at one time or another with a hammer. Everybody has a favorite, so I checked in with two of my expert advisors for their tips and hammering tricks. Here's what I found out.

Tim McCreight

It is obvious to any jeweler (or blacksmith or carpenter) that a hammer is an extension of the hand. This is true not only in a physical sense, but, for me, in ways that might be considered psychological. We all know that our signatures are different when we use a crayon compared to a fountain pen. I'd also say that the act of writing our signature is different, too.

A few years ago, I taught a workshop at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine, and decided to base the whole class on the act of hammering. Whatever we needed to do, we'd try first to do it with a hammer. It made sense in that context to start by making the tool that was going to be central to our experience. And that's where this chasing hammer came from. I showed up at the class with a bag of large bolts from the hardware store, and a package of bamboo chopsticks. The investment was, shall we say...minimal.

The process (in case you want to do this at home) was straightforward. Start by drilling a quarter-inch hole in the center of the threaded section. File off the top of the bolt to make it smooth, and round the opposite end to create a ball peen. I chose to file the corners off the hexagonal head of the bolt, but that's a matter of personal taste. Sand the end of a chopstick until it fits tightly into the hole, and epoxy it in place. In this example, I wrapped a cord around the handle to make a comfortable grip. Anticipating that someone would think this was a tedious process, I timed it--start to finish was 20 minutes.

Like a conventional chasing hammer, this tool has a large face that will easily find the tool, a springy handle, and a modest weight that allows for long use. Unlike conventional tools, this hammer has an affinity with the tasks it is called upon to perform because, like the jewelry it shapes, it was made by my hand.

Tim McCreight is a teacher, metalsmith, and is the author of 11 books on metalworking, including The Complete Metalsmith, Jewelry: Fundamentals of Metalsmithing, and Working with Precious Metal Clay. He lives in Portland, Maine. For more information, visit www.Brynmorgen.com

Christine Dhein

A flattening hammer is a large, stationary hammer used for quickly making metal perfectly flat. Factory-made flattening hammers have two disc-shaped, flat steel plates: one stationary and one attached to a spring-loaded shaft. To use them, the object to be flattened is placed in the center of the bottom plate and the knob on the top of the shaft is pressed down hard to bring the steel plates together.

Flattening hammers are great tools that get the job done quickly. However, you might find the commercial model does not fit your budget or space requirements. You can make your own portable and economical version by using two steel bench blocks. Sand or Scotch-Briteā„¢ the surfaces of both blocks so they are smooth and clean. Place one of the bench blocks on any sturdy, flat surface. Place a fully annealed object to be flattened in the center and stack the second bench block on top, making a sandwich with the steel blocks as the bread and the piece to be flattened as the filling. Hold the top block securely in place, and use a dead blow mallet to hammer straight down on the center of the top block. Be careful not to allow the top block to tilt from side to side as you apply the hammer blows. With a few solid blows, your piece should soon be perfectly flat

Christine Dhein is an award-winning jewelry designer who works primarily with precious metals, diamonds, and recycled rubber. Her innovative designs have been displayed nationally and internationally. She is the Assistant Director of the Revere Academy where she also teaches Keumboo and Fabrication. Christine will be releasing an instructional video entitled Keum-boo: The Art of Attaching Gold to Silver in August 2006. For more information, visit www.sexymetal.com.