Using a Ball Peen Hammer as a Blacksmith
Are ball peen hammers good for blacksmithing?
The short answer is: Yes!
However, there are a few things to consider when using a ball peen for forging:
- Hammer weight.
- Hammer face anatomy.
- Handle length.
Let’s go through each of these to get a better idea of what’s necessary in a blacksmith’s hammer.
In classes at Brown County Forge and in my own work, I use hammers that weigh 2 – 3 pounds.
This is true for most blacksmithing jobs.
The exceptions are fine detail work where a smaller hammer works better and larger jobs where a big one is handy.
Low weight is good for a lot of swinging.
You can imagine swinging an 8-pound sledge hammer a few times.
But when it comes to moving metal on an anvil, you have to be able to control that weight for hundreds of swings. (The overall number of hammer swings depends on the project.)
A hammer that weighs a couple pounds will be easier to use for a longer period.
Ball peen hammers come in a variety of weights.
I use three ball peen hammers when I’m forging:
- An 8 ounce ball peen for texturing.
- A ball peen that weighs 24 ounces (1.5 pounds) for working thin flat stock.
- A 2-pound ball peen to give students more control in knife making class.
All three are useful in their own ways.
Hammer Face Anatomy
That’s probably not a phrase you come across often.
However, it’s important in blacksmithing to understand the function of a hammer’s face.
The face of a hammer should be:
- Domed – with the highest point in the middle.
- Free from hard edges.
Having the high point of the hammer face in the middle helps you hit with the center first.
Hitting on the edge of a hammer’s face will create dents.
Hard edges will also create dents that mark up your metal.
How to Fix Your Hammer’s Face
Whenever I get a new hammer, I take some time to “dress the face.”
This means taking a flat file and/or a flap disk to:
- Remove hard edges.
- Create the domed shape we want.
You can see in the photo above that there are many sharp edges on that hammer’s face.
Each of those edges and corners can leave a mark on your steel.
My favorite flat file to use is a 10-inch Nicholson Single Cut Bastard File. It removes material well and holds up better than cheaper options.
What about the ball peen vs. cross peen?
Ball peen hammers leave a distinct divot when they hit metal. This is great if you want a pebbled or distressed texture.
However, they don’t move metal the same way as cross peens.
A cross peen hammer is made that way to quickly move metal to either side of the peen.
The best way I can describe it is that it functions the same way an ax or splitting wedge does.
The wedge shape comes down and moves material to each side.
With an ax this means that the log is split in two.
With a cross peen it means that the metal stays intact, but is compressed and pushed out.
Handle Length – The Final Hammer Consideration
Whether it’s a ball peen, cross peen, or mini sledge, you want to consider the length of a hammer’s handle.
The longer it is, the more options you have for gripping:
- Choking up on a hammer gives you more control.
- Swinging from the end gives you more power.
It’s as simple as that.
For what I do in the shop, I prefer a hammer with an overall length of 15 – 16 inches.
The hammer I’ve used the most is a 15.5 inch Vaughan Cross Peen that weighs 2.5 pounds. You can see the updated blue version here (mine was black and less flashy, but they work the same).
I purchased that hammer 11 years ago almost to the day.
*Please note that links to products on this page are affiliate links from Amazon.com.
Conclusion: Are Ball Peen Hammers Good for Blacksmithing
Absolutely, as long as you consider weight, the face, and the length.
Want to learn more?
You’re welcome to join an in-person class at Brown County Forge. Details here.
If you’re not within an easy drive, we have online courses for you through DIY Blacksmithing.