Saw shop tech: Selecting the hammers for your anvil.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

In a previous post, I wrote about how to choose an appropriate anvil for straightening saws and bent tools and setting saw teeth. In this post, I’m going to go over the different kinds of hammers used with the anvil and how to choose the right ones for saw work.

When people think of the anvil as a blacksmith tool, the image of a man pounding red hot iron into shape with heavy blows of a large hammer comes to mind. In the saw shop, since we’re working with thin steel saw blades and also working cold, a lot more finesse is called for.

The light hammers:

Handsaw blades are typically very thin and can be ruined easily by too aggressive hammering. Using a heavy hammer on these blades can stretch and untension the steel, leaving it floppy and useless as a saw.

Anvil and light hammers

The most common hammer I use is a light ball peen hammer (right). This one is a vintage hammer with a much smaller ball than modern ball peen hammers. The hammer to the left has rounded faces on both ends, the one in the middle is a cross peen hammer with one flat face and one flattened “blade” for working in narrow quarters. Other than the ball peen hammer, the choice of other hammer styles are a matter of personal preference as to what works the best, there are a LOT of different styles in light vintage hammers. The thing to remember is LIGHT!

I use these hammers for straightening bent handsaw blades and bent light tool blades such as chisels.

The heavy hammers:

Keep in mind, when I say heavy here, I’m not talking about hot forging iron. There shouldn’t be any need for hammers over 3 lbs in head weight and even those not frequently. I do have a 6lb vintage blacksmith’s sledge hammer but it NEVER sees use on the anvil.

Anvil and heavy hammers

The hammer to the left is a 3lb vintage blacksmith’s hammer (cross peen hammer). Like the light cross peen above, the blacksmith’s hammer has one flat face and one narrow flattened face. This particular hammer is a family heirloom, rescued from my great-grandfather’s blacksmith shop on the old family farm, cleaned, and rehandled. The middle hammer is a 3lb hand sledge with a flattened face at each end. This hammer is for the absolute heaviest jobs and consequently gets the least use of any.

These hammers are used for straightening heavy saw blades such as 1 man crosscut saws and for setting the teeth on thick cordwood saw (buzz saw) blades.

Specialty hammers:

The tool on the right in the above picture isn’t actually a hammer at all, even though it looks like one. This tool happens to be a blacksmith’s steel cutter, another vintage tool rescued from the old family blacksmith shop.

The steel cutter normally has a sharpened edge and is laid on the red hot steel and struck with another hammer to cut the steel. I’ve modified this one by grinding its edge flat. This allows me to place the modified steel cutter against the saw tooth that I’m setting (cordwood or crosscut) and strike it with the 3lb blacksmith hammer to set the tooth. This avoids damaging the tooth or the teeth around it by attempting to hit one tooth directly with the heavy hammer (and missing).

Visit me at any of the following locations:

Elm Plaza, Waterville, ME (Mondays)
Tractor Supply, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday and Wednesday)
Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)
298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!

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