The Zen of Sledgehammering

16 03 2008

There aren’t many things more fun or difficult for me than spending a morning swinging a sledgehammer at the forge. We’re working on a handrail for a church and trying to finish it before Easter, and in this case it means punching about 80 holes through 5/8″ iron pickets.

The work is hot, the hammer is heavy, my hands are blistered and sore almost immediately, but I love doing it. Contrary to your first guess that I really just want to beat the hell out of something, the thing I really love about it is the difficulty of technique. First and foremost, it’s no easy thing to hit a wobbling 5/8″ round drift with a 12 pound sledgehammer, since hitting it off center will send the drift flying across the shop. But the biggest challenge for me is learning to raise and drop the hammer with enough efficiency to be able to do it all morning. I didn’t count the number of times I had to strike the drifts to finish the hole, but I’d guess at 20. Multiply that by the 25 or 30 holes we finished this morning and you start to understand what I’m saying.

The zen of it all is how much I have to focus on raising the hammer vertically, then letting the head fall to perfectly horizontal and centered on the drift head so that every ounce of energy goes down the drift, pushing it through the red hot iron. Careless technique may mean that I have to hit the thing 30 times instead of 20, or that we have to heat it multiple times, wasting fuel and time. Because I’m not a particularly large person, I have to be very focused in order to bring it all together with each stroke.

I’m not very good at it, compared to Kate or Walt, but it’s a real pleasure to watch the stack of finished pickets grow and to set that hammer down for a few seconds while Walt steps to the forge to bring the next piece out of the fire. And there are the comedic moments, like when we notice that Walt’s pants are on fire. He calmly smothered the flames and we kept hammering.

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One response

17 03 2008
Foghorn

Egghead Junior, you may wish to change your name to Sledge Girl.

Hard work is a good thing. . . that’s what everyone keeps saying.

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