Hammers are a calling card of the horseshoeing profession, and Danny Ward admits to being passionate about them.
"I love hammers," the long-time farrier educator says with a chuckle. "If you've ever been to my place, you saw that right away."
He's also particular about them. For cold shaping, he'll start with a 2 1/2-pound hammer, then take about 1/4 pound out of it using a grinder. He'll also take some of the wood out of the handle to make sure it better fits his hand.
"Anything lighter than that makes you work too hard," he says.
If he's hot shoeing, he doesn't use the same rounding hammer.
"For hot shaping, I want a lighter hammer," he says. "For me, 1 3/4 pounds is perfect. You don't have to hit hot metal as hard, so there's no reason to use the extra weight."
Ward says he'll occasionally get students at his school who come from a carpentry background. They often hold a hammer handle near the end and swing using their elbows.
"But we hold the handle nearer the middle and use our wrists," he says. "You want to keep your elbow in as close to your body as you can. You'll be more accurate and you'll save a lot of strain on that elbow."
Ward also says when you're choosing a hammer, take a look at the hammer eye where the hammer handle fits.
"The bigger the eye, the less vibration to your hand," he says. "So the size of that hole can be pretty important. You can only swing a hammer so many times over your career."
One of the tools that Ward definitely won't skimp on is a driving hammer.
"Get a good one and make sure it fits you," he says. "It's probably the tool that will be in your hand more than any other during a day."
Ward says if it's taking you more than four or five swings to drive a nail on an average horse, you probably need to consider using a heavier hammer. Additional swings not only tax your arm, wrist and elbow, but subject the horse you're shoeing to additional blows and vibration.
Amazingly, Ward says he's used just two driving hammers in the 50 years he's been shoeing horses. And what's more, the first one didn't break or wear out. It's still hanging on the wall in his office. He simply shifted to a lighter hammer when he began doing more Saddlebreds and lighter horses than the walking horses and gaited breeds that had been the biggest part of his practice when he was younger.
But Ward also has a little trick to helping ensure the longevity of his driving hammers. He bought the "good one," as he advises his audience to do - then made sure he didn't use it for anything but driving nails.
"Buy a second, economy hammer," he suggests. "Use that one for cutting clinches, shifting shoes, putting pads on, etc."
Ward also will "rough up" the face of a driving hammer a little, perhaps by tapping on some Borium that's been placed on a shoe. He feels that the tiny dents that result will help the hammer "bite" the nail heads, so that your hammer won't slip as much.
Learn more tool tips from Ward int he January/February edition of American Farriers Journal.