Economy of Scale

A bit on the economy of scale; Ever wonder how you can buy a made in the USA 8$ sledge for $19.95? I hand made hammer from an experienced maker, who has a shop set up for the job with lots of equipment sells a hand hammer for at least $120. We in the one man shop the steel is cut manually. Usually in a band saw, maybe with multiple bars, but most are not auto feed. Then in the small shop each billet is heated and punched and heated and drifted and heated and forged and repeat till done. Then the head is hand rough ground, heat treated by hand and then tempered. next comes handling and varnish. The usually shipped in one in a box.

Now lets look at the industrial forge I worked in that forged hand hammers up to 12# sledges. Process was the same except for the press size for 1# to 12#. First a 10,000# bundle or so of first quality, steel with cert's and traceability was placed in the shear line and the banding cut. The unscrambler would feed a single bar at a time into the shear which stoked at about a 6-10 second rate second rate, and then the bars went into the conveyor for the induction heater. once thru the induction heater the billet was presented to the hammerman at the press, who set it vertically to make a bump hit, which broke the scale off, and started a slight dumbbell shape. Then the billet was laid on its side in the first impression. Hit and then the billet was advanced into the following 4 stations that fully shaped and as the billet hit the last station for trimming the next billet was presented. Each hit of the 5 impressions had about a 6-10 second cycle rate. And so once running a finished hammer head came off the press every 40 seconds or so, fully trimmed, almost to net size and hot enough to have the faces water quenched to give the modern slightly softer hardness.

Now the truth is those hammers from the press did not look as sexy as a hand made hammer with the cheeks, fullers and so forth, but the metallurgy was good, the forgings sound the cost impossible to beat. And if you want to spend the money for new dies the cheeks and fullers are no problem and off the come at 40 seconds each.

BUT and here is the big thing. You have to make enough of an item to spend the money for all that equipment. A 5000 ton or 7000 ton press, and the shear line and the induction heating line and the dies are a very expensive proposition. So we will continue to see high quality, hand made hammers from blacksmiths as long as we appreciate that sexy look.

Written by Jeff Reinhardt