Building the Metalshaping Helve Hammer

By Joe McGlynn

History of the Helve
Parts List
Plans, Page 1
Plans, Page 2
Plans, Page 3
Construction Pics
In Use
MSA Articles Index

A (Brief) History of the Helve Hammer

This is not intended to be a comprehensive history of the helve hammer, but just my recollection of its appearance on the metalshaping scene...

The helve hammer has long been used in metalworking, I remember seeing one when I was young that was water powered, being used to stamp out coins. The book "Pounding Out the Profits" traces the history of power hammers, and is an interesting read for any tool-addicted metalworker. Certainly helve hammers have been used for sheetmetal work for many years, as this picture from an early coachbuilding shop illustrates.

The first time I became aware of a modern metalshaper using a helve was when Wray Schelin posted pictures of his home made power hammer. Frankly, I was a bit skeptical having just taken a power hammer course with Fay Butler. The pictures of Wray's machine didn't tell the whole story.

Tom Lipton visited Wray and saw the helve in operation, he was so impressed that he designed his own version and drew up blueprints so that other folks could benefit. Tom's hammer was really nicely constructed, and he carried it to "form fests" everywhere so that others could see it and try it out.

I actually bought a copy of the plans from Tom, and seriously considered building one for my shop. In the end, my desire for a Yoder-style hammer put those plans on the back burner.

Recently Jim Bailie posted some pictures of his rendition of the metalshaping helve hammer. This version had a pretty amazing innovation. Where the hammers built by Wray and Tom used an electric motor - and at least in the case of Tom's version some machine work to build the clutch - this one used a common pneumatic drill and foot control for power. This design was something that anyone could build cheaply, without any machined parts.

As you can see, this is a fairly simple construction, made from parts Jim already had laying around. The power mechanism used an air drill connected to a 3/8" eccentric that moves the toggle arm through a leaf spring.

A lot of people, myself included were amazed that an air drill could provide the power to drive a tool like this. Several folks have already built their own adaptations of this hammer. Stan Carter, who has designed and built some pretty interesting tools, built a version that is nicely packaged. It is the "Stan design" that ultimately serves as the basis for these plans.

This picture shows the eccentric linkage and the connection to the spring on the toggle arm clearly: