***Better Know Your Hammer – the book is now available as a paperback or ebook! It includes info about all these hammers plus a glossary, hammer resources, and info on why hammers work the way they do and tips on using and buying one. (updated 7/2011)***
The planishing hammer is probably the most dreaded and least understood (at least by beginners) hammer in the metalsmithing realm. However, it could possibly be the most important. I must warn you at this point that I love planishing! It is my zen meditation. This is when I get in “the zone.” That doesn’t mean that I always do it when I should though. We’re all human(ish).
The planishing hammer IS NOT A FORMING HAMMER. The planishing hammer is used to smooth out a piece after it has been formed. It hardens the metal and helps even out the shape of the piece. IT DOES NOT FORM THE PIECE. Also, the planishing hammer should always be used with respect, particularly if you are in a shared hammer situation. These hammers are not cheap and they need to maintain a mirror finish unless you really, really like to file and sand your finished work.
When using the planishing hammer, you will actually hit hammer to metal to stake. You should hear a nice
“ping” when doing this. In some cases you can “planish over air” (I haven’t done this on purpose), but most of the time you should be using a stake that fits the curve of your piece. Take your time and do it right and you will be rewarded. As Doug Bucci (my metalsmithing teacher) said, “Slow is Fast.” You should not just hammer in straight downward motions with planishing, but rather brush the metal, tapping out the rough spots. (This is hard to explain without being able to show you.)
You might have noticed that planishing hammers have one domed head and one flat head. Use the flat head on convex curved surfaces and the domed head on flat or concave surfaces. If you are new to planishing, you can go ahead and use the domed head for everything so that you don’t get those fingernail marks from the edge of the flat head.
If you planish correctly and enough rounds, you won’t have to file or sand your piece unless you want a matte finish. This is the beauty of planishing. I know that this is a long post, but as I said, I love to planish, it’s my meditation. So try to take your time and get into the process. Your piece just might thank you for it.