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What is a Steam Hammer?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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A steam hammer is a very large industrial machine used to forge metals such as iron or steel. Traditionally, blacksmiths relied on manual forging techniques using an anvil and hammer. The steam hammer allows workers to forge metal much more quickly, and at a much higher level of force. This machine played an important role in world industry starting in the Industrial Revolution, and many manufacturers and metal workers rely on these machines to this day.

Named for British businessman James Nasmyth, this machine is often referred to as the Nasmyth steam hammer, or Nasmyth hammer. It was first introduced during the 1830s, and many historians disagree as to the true inventor of this device. The first steam hammers were commonly used to forge metal to create hulls for ships in European shipyards.

This device consists of a vertical iron or steel cylinder supported by a heavy metal frame. A solid metal piston fits within the cylinder. To operate the steam hammer, users inject hot steam into the cylinder above or below the piston. By adding steam to the cylinder below the piston, workers could force the piston to rise. By removing this hot steam, or by adding additional hot steam to the cylinder above the piston, workers could send the piston into a rapid descent.

Iron workers place steel or metal objects in the area below the piston. With each fall of the metal piston, the metal is subject to high levels of force. This helps to quickly and effectively forge the metal to the desired shape, texture, and strength.

By varying the amount and temperature of the steam, users can adjust the speed and force of the speed hammer. Compared to traditional hand-forging techniques, this machine can subject the metal to a high level of pressure. This makes it possible to forge steel more rapidly and effectively than is possible using an anvil. It also increases the strength and quality of the metal after the process is complete.

Today, the basic steam hammer has been modified to take advantage of more advanced technology. Rather than rely on steam pressure, modern hammers use hydraulic or pneumatic systems to lift and lower the piston. These technologies allow for greater control and precision during metal forging. They also increase speed and reduce the difficulty of the work. Finally, pneumatic and hydraulic systems can be programmed using special software systems to forge metal to exact specifications.

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