Not all hammers are alike, nor do they perform the same tasks. One of the more interesting variations, is the brass hammer. Unlike traditional hammers which are made of tool steel, brass is a softer metal.
However, it does have its uses which is why you will find brass hammers in many shops that repair automobiles, metal fabrication, and woodworking.
Why Would You Use a Brass Hammer?
The main reason to use a brass hammer is to not mark or damage the steel surface. Because the metal is softer, it is far less likely to damage items such as sheet metal that are crafted from steel. This means when steel needs to be reshaped, a brass hammer can do the job without causing damage.
Additional reasons include the properties of a brass hammer, which makes it non-magnetic, non-marring, and non-sparking.
Most brass hammers, except the mini versions, are not made entirely in brass. Only the head or the striking faces are made in brass. Other parts of the hammer such as the handle are either made in wood or steel.
What is a Brass Hammer Used For?
Brass hammers offer a wide variety of uses. While they are not often used for the traditional work of hammers such as nailing, they are well-suited for many applications where you cannot use a conventional hammer.
1. Automotive Work
If there is one industry where you will find brass hammers used more than any other, it is arguably automotive repair work. The reason is simple; brass hammers are non-sparking, making them ideal when hammering near a fuel line.
When steel comes into contact with steel, the result is often a spark. All it takes is one spark to ignite gasoline. So, if a rusted bolt is located near the fuel filter, then you will probably want to use a brass hammer to get it loose.
A brass hammer is also quite useful for the following jobs.
- CV Axle/Boot Replacement
- Tie Rods
- Transmission Flanges
- Wheel Bearing
- Wheel Hub Removal and More
Basically, any repair or modification on an automobile in which fuel might be nearby, a brass hammer is the tool of choice. Many automobile mechanics will simply carry or have a brass hammer nearby for all their maintenance work. While keeping steel hammers in another part of the auto shop. This reduces potential accidents that otherwise might occur.
2. Wood Carving
It may seem strange at first that brass hammers and mallets are popular for wood carving. After all, you wouldn’t damage the handles of your chisels and gouges. This is why most people use wooden or polyurethane mallets.
But the brass hammer is relatively compact with a heavy head that delivers a powerful blow. Because of the weight of the brass, it is relatively easy to strike the type of blow needed to drive a chisel or work with gouges at tight quarters.
There are brass mallets that have rounded heads which can be easily carried in an apron pocket. Meaning that you can have it handy when needed while carving wood. Plus, the softer head helps to direct the blow with less recoil compared to a harder steel mallet.
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Some brass mallets have screw-on heads, so if the head or handle becomes damaged, you can simply replace one of them. Plus, you can carry different shapes of mallet heads and put on the one that is best suited for a specific task.
Brass hammers are perfect for many woodworking jobs. Because of their compact size, they can be carried about easily. But more importantly, you can use the brass hammer for quick jobs such as making an adjustment to joinery, wooden planes, or to tap on a chisel if needed.
The softer brass head means that mushrooming the plane blade is far less likely compared to using a steel hammer. Brass is softer than steel which makes it well suited for many different hammering tasks. It also has less recoil compared to a steel hammer.
Tip: If you want to further minimize the rebound effect, consider using a dead blow hammer.
Of course, brass hammers are not perfect as they are not suited for driving nails or other fasteners. Because of the softer head, hammering a nail with a brass hammer may leave dents, dings, and scratches in the head. When working with wood, use the brass hammer against softer materials such as the wood itself or the plastic ends of chisels.
4. Wood Joinery
The brass hammer is quite common in wood joinery and for a very good reason. It is easier to get a precise strike with a brass hammer compared to a steel version.
This tool will allow you to create a precision blow or tap, whatever is needed, to the item in question. The result is that in wood joinery, you can apply the force needed with greater accuracy compared to a steel hammer.
This is why you see brass hammers used in many woodworking shops and carpentry. If wooden joints are part of the job, then a brass hammer will most likely be one of the tools that is used.
5. Machine Shops
Precision metal machining often require setting up the workpiece accurately. If you have ever worked on a metal lathe or milling machine, you probably have used a dial indicator to true the round pieces or to set the work straight.
I have made a bunch of custom mallets from solid brass and with steel handles to help with this task.
Another common use case is setting the workpiece on milling machines at machine shops and toolrooms. I often use the brass hammer to tap the steel workpiece on milling vise to ensure that the work is seating properly on parallel blocks.
It helps that, brass is also heavier than steel.
Let me explain.
The density of steel is 7.85 g/cm3 and the density of brass is approximately 8.5 g/cm3. That means on an average, brass is 8% denser than steel. In short, for the same sizes head, the brass hammer would be heavier than steel hammer. This allows you to exert more force on the steel workpiece without damaging the surface.
6. Metal Fabrication
One of the biggest issues with metal, especially thin versions such as sheet metal, is having to use a hammer while not making a significant mark on the surface. Steel hammers are too hard and will often leave dents and scratches on the surface, while the rubber mallets and plastic hammers absorb too much force.
A brass hammer will not only reduce the potential damage to the surface compared to a steel version it will also be more accurate and create less collateral impact.
Brass hammers are softer and therefore have less recoil. The result is that the strike is delivered with less unwanted rebound or movement for a sharper result. The minimized reverberation of a brass hammer is desirable when precision is required.
Blacksmiths utilize brass mallets or hammers to strike the workpiece for two reasons. First, they absorb more shock and hence offer better control. But more importantly, brass doesn’t leave hammer marks which is important for moving parts.
It is also useful when working with hot cuts as brass will not damage the cut edges.
Jewelry makers and fine metalworking craftsmen use small brass hammers because of its non-scarring property.
Pros & Cons of Brass Hammers
The type of brass used is in the hammer is mostly yellow brass which is a Zinc Copper alloy. It has the following advantages over ferrous metals.
The upsides to brass hammers start with the softer metal that allows for more precision work. Brass has less reverberation and recoil compared to steel hammers.
Brass hammers can be used in automotive shops because they do not spark.
It also helps that brass hammers are priced reasonably close to steel hammers, making them an excellent choice for those who are on a budget.
With the proper care, brass hammers can last a long time and require less maintenance because they are not as subject to rust compared to steel tools.
On the downside, brass hammers have their limitations.
First, it should be noted that there is a difference between brass and bronze hammers. While both are made of copper, bronze is mixed with tin, while brass is mixed with zinc. This means that brass hammers are softer compared to hammers with bronze heads.
Bronze may be a better choice for some jobs compared to brass. This is especially true for working with harder materials. In other words, bronze is less likely to dent, scratch, or be dinged compared to a brass hammer.
In addition, because the reverberation and recoil are less, brass hammers are not as fast to use compared to bronze or steel hammers. If you need to do demolition work quickly, then steel hammers are probably the best choice unless you are working near gasoline. In that case, bronze would be more suitable because like brass it does not spark.
Overall, brass hammers have distinctive advantages and should be used in areas where more precision work is desired in automotive, metal, and woodworking fields.
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