Chisels, Punches, Splitting, and Drifting



Punches and chisels are simple tools, but nevertheless very important to blacksmithing. Punches were formerly used instead of drills before electrical drills became available. Even today they are important for other uses. Punching can be done either hot or cold, depending on the use and material. Often a center punch is used to mark metal before heating or to provide a "guide mark" for starting a drill bit and keeping it from skipping or wandering on the metal.

Manual Center Punch

Automatic Center Punch

Pocket Automatic Center Punch

Hot punching is done by holding the punch of the desired size with the pointed end against the hot metal. The punch is driven through the hot metal with a hammer leaving a perfectly round hole.

Some punches are equipped with handles for safety. The ones that do not have handles are usually about two feet long, for punching is almost always done when the metal is hot. The handles are crude, because they do not have to be shaped to hold the punch. Punch sizes range from one-fourth inch to one and one-half inches.

Roper-Whitney XX handheld punch

Floor-standing punch

Then there are punches that are what might be better classified as "punching machines". There are portable/hand-held and fixed versions, but they both use lever action and dies to make their holes. Some are meant to be handheld (but even those have optional bench mounts), and some, usually with longer handles for increased leverage, can be clamped in a vise or mounted on a pedestal stand.

Roper Whitney #8 punch


Combination Hammer

This is my latest acquisition. I'd seen (I actually have one somewhere) combination hammers where a set of screwdrivers unscrews from the handle. This one is different in that:

  1. the hammerhead is a ball peen
  2. the handle unscrews to reveal a punch

Update!  Well, I got to test my new find today. I learned a couple of things:

When I got home it went into the trash. Back to my character eye punches and my hand-made center punch for making snake eyes and my single-purpose ball peen hammer for expanding pipe to make flower vases.

hydraulic ironworker machine

Hydraulic Ironworker

Last, and certainly not least, is a behemoth called an ironworker. Different models have different features, but most include cutting and punching.

Cold Cut Chisel

Hot Cut Chisel

There are basically two kinds of blacksmith's chisels, the hot and the cold chisel. Cold chisels have short shanks and the hot chisels, since they are used with hot metal, have long shanks or handles like the punches. The width of chisels ranges from one-half inch to two inches.

Veining Chisel
"Walking" a veining chisel
Veining Chisel

A veining chisel is used primarily for putting veins in leaves and for starting straight lines in metal. By tapping it while rocking slightly you can lay down a channel that by advancing the chisel slightly after the initial cut you can keep a line straight. It's original use of slitting the blacksmith's veins proved impractical because of the difficulty in holding the chisel steady over a wrist laying on the anvil and picking up the hammer.


Source: Appalacian Blacksmith's Association


Two methods of making holes in metal. Drifting is done with punches and preserves all original metal. (Start with a pointed punch and keep widening the hole.) Drilling is done with twist steel bits and removes all metal. Drifting has the additional benefit of allowing for square or polygon-shaped holes whereas drilling allows only for a round hole.

A drifted hole is preferable for all blacksmith work although the smith must compensate for the metal "running." Since all original metal is preserved with a drift, the metal moved to make the hole must "run" elsewhere.

Drifting techniques also allow for other applications such as putting an irregular shaped slot or socket in a bolt head. Thus, the bolt cannot be removed (easily) without the special shaped tool that formed the slot or socket. This is the principle behind the invention of the Philips screw in the 20th century.

Slitting Chisel and Drift

Slitting Chisel and Drift

Drifts are used in conjunction with punches and slitting chisels. The punch/chisel makes the initial hole in the metal and the drift widens and helps shape the final hole.

    Gee Mom, look what else I've found!

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