PROSPECT HILL FORGE: The Blacksmithing Classroom

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Protecting Your Hearing and Softening Metal

In blacksmithing and in lots of other things, there are loud sounds that can damage your hearing.

Clubs and concerts are usually very loud. Any situation where you have to get close to someone and yell in their ear to communicate with them... it's too loud. If there are sounds that make your ears clench, or make you wince, it's too loud. Your hearing is being damaged.

If your ears ring or feel muted after being in a loud environment. You've probably damaged your hearing a little bit.

The trouble with hearing damage is it doesn't seem to heal. Whatever you lose, however small, is lost forever.
And it's cumulative.

One effect of hearing damage can be tinnitus ("ti-NIGH-tus"), a ringing in the ears.
Everyone's ears ring now and then. You get a tone, usually somewhat high. It stays with you for a little while, then goes away.
No problem. That's normal.

The ringing from tinnitis, on the other hand, doesn't go away. Well, OK, it might go away if you go deaf, but it might not. For most folks it only stops when they die.


When I went to the ear guy with this long term ringing in my ears, he basically said, "You've got tinnitus. We don't know what causes it for certain, but it seems to have to do with old damage. There's no known cure. Good luck. ... Next!"

The idea of never experiencing silence again was devastating. The thought that my ears were going to squeal at me 24/7/365 was ... um ... a bit much. Had I been the sort that carried a firearm in my vehicle, I might not have left that parking lot alive.

My damage could be from hammering, it could be from SCA fighting, it could be from the Duke and the Drivers concert in '73 after which my ears rang for three days. I don't know for sure. I never will.

- CW

OK, enough depressing stuff. What can you do about it?

Wear earplugs or earmuffs when smithing, clubbing, going to concerts &cetera.

"What if I don't have plugs or muffs with me?" I hear you ask.
("Kick yourself for not planning ahead" I snidely answer)

Do this:

Go to the restroom and for each ear get a square (or equivalent) of toilet paper off the roll.
Accordion-fold the paper in roughly 1/4" folds.
Bunch it up.
And fold it in half.
Roll it between your fingers 'til it's fairly round and see if the folded end will go in your ear.

(I have to reach over my head with my other-side hand and pull back on my outer ear to get the paper into the ear canal, you may need to do something similar.)

If it won't fit, open it up and tear away some paper. Try it again.

Once it's in, do the other one.

Go over to the sink (you haven't left the restroom yet)
Turn on the faucet
Make your hand into a scoop, get some water in it
Tip your head to one side and pour the water into your ear.

You'll feel it wick into the paper, and you'll hear just how effectively it's blocking sound.

Do the other ear.

Go enjoy the concert/club/fighting/smithing, whatever loud thing you're doing.


Note: Wearing ear protection is not a sign of weakness, it doesn't mean you aren't tough, it just means you aren't stupid. There are feedback loops in your brain that keep you from doing things that hurt. You cannot override them.

When you hit the work without ear protection, the brain says "OW! that hurts, we ain't doin' that again. Not that hard anyway." Wearing hearing protection keeps that loop from being triggered and that means that you can hit harder because it doesn't hurt to do so. It will seem as if the metal is softer. Especially if you are doing cold work like armoring or silversmithing, any dishing or raising operation is easier and faster with ear protection.

I learned this trick from an article in the Appalachian Blacksmiths' Association newsletter in '81 or '82, and I've used it many times since. Every time I do, I thank the author of that article.


I once worked in an office that had many conversations going cross-room at once.
I was trying to write code.
I put in a set of these plugs, put on my earphones and turned it up so I could just hear the music.
No more conversations.
Code got written.