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A steam hammer is a power hammer driven by steam, used to shape forgings. It consists of a hammer-like piston located within a cylinder. The hammer is raised by the pressure of steam injected into the lower part of a cylinder and falls down with a force by removing the steam. Usually, the hammer is made to fall faster by injecting steam into the upper part of the cylinder. Steam hammers that fall by their own weight are called steam drop hammers. Steam hammers vary greatly in weight from 45 kilograms to 90 metric tons.
The steam hammer was invented around 1839 by the Scot, James Nasmyth, in Manchester, England and produced in his Patricroft foundry which he built adjacent to the (then new) Liverpool and Manchester Railway and the Bridgewater Canal. Nasmyth's steam hammer could vary the force of the blow across a wide range. He was fond of breaking an egg placed in a wineglass without breaking the glass, followed by a blow that shook the building.
An original Nasmyth hammer stands facing his foundry buildings (now a 'business park'). A larger Nasmyth & Wilson steam hammer stands in the campus of the University of Bolton.
The intended first use of the steam hammer was to forge the paddle shaft of the SS Great Britain. However, the paddle technology was replaced with the screw propeller, and implementation of the hammer was left to the Schneider, Creusot foundry in Le Creusot, France.
The steam hammer was one of many machine tools invented around this time which allowed large scale industrialisation and the use of machines to build machines. Using the same principles of operation, Nasmyth also developed a steam powered pile-driving machine. At its first use at Devonport, a dramatic contest was carried out. His engine drove a pile in four and half minutes compared to the twelve hours that the conventional method required.
See also 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Steam hammers|
- The Creusot steam hammer – An International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark (The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 16 September 1981)
- Steam hammer at the East Broad Top Railroad
- Video of steam hammer in modern use at Scot Forge