If you are considering opening an at-home blacksmith forge, the noise is an important consideration, and you may worry about disturbing your neighbors. Additionally, you might be concerned that the sound of your metalworking could be detrimental to your hearing.
During blacksmithing, the loudness of your hammering, forging, and chiseling could reach between 120-140 dB. This is very loud, and you may risk hearing loss if you frequently endure this level of sound or do not wear proper ear protection.
Although blacksmithing is quite loud, there are a few things you can do – or wear – to protect your ears. To learn more about why blacksmithing is loud, how it affects hearing, and how to protect your ears, keep reading!
Why Metalworking Is Loud
If you have worked with steel before, you may have also dealt with loud noises, earaches, and noise complaints from neighbors.
Cutting metal, hammering, and forging are all very loud, and will likely disturb those around you if you work into the night. This noise is noticeably louder than typical neighborhood sounds.
Generally, metalworking is much louder than working with other materials. These elevated sound levels come from metal’s complex conducting and reflecting properties.
One quality of metal that makes it so loud is its acoustic abilities. In air, sound travels at 1,130 ft/sec, but in steel, it travels at 16,000 ft/sec.
Moreover, in a study of metal’s acoustic properties, tungsten steel was over five times more elastic than aluminum, meaning it carries sound signals better and more effectively.
This is significant because most blacksmiths work with steel, so this type of work can be even louder than other metalworking.
Tools used on metal typically create very discordant sounds and are unpredictable in frequency. The variability of sounds makes the amount of hearing damage hard to predict, and you can easily start with seemingly “quiet” metalworking that escalates to dangerously loud levels.
Different types of metals clashing also create different noise levels, and blows dealt with more force from a hammer to piece will usually be louder.
Clearly, metal is an excellent conductor and reflector of sound, which makes it perfect for making instruments and other noise-related tools, but potentially dangerous for its workers.
When hammered, forged, and chiseled, metal sound intensities could reach over 140 dB (a standard unit of measuring sound), which is a concerning level considering that 140 dB is considered the peak impact noise level per day, meaning you should not endure sounds above this level for any amount of time, especially frequently.
Risks of Hearing Loss
As a blacksmith, you are probably aware of the blaring nature of metalworking. Unfortunately, this loudness can have a negative impact on you if you do not wear proper ear protection or are exposed to these sounds for long periods of time.
Of the hundreds of jobs in the world, those involved with metalworking carry some of the highest risks for hearing loss.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, for every 10,000 workers, 40.6 to 103 workers in fields related to metal production and shaping faced hearing loss.
These rates are even higher than hearing loss from construction workers and oil extractors, who face hearing loss at rates of 18.5 and 4.8 workers per 10,000, respectively.
During this assessment of hearing loss, metalworkers surveyed included machinery manufacturers, boilermakers, and blacksmiths.
Additionally, a study of steelworkers who had been working with steel for over a year demonstrated the prevalence of hearing loss in metalworkers. Over 40% of metalworkers experienced hearing loss for high-frequency sounds, meaning they could not hear high-pitched sounds.
Participants who had been working with steel for 20 years or longer faced much higher levels of hearing loss than those who had not worked in this industry for long periods of time.
However, even after just five years of metalworking, the risk was elevated, especially when sound levels were 85 dB or higher (and they almost always were). In fact, high-frequency hearing loss would increase every five years as a steelworker.
Finally, part of these astounding hearing loss rates could be due to the fact that these steelworkers generally worked for an average of 59 hours per week at sounds louder than 90 dB, while the recommended duration is no more than 8 hours at 85 dB per day.
If you are a blacksmith or are frequently working with steel, you clearly face a high risk of hearing loss.
Especially if you have been working as a blacksmith for several years or are working long hours while completing loud metalworking, you are likely to start experiencing difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds.
To prevent hearing loss or avoid further damage, it is vital that you use proper ear protection when blacksmithing.
How to Protect Your Hearing
As a blacksmith, ear protection is essential. It may be difficult to tell when to use ear protection, as the noise level required for hearing damage is not the same as the noise level that causes pain, so seemingly harmless volume may be dangerous.
In reality, you can sustain exposure to 85 dB of sound for about eight hours per day. 75 dB is generally considered safe, but wearing ear protection can still be smart to help you avoid hearing damage.
To protect your hearing in the forge, you can use earplugs or earmuffs. When using very loud tools and machinery, you may want to use both plugs and muffs to absolutely confirm and secure that your ears are protected.
Earplugs have a tendency to pop out sometimes, so double-layering can also keep them in place.
Regardless of which ear protection you are using, you should pay close attention to their decibel reduction, or how much sound they can block.
Higher decibel reduction rates are better because they block more sound and prevent hearing loss more effectively.
Earplugs such as these Mack’s Ultra Soft Foam Earplugs from Amazon (affiliate link) come in packs of several pairs. However, unlike earmuffs, most earplugs cannot be used many times, and you will have to replenish your stock occasionally.
Fortunately, earplugs aren’t only for blacksmithing. You can use them for concerts, concentration, or even to block out a sleeping spouse! These earplugs are soft and block up to 33 dB of sound, making them a solid choice for blacksmiths.
Earmuffs are often preferred to earplugs because they often offer higher decibel reduction and completely cover your ears. They also stay on your ears more securely than earplugs, so they are an all-around safer choice.
For example, these Husqvarna 531300089 Professional Headband Hearing Protectors from Amazon (affiliate link) are padded for comfort and fit firmly to your ears.
They are recommended for lawn mowing and other loud work, so they’ll also work well for blacksmithing.
Whether you choose earplugs or earmuffs, you should wear hearing protection to prevent hearing loss and cope with the noise of blacksmithing.
Due to metal’s acoustic abilities and tendency to conduct sound well, blacksmithing can be very loud.
In fact, working with steel frequently creates sounds that are louder than humans should endure, which can damage hearing in the long term.
Studies have revealed that metalworkers are more likely to obtain hearing damage than other professions, especially when working long hours over several years.
To prevent hearing loss from blacksmithing, you should wear ear muffs or plugs to protect your ears and deter permanent damage.
With the correct safety precautions, you can enjoy a career as a blacksmith without harming your hearing.
Cheers, tools owners!