Peek into a farrier’s truck, and you’ll have some appreciation for the sheer number and kinds of tools that get used in the trade. If you’ve ever been curious about what they’re all for, or if you’re thinking about becoming a farrier yourself, here’s a brief guide to the most common farrier tools and when they’re used.
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Trimming the Hoof
Yes, it counts. Farriers need these to clean out the horse’s feet before they can get to work with all the other fancy tools.
Hoof picks come in a variety of shapes and styles, some with brushes to better clean out the clefts, and some without. Some have a more triangular head to dislodge stones and packed-in mud. Most farriers will tell you the style matters less than the frequency with which you use it.
Suggested Hoof Pick – Roma Deluxe Soft Grip Hoof Pick
Your hoof pick doesn’t have to be expensive and this one from Roma isn’t. It’s economical, but still provides you with some nice features that you may appreciate if you’re picking many feet out every day.
The handle is comfortable. The pick is tapered at the end to help dig out stubborn rocks and mud. And the brush gives you a better clean and a better look at the hoof structures. It comes in a few different colours, too, but that is not the important thing.
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These tools look like giant pliers, and pretty much do what the name suggests—the shoe puller will let the farrier get the shoe off of the hoof without damaging the foot. Some makes of shoe pullers are also used as spreaders to make new horseshoes wider at the open end.
These tools are great for farm owners to have around, as well, for those times when a horse comes in with a badly sprung shoe and the farrier can’t make it out right away. If you’re going to have one around the farm, make sure you have a farrier show you how to use it so you can take that sprung shoe off safely.
Suggested Shoe Puller G.E. Forge & Tool 14” EZ Pull Off
G.E.’s EZ Pull Offs are designed for maximum ease and minimum effort. The blades are built to slide easily between horseshoe and hoof, without the need to work them into the gap. They’re great for removing glue-on shoes, and they’ll also cut nails. The knobbed handles make them easier to identify when you need to grab them from the toolbox fast. Drop-forged from chrome vanadium steel, this tool is built to last you.
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With little jaws on the end of it, this tool can pull nails out of a horseshoe one at a time, either to get the shoe off before a trim, or to remove a loose nail or one that’s gone wonky during the shoeing.
This tool lets farriers work precisely when placing nails. They can make it easier to remove shoes if the shoes have come loose and shifted or if the horse has very delicate hoof walls that are easily damaged.
Suggested Nail Puller – Mustad Nail Puller
These Mustad nail pullers are easy to use and give you great leverage. The jaws are designed with a sharp point to help you get hold of nail heads, even if the heads have been worn down. Its conical hole makes this a versatile tool that will easily fit most nail sizes. Made of forged steel, Mustad’s nail puller is solid, durable and dependable.
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A hoof tester is a two-pronged tool that lets a farrier see if/where a horse’s foot is sore. It uses a pinching motion to put pressure on different points of the horse’s sole or heel—when the horse reacts to the pressure, that usually indicates a sore spot.
This is another tool that horse owners might want to have on hand and know how to use. It doesn’t replace having your farrier and your vet examine your horse if it comes up lame, but a hoof tester might help you make good horsekeeping decisions as you’re waiting for the professionals to get there.
Suggested Hoof Tester – ProRider USA 13” Horse Hoof Tester
Hand-crafted from stainless, high-grade carbon steel, these hoof testers from ProRider are a solid, basic tool to add to your toolbox. They’re designed to give you a sure grip on the hooves you’re testing. This hoof tester is sized large, so it’s less useful on ponies and foals, but you can also find this model in a smaller size.
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Like a giant pair of nail clippers, nippers are used to trim around the hoof wall until the foot is the right length.
They can be used to cut away excess hoof material and also to bevel the hoof at its edge when necessary. Used on just about every horse, whether it’s a trim or a shoe job, nippers are one of the farrier’s most essential tools.
Suggested Nipper – G.E. Forge & Tool Classic Nipper
G.E. Forge & Tool’s Classic Nipper is tool worth investing in. Given how often you’ll reach for your nippers, you’ll want them to be sharp every time and this tool will do that. They’re drop forged from chrome vanadium steel, with blades that are hand-aligned and sharpened. The deep throat of these nippers gives them greater reach, so you can take off more hoof when you need to. They come in different lengths, so you can choose depending on the kind of horses you’ll be trimming.
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The knife pares away excess sole, and gets rid of loose, dead frog so that healthy tissue can breathe. There are lots of different kinds of knives—loop knives, curved blade knives, double-edged knives, etc.—and every farrier has their own preference.
The curve in the knife is to help it follow the curve of the sole when a farrier is paring it away. Some prefer the loop knife because its two curves allow a farrier to use it in multiple directions. Larger knives are better for paring sole away on larger hooves, but small blades are useful for precisely digging out infected tissue.
Suggested Knife – Hall Knife and Forge
Knives are a deeply subjective choice. What one farrier loves, ten more will hate with a burning passion. Rather than make a single suggestion, we recommend checking out Hall Knife and Forge.
Their blades are carbon steel and mounted in solid walnut handles designed for comfort and durability. You can choose the blade style, hand, length and width of your knife with confidence. These are really high-quality knives that don’t cost a fortune and are made to go the distance.
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Think of it like a nail file. A huge one. Once the foot has been trimmed to the right length, it needs to be evened out and made level, and the edges of the foot rounded slightly so the foot won’t catch on anything. The rasp also gets used at the end of a shoe job to smooth out nails and make sure that the edges of the hoof exactly meet the edges of the horseshoe.
Rasps can be used in situations when a hoof just needs to be levelled out, or when a horse needs only the slightest amount of hoof taken off, for example, when trimming a baby. If horse owners know how to use a rasp properly, it can be a lifesaver when a horse has ripped a shoe off or has a crack or a chip that looks like it might end by taking a chunk of the foot off.
Suggested Rasp – Diamond Farrier HR14N 14”
This rasp from Diamond Farrier is sharp, well-made and reasonably priced. It’s 14”, with 6 teeth per row and a file on the back side. It features durable steel construction, with a tang that works with a variety of handles. Those who use it find it’s great at taking hoof material off without being overly aggressive. It’s perfect for those just starting out or for anyone who wants a rasp that will last.
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Shaping the Shoes
Usually powered by gas nowadays (although coal-fired ones are still used), the forge heats up metal to the point where it can be shaped and moulded.
Gas forges are more compact and are generally considered to be easier to work with and maintain. They can have a single or double burner and will allow farriers to adjust the heat and the fuel flow depending on what material they’re working with.
Suggested Forge – Forgemaster Blacksmith Forge
Forgemaster Blacksmith Forge is an excellent portable, dual burner forge. Made from 12 gauge, hot rolled premium steel with cast iron burners welded to the housing top, these forges are heavy-duty, high quality and dependable. The forge features side ports, needle valve fuel adjustment, spark igniter assembly and an extra long (9’) fuel hose. The heating chamber is 13” x 8 ½” x 3”.
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The anvil is where the action is. Its work surface is for shaping horseshoes, or any metal. Typically made of stainless steel, anvils are designed with a flat top and a rounded “horn.” The top surface is where the bulk of the hammering gets done, as it ensures that the shoe will end up being level. The horn lets the farrier bend and curve the metal.
Portable farrier anvils weigh in from 70-150 lbs, although “portable” becomes a relative term after 120 lbs. A shop anvil will be sturdier and weigh upwards of 150 lbs. If you’re starting out, invest in a portable anvil first – that’s where you’ll be making your shoes (and your salary).
Suggested Anvil – NC Tool Company Big Face Anvil
The Big Face Anvil from NC Tool Company is ideal for working with shoes. This 70 lb anvil features an extra wide, 4” face, thin heel design and opposing square and round cliphorns, as well as turning cams, a 1 ¼” chamfered, round turning hole and pritchel hole in the heel.
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Often two-ended, the tongs hold hot horseshoes for all of the obvious reasons. The narrow end is used to take the horseshoe in and out of the forge, and the wider end holds the horseshoe on both sides so it can be pressed to the hoof of the horse.
Suggested Tongs – Bloom Forge Tongs
These Bloom Forge tongs are made of carbon steel and fit 5/16” stock. They’re 14 ½” long and specially designed for farriers. The round-headed end lets you safely move shoes in and out of the forge. The other lets you take a hot shoe safely from the anvil to the horse. Bloom Forge makes a variety of high-quality tongs, in case this one doesn’t fit your needs.
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Straight and Cross Pein Hammers
You’ll use a number of different hammers create horseshoes from raw metal. Two of the most common are straight pein and cross pein. One end of the hammer head is flat, with the other forming a wedge. If the wedge is parallel to the handle, it’s a straight pein. If it faces the other way, it’s called a cross pein.
These faces of these hammers are used to flatten metal. The peins can be used to make nail creases in shoes, draw clips and also cut metal, depending on the pein.
Suggested Hammer – Flatland Forge
Deciding what hammer to work shoes with is a highly subjective choice. Whether a certain weight, length and style will work for you will all depend on your personal preferences.
So instead of taking our specific suggestions, have a look through Flatland Forge’s catalogue. It features a range of hammers, but all are made of high-quality steel, hardened for maximum durability and impeccably balanced to make them easier and less fatiguing to use.
This type of hammer is also used to shape the horseshoes themselves. It has a convex face, and is used on a hot shoe when it comes out of the forge.
Rounding hammers draw out metal and are often used to make clips for horseshoes (although there are lots of techniques for this that can be used with other types of hammers).
Suggested Rounding Hammer – Nordic Forge 2 lb. Rounding Hammer
If these are early-career days for you and Flatland Forge’s hammers are more an aspirational purchase than a realistic one, we have a back-up suggestion for you.
Farriers and blacksmiths tend to like this Nordic Forge rounding hammer because it finds a nice balance of cost and quality. The hammer is machined, so most people opt to round out and polish the edges of the hammer faces. Once that’s done, it’s a good value for the price. The hammer is 15 ½” long and has a 1 5/8” striking surface. As an FYI, its handle seems to fit better for smaller hands.
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A Note on Hammers and Weight – weight is a key factor in deciding on a hammer. Farriers will choose hammer weights based on their own body size and strength and on the jobs they need to do. A heavy hammer will shape a larger amount of metal more quickly, while a lighter hammer allows a farrier to do more detailed work without their arms getting tired before the metal cools.
Like a very pointy chisel, the pritchel punches holes in shoes, bar stock or pads, widens nail holes where necessary and can remove stuck nails from horseshoes once they’ve been removed. They can also help remove nails that have become embedded in the hoof wall. They can be used to widen the nail holes in a set of shoes when necessary.
Suggested Pritchel – Cooper Hand Tools Pritchel
Made from 5/8” tool steel, Cooper Hand Tool’s pritchel is sturdy, durable and well made. It’s 12” in length and features a flat design. A good, basic tool to have on hand.
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Putting Shoes On
This is the hammer that gets the nails through the horse’s feet so the shoes stay on. This hammer is small and light, which gives farriers more control when nailing into the horse’s foot.
It’s shaped like a claw hammer, and the claws are used in a twisting motion to break off the excess nail that protrudes from the hoof once the nail is driven through it.
Suggested Driving/Nailing Hammer – NC Tools Calvary 12 oz. Driving Hammer
NC Tool’s Cavalry driving hammer has an octagon face and a lightweight design. The handle is slender, for better control and smooth swinging action. This is a quality hammer at a reasonable price. The hammer comes in 10 oz. and 14 oz. sizes, as well, in case 12 oz. isn’t the perfect weight for you.
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This tool, shaped like a smaller pair of nippers, can also be used to clip off excess nail once the shoe has been nailed onto the hoof.
Not every farrier uses nail cutters. They’re more like an alternative to wringing the nail ends off with the driving/nailing hammer. Nail cutters look like nippers, but should only be used to trim off nail ends.
Suggested Nail Cutters – Kahn Forge 12” Nail Cutters
Kahn Forge’s cutters are made with drop forged 5140 tool steel and are backed up by a lifetime guarantee against breakage. They have a flush face so you can block clenches. They also feature a magnet, which you’ll appreciate when you don’t have to hunt for nail tips. Farm owners will appreciate that magnet, too. Again, there are cheaper alternatives on the market, but isn’t it better sometimes to just have to buy one of something?
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A small metal block with an angled edge, the clinch block is put underneath the nail end to help set the nails before they’re clinched down.
Using a clinch block helps ensure that the nail will bend at the base, close to the hoof, as it’s clinched, instead of bending near the tip. A clinch block can also be used to help unclinch a nail before a shoe is pulled.
Suggested Clinch Block – Diamond Farrier CB4 4” Clincher Block
Made from solid steel and weighing in at 10.5 lbs, Diamond Farrier’s clinch block is as sturdy as they come. It’s 4” long and has a correct, ergonomic design. This is a tool that doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to last you, and Diamond Farrier products usually do.
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Once the shoe is nailed on, these plier-like tools bend the nail down over the hoof wall a bit to help keep the shoe in place.
The clinchers press the nail lightly and flatten it against the hoof wall so it stays secure. There are a few types of clinchers (with a curved jaw, or a gooseneck, for example), designed to work better on high or low nails, or on both.
Suggested Clinchers – Mustad Farrier Clincher
These clinchers from Mustad have an alligator jaw style, which makes it easier to reach high nails. At 14″ long and 1.39 lbs., they’re easy to work with. They’re also durable, well made and a good investment for your business. You’ll find less expensive clinchers out there, but they might not be less expensive in the long run if you keep having to replace them.
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A bit like a small hatchet, this tool has a sharp edge that removes excess nail points once the nail has been clinched.
It gets tapped lightly with the hammer, and the nail point is cut away so the remaining end is squared off. Its other end is pointed and can be used to clean out nail holes or as a hoof pick, in case one isn’t lying around.
Suggested Clinch Cutters – Tough-1 All Purpose Clinch Cutter
Tough-1’s All Purpose Clinch Cutter is economical and well-made, with steel construction. This model is dual purpose, featuring a clinch cutter on one end, and a pritchel on the other. At 8″ and 10.4 oz., it’s lightweight and easy to handle. People who use it like its sturdiness and find it easy to sharpen when it gets dull.
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The hoof stand supports the horse’s foot in the final stages of the trim/shoe job. The horse rests its foot on the top of the stand so the farrier can have both hands free to clinch and rasp. It also means a little less strain on the farrier’s knees and back should the horse try to pull its foot away.
There are a few different kinds of hoof stands. Tripod stands are light, and often have convenient places to store your tools, but they’re less stable than stands that have a solid disc as a base. The legs of tripod bases can also pose more of a risk of injury to horses if they are tipped over during a trim.
Suggested Hoof Stand – High Country Plastics Farrier Stand
This farrier stand from High Country Plastics features a disc base for greater stability. The stand can be adjusted from 17” to 25 ½” through its drop pin design.
It comes with two interchangeable posts – the standard post and one with a cradle top, both with a rubber finish over steel. Magnets on each side of the post help keep tools and shoes close by. At 16.4 lbs., the stand is sturdy while still being easily portable.
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The angles of a horse’s hooves need to be correct (that is, in line with the pastern), and even left and right. The front pair might differ in angle from the rear pair, but each pair should be even. Lots of farriers prefer to check by sight, but this little device will let a farrier objectively measure angles and balance.
They’re simple devices to use – basically like a protractor and a ruler in one. Farriers can check the length of a hoof as well as the angle. These are also handy tools for horse owners who need to keep a close eye on whether their horse’s angles are changing.
Suggested Hoof Gauge – Anvil Brand Brass Horse Hoof Gauge
The classic design of Anvil Brand’s hoof gauge allows farriers to measure both hoof length and hoof angle to ensure feet are level, balanced and even. It’s an inexpensive and effective way to keep track of hoof growth and changes to hoof angles. With its brass finish and heavy-duty construction, it’s also a rather lovely tool to have around.
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Lots of tools to learn and master, but on the plus side, if you’re a tool person, this means lots of fun toys to play with!
Image credit: Pixabay