(Thor's) Hammer Time: Real World Versions of Mjolnir (which we probably are not worthy of)
Greetings Nerd Legion! Welcome back to Everything is Possible! Where we take something from your favorite stories and find out how feasible it is in the real world.
If you follow superhero movies, then you’ve probably seen Marvel’s comic book hero Thor. Based on the Aesir god Thor from Norse mythology, he first appeared in Marvel comics in 1962, and appeared in a whopping eight Marvel movies so far. One of the most important aspects of this character is his weapon — Mjolnir. It can only be wielded by one who is worthy, and it seems to grant a lot of different powers to whoever has control of it. Is it possible to create a hammer with these powers? Let’s find out!
Thor and Mjolnir in Norse Mythology
Before comic book Thor appeared on the scene in 1962 in the version created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he was the Norse god of thunder. He was red haired, red bearded, wore a belt of strength, iron gloves, drove a cart drawn by goats, and was popular enough to have Thursday named after him. Oh yes, and he also wielded Mjolnir. The hammer was forged by dwarfs and could be used to deal immensely powerful blows to enemies (in one story Thor smashes new clefts into a mountain range with it). If thrown, it would return to its owner’s hand like a boomerang. It was symbolic of thunder and lightning, and in some stories the hammer heats up when used a lot. This could potentially cause issues for Thor because the handle is a bit short, but Thor deals with this by wielding the hammer with iron gloves.
If we use the ancient Mjolnir as our example, then all we need is a super heavy, powerful hammer that flies like a boomerang. Easy peasy. Hammers fly like boomerangs all the time, right? As it turns out, the closest thing out there to a hammer like a boomerang, is a boomerang named after this hammer. Thor’s Hammer Boomerang is available from Colorado Boomerangs. It’s a huge, heavy looking boomerang that I would be terrified to throw, but this guy isn’t:
The other option out there was created by Allen Pan of Sufficiently Advanced. He cleverly places a drone inside lightweight housing that looks like the Marvel version of Thor’s hammer. If you are worthy of holding the remote control (maybe ask Allen very nicely), you can fly Thor’s hammer to and from your hand. It doesn’t have the heft of Mjolnir, but it looks pretty cool. Check out his project in this fantastic video:
It’s clear he’s themed his hammer after Marvel’s Thor, so I don’t know if this entirely counts for the oldest version of Thor’s hammer. Maybe we can count it as something for both.
Also in the same vein is the work of FliteTest. They created a flying hammer from scratch by building something like their own quadcopter with propellers, then attaching it to lightweight housing that looked like Thor’s hammer.
Their hammer was powerful enough to fly, and allowed one of them to be pulled along by it while riding a skateboard. It again is designed using the more modern rendition of Thor’s hammer.
There are other hammers that could go in this category, because they’re about the power of the hammer. However, all hammers are clearly designed with Marvel comics’ rendition of Thor in mind, so we’ll leave the rest of them for the Marvel comics discussion of Mjolnir.
Thor and Mjolnir in Marvel Comics
In Marvel comics, when Thor first appears, his powers are granted by Mjolnir. According to my copy of Marvel Essential Thor, his first appearance is in Journey Into Mystery #83, in 1962. In this issue, an unassuming scientist named Donald Blake tries to escape aliens by hiding in a cave. There he finds a gnarled cane. When he strikes it against a boulder in the cave he accidentally transforms into Thor. The cane becomes Mjolnir. As Donald Blake realizes he’s become the ancient Norse thunder god, we also learn a rule about Mjolnir, because it’s written on the hammer:
Donald Blake is worthy, so he can transform when he holds the hammer. We learn a few other things about the hammer too. These things are:
- Thor can throw the hammer and fly by holding onto it after he’s thrown it, or be pulled along by the strap attached to the hammer
- He must continually hold the hammer. If he lets go, he will be transformed back into Donald Blake after 60 seconds
- If he throws the hammer it always returns to him.
- The hammer is indestructible and can smash apart almost anything.
- The hammer is so heavy only Thor can lift it.
- If he taps the hammer handle on the ground twice he can create rain or snow or any type of storm.
- If he taps the hammer three times on the ground it will end the storm.
- If he taps the hammer once he will turn back into Donald Blake.
- If he taps the hammer four times he can pull up an ancient Norse menu, describing the hammer’s powers. (Okay I made that up.)
Only Someone Worthy Can Lift Thor’s Hammer
Sometimes being worthy of Thor’s hammer is equated with being strong enough to lift Thor’s hammer. These aren’t the same thing. Donald Blake can’t lift Thor’s hammer, but because he’s worthy, he becomes Thor, who can then lift the hammer. As it turns out, Allen Pan came up with an ingenious way to create a hammer that only he was worthy of lifting. Using a salvaged electromagnet from a microwave inside the hammer and a fingerprint scanner, he was able to create one that responded only to his fingerprint. When he tested it, no one on Venice Beach was worthy of lifting it besides him!
A Hammer That Grants The Power to Fly
Stan Lee explains that Thor flies by whirling his hammer super fast, then flinging it into the air. A leather thong attached to the hammer and tied around his wrist allows him to be pulled along by the hammer. However, in practice, Thor’s flight varies pretty wildly. It’s often stated he needs the hammer to fly — and the Donald Blake version of Thor definitely does or he will transform back to an ordinary man. Once Thor is in flight, he’s often depicted changing direction or hovering to beat someone up, neither of which align with the flight explanation. He also lands gracefully, when you’d expect somebody just pulled along would probably crash down at the end of the ride.
Flight might be something Mjolnir magically grants the wielder, and it might be scientific, but only if you apply comic book physics. It’s also really hard to hold onto a hammer and be pulled along. This alone is a testament to how incredibly strong Thor is, as Scott of Friggin Boom Toys demonstrates:
A Hammer That Works Like A Boomerang and Transforms You Into Thor
We can safely say there aren’t any hammers that transform you into a Norse god (those would probably be really popular for Christmas). And while there are lightweight versions of a hammer that can mimic the boomerang effect, there’s no heavy, realistic hammer that works like a boomerang. These aren’t possible (yet…never say never…ask and the internet someday provides).
A Hammer That Controls Lightning
Originally in the comics, Thor taps his hammer to create storms. In the real world, people have created versions of Mjolnir that control lightning. Hacksmith Industries creates a version of the hammer that uses Tesla coils. You can check that out here:
A Hammer That’s Indestructible and Super Heavy
We’ll stick with a review of Mjolnir as described by Marvel comics, but just for fun, let’s go over how the original hammer from Norse mythology was created. It came into existence because Loki got himself in trouble for a prank. He cut off Sif’s hair, and Sif was the wife of Thor. Angry, Thor threatens Loki with a brutal beating if he doesn’t figure out how to fix it. So Loki runs off to try to get Sif new hair. While he’s doing that, he also decides to torment the dwarf brothers Brokkr and Sindri, and convinces them to make him some magical items. When the brothers create Mjolnir, all they place on the hearth is iron. The rest is their magic and weapon making skills. If you want to read the whole story, this is a pretty good summary: The Creation of Thor’s Hammer. If you want this story plus more stories, then I recommend D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths.
Iron is less exciting than what Thor’s hammer is made of in Marvel comics. It’s created from something called Uru. It’s a metal ore from the first moon in existence, is highly durable and retains enchantments very well. In addition to being incredibly sturdy, it can withstand extreme temperatures without deformation. This is going to be tough to copy in real life!
Making it more difficult, is that Thor’s hammer gets interpreted differently by different people. It’s often assumed that only Thor can lift the hammer because the hammer is very heavy. But in 1991, a Thor’s Hammer trading card was released by Marvel, and that card states that Mjolnir only weighs about 42.3 pounds…meaning a lot of people could at least carry it around. According to Suveen Mathaudhu, a program manager in the materials science division of the U.S. Army Research Office, this would make the hammer weigh about 2.13 grams (g) per cubic centimeter, making it lighter than aluminum. If it’s lighter than aluminum, it’s hard to imagine how it could also be nearly indestructable and capable of smashing apart almost anything.
Knowing all this conflicting information about the hammer, how do you build a good one?
A popular tactic seems to be to go for building the heaviest hammer. The densest element out there is Osmium. 1000 times rarer than gold and possessing a beautiful blue-grey color, Osmium would be perfect for Thor’s hammer. Unfortunately, it’s also difficult to make, difficult to work with, and if it’s in powdered form it smells bad and is poisonous. It tends to mostly be used for ballpoint pen tips, fountain pen tips, record player needles, and anything where there isn’t a lot of friction involved. If you successfully made Thor’s hammer out of this substance, maybe it would be a poison hammer?
One of the first heavy, real world versions of Mjolnir was crafted by Brainfoo. Coming in at 91lbs, this beast of a hammer was made of lead.
The next heaviest hammer (also listed as the world’s heaviest) comes from Hacksmith Industries. They went with Tungsten, which is the heaviest metal after Osmium, and has the added benefit of not turning into poisonous powder (though I don’t recommend testing that).
The very heaviest hammer, which was dropped through bulletproof glass from 45m in the air, is from How Ridiculous:
It’s possible to create Thor’s hammer if you only need one or two features of the Marvel comics’ version of Mjolnir. No version of the hammer is able to fly a person around or create rain and snow, and no version of the hammer is able to replicate the wide range of abilities in a single hammer. I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out about the many different ways Mjolnir has been imagined!
- Thor — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thor#:~:text=for%20j%C3%B6tunn%20women.-,Prose%20Edda%2C%20Heimskringla%2C%20and%20sagas,Sibyl%20(identified%20with%20Sif).
- How Does Thor’s Flight Work? — https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/26463/how-does-thors-flight-work-exactly
- The God of Thunder, and Momentum — https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-god-of-thunder-and-momentum/
- The Element Osmium — https://education.jlab.org/itselemental/ele076.html