Friday, January 22, 2016

Object of percussion for woodworkers

Lets face it, there are numerous occasions where a judiciously applied "love tap" is going to save your bacon. And I am not talking about young children misbehaving, I am talking about woodworking of course...

Hammers, mallets, maul, commander etc. all accomplish a similar operation thru the application of a localized force (impact) to budge, nudge or drive down some tool edge or fastener into the wood.

Simple task, but one that required specialized tools to accomplish our task without injuring the object, the tool or ourselves

Hammer like object are probably the oldest tools known to man, how about
a 2.5 millions year old stone hammer
Some animals species are known to uses similar technology to crack open food stuff. But we only have to concerned ourselves with woodworking applications, and their current forms have evolved to what we commonly recognized as hammers and mallets


The simple carpenter claw hammer that we are all familiar with, comes in a variety of weight (the head weight, not the whole hammer)
It also comes with a variety of pan: from the classic nail puller either straight (ripping hammer) to the familiar curve jaws, the ball peen and the cross peen, and etc.

For a simple looking tool, a good modern one is the combination of carefully designed elements to produce a tool that will not injure yourselves or the material you are hammering.
From the weight and its distribution in the head, the shape of the handle and how it absorb or transmit the vibration to the non slippery feel of the handle in your hands and how it is securely attached to the head and the overall shape of the head for its intended purpose, all these design elements have been refined over hundred of years to produce our modern and familiar claw hammer.


A good hammer has a hot forged head which has been properly tempered in the right places. When looking at antique ones, careful, some were just cast iron (the cheap ones) and can break out chunks unsuspectingly. And that is a good indication that it was indeed cast!
Similar fate happens to cast iron holdfast, when beaten with a hammer. Stick to forged or cold roll holdfasts (Gramercy) for safety and durability.

Because the striking face of a hammer is hardened to resist deformation, it is dangerous to hit two hammers face to face, as small pieces may fly off.
That statement is apparently subject to a recent controversy but nonetheless, depending how well and to what degrees the striking surfaces were hardened, it remain a No-No to hit two hardened surface together, so don't try this at home folks and wear your safety google...
And in case OSHA is reading this; Wear a full face mask, leather gloves, steel toe boots and wrap yourselves in bubble wrap...There you are now compliant and safe :-)


It is not just an expression, it did happened with hammers routinely...
Numerous designs were concocted in an attempt to solve this flying off the handle thingies; Metal straps on the side of the handle etc.

Two examples of antique strapped hammers. 
Photos from Ebay.

But the best and perhaps the most elegant solution, was to simply shaped the hammer eye (where the handle goes in) in a tapered fashion, the Adz-eye (think oval dovetail) Today every hammer is made like that (unless you buy your tools at a Dollarstore), but the credit goes to Maydole , who never patented it. Soon every hammers were made like that ever since.

For the longest time, hammers were made with wooden handle, mostly hickory.
But a wooden handle of course can be broken...

Replacement handles often comes with wedge(s), if not, you need them or you could dig out the old metal ones. Wooden wedges should be simply replaced.

Single fat metal wedge

More often seen, a wooden wedge then intersected by metal wedge(s)
Notice also this one has the slot, normally parallel to the handle, running at an angle. That is in an attempt to expand in two directions to better filled the hammer eye shape. 

At other way of accomplish this multi direction expansion 
with a wedge is to use a circular one! 

Today, steel metal shaft and fiberglass handles are common, but it is hard to beat the qualities of a properly seasoned wooden handle. Not only in how it feels in your hands (balance) but mostly in how it can absorb the impact and not transmit the full force to your arm.

Antique claw hammer, handle is a modern replacement

Modern (70s) claw hammer. Notice the short distance between 
the head face and the shaft.

Modern (80s) fiberglass hammer. It is technically Heather's but 
we are always borrowing it back and forth between us. 
Yes, we both love the balance of this hammer :-) 

The one I bought to solve that "borrowing". It is not a curved claw hammer 
but technically a Rip claw hammer.

In the mid 90s I bought that framing hammer (26 Oz) when building my "retirement" garage. The trade's crew I hired to help me out, laughed at my puny little 16 Oz hammer and told me to get a proper framing hammer if I plan on continuing helping them... They said my arm would thank me later, and they were right!

The first thing they asked next day, when they saw my new hammer was: 
Did ever used one of those before, young man? 
I said no, why? Because with a regular hammer if you miss, you get a black blue finger, with one of these waffle head if you miss, you get a trip to Emergency for stitches... Live and learn :-)

These waffled head are suppose to reduce glance back when striking slightly off, because of the grippy surface, instead of just having the head glance off the nail.
Sound good, but really, besides leaving ugly marks on wood , objects and fingers, they are not much different in use than your regular smooth head.
Given the choice, I'll now always pick the smooth's one. BTW on my hammer the waffle hash marks are pretty well rounded thru use (see pic above), but when new, they are really sharp and cut easily.


Another very useful woodworking hammer is the cross peen or Warrington pattern hammer.
Just like the claw hammers, they come in a variety of weight,
the one I use is a 12 Oz

Similar construction and looking like a mechanic ball peen hammer,
except for the narrow pointy peen.

The idea behind the cross peen (also spelled; Pane, Pein) is to easily slip between your fingers without hitting them when nailing small brads, nails, etc.
If you ask me, that is still a hit and miss proposition! :-)
They share much DNAs with the familiar mechanic's hammer; the ball peen.

The top twos are vintage, they were my father.

Notice how the handle is reduced in two planes (sideways and top/bottom).
It really add balance and finesse to the hammer.

Even if we restrict ourselves to woodworking, ball peen hammers comes in handy in the shop: Driving pins in and out on machinery or when used on a small anvil to bend or straighten metal pieces of hardware etc.

A small anvil comes in very handy in the shop.

If you don't have an anvil, sometimes on a mechanic bench vise,
 there is a special place to be used as such.
Record No 74 Autovise shown.

A good set of centering or transfer punch is very handy.

So are driving punches


Other useful forms in the shop are this picture frame hammer from Lee Valley.

Its triangular head rotate in order to use it laying flat on the backing while kicking the handle up to drive the metal pins or special fasteners around the frame to retain the pictures. Very slick and practical. I certainly don't use it much, but it is a joy to use when required.

And various forms of plane hammers

of the Glen Drake design. NO comparisons...

We could not leave this hammer subject without looking at some useful additions to our hammering arsenal...

Useful additions
 From Left to Right:
The crow bar comes in real handy for demolition, its shape makes it handy as a lever or pry bar. At each ends there are the familiar V shape slot to capture the head of nails, it can also be used as a nail puller. 

Next to it is a Estwing Cat's paw, nail puller. Super heavy duty, will pull the biggest framing nails, but it will leave some marks if you have to pound the claws in to reach under a nail head.

You are probably familiar with the regular nail sets, but this is a Japanese nail set. Its head shape allows it to be use in close quarters. Often used as a small anvil to straighten nails.

Typical nail set...set. Stanley shown

A good pair of nail cutters/puller is very handy. The round shape at the end of the faces makes it easy to rock the nails out. This is a cheaper pair of end cutters, the real nail pullers/cutters have a flush cutting action, end cutters have double beveled cutting edge, leaving a bit sticking out. Very easy to transform the end cutters into a flush cutter with a powered high speed grinder... if you so desire.

This yellow plastic thingy is a real fingers saver...
The various slots around its shape have small serrations to better grip the nail to hold it in place with your fingers out of the way. Made in England, where they have been smashing fingers longer than here in North America :-)

And finally a good stout marking awl (Think scratching awl on steroids).
This particular model has a metal strike cap on the end, so I use my regular hammers to gently tap it. Yes, some of us anal's people like to set precisely the location of their nails :-) Other than that it also help to avoid splintering. In some case I will pre-drill using a nail, but in most case a prick of the awl is sufficient.

Next will look at mallets.

Bob, hammering the point home.


  1. I thought this was going to be the first post of yours that I knew everything. The picture framer's hammer is something I have never seen before. Where did you get it?

  2. Lee Valley,43293
    I thought I put a link in the text, if not, ill fix that

  3. Link now added to text. Like I said I don't used it much but when I do, I really like it.

  4. As always, great stuff, Bob. I didn't know the definition of ball peen versus cross peen. I guess the ball peen is rounded and the cross peen is elongated like the small end of a Warrington hammer.

    Thanks again.

  5. That is correct Matt.
    The Warrington IS a cross peen.