Tuesday, August 10, 2010



It is said -- and rightly so -- that a poor workman blames his tools. Elsewhere, the hobby woodworker with a collection of expensive tools but no skill is a familiar stereotype and we've all heard the story of a fellow who, with nothing more than a rock, a pocketknife and scrap lumber, produces wonders.

You can find real-life examples of all of this; they're all points on a graph. Most of us are well inside those limits.

Me, for years I owned one hammer. It was my Dad's, then it was his second-best hammer, then it migrated into my toolbox and when I moved out, well, it came along. It's a fine, smooth-face, medium-sized general-purpose claw hammer, probably made some time in the first half of the last century, and it did all the little craft-type projects I wanted or needed to do. When my library reached the point of either learning how to build bookcases or start selling books (the horror!), it did that, too.

Then I got a little better at it and a wooden mallet to tap things together looked like a good idea; learned leatherwork and needed a different mallet for that. Started paying a little more attention to fit & finish of my bookshelves and... H'mm, no tack hammer.

As a child, I didn't so much get along with the classic tack hammer Mom used when reupholstering; somehow the long skinny head always found my tender fingers. And there were these other hammers....
What you see there is my Old Dependable hammer at the bottom (you don't get wood and metal those hues without using them for a long, long time) and above it, a couple of cross pein* or Warrington-pattern hammers. Handiest small hammers I own. I've been using the larger of the two when fastening trim pieces to the window seat I'm working on; the smaller one (especially good for wire brads) is known to British woodworkers as a "telephone hammer" to this very day, supposedly because they were used to nail together the old wooden-type wall telephones, which were usually sent out as a kind of a kit, in order to take up less space on the installers wagon or bicycle.

Could I use different hammer (I use glue, too. Perhaps that's overkill but it seems to work) to tack oak trim to oak plywood? Sure. But this one fits the job. And that's the real secret: knowing which tool to pick up for a particular task. The right one can make your work a pleasure.
* Or "peen" or even "pane." One story even claims the name comes from nailing together frames for multi-pane windows, in which the narrow "pane" end is used to minimize the risk of breaking glass. --In which case, was the ball-peen hammer for breaking the glass?


  1. Looks like some of my tools. I have probably a dozen hammers of different materials and configurations. There always seems to be a need/use for a different type or material (steel, brass, copper, lead, rubber, wood, etc).

  2. Throughout his life, my Dad used, what he called, his Blacksmith's hammer. He used it for just about everything except pulling nails. Dad was sort of a jack-leg blacksmith and learned his trade working in the mines. Officially, he was a journeyman blacksmith having passed a test as an apprentice. Part of that test was to make his own tools.

    The head of Dad's hammer wasn't a smooth, machined finish. It was rough and dimpled clearly showing the strokes made on the hammer's head during its construction.

    That hammer had character. When Dad died, my sister picked it as a remembrance.

  3. Patrick in the UK :-
    I have no idea how many hammers I have, I would guess over a dozen. My favourite is also inherited from my dad, who was a teacher of panel beating amongst other things, it is a big (probably 24 oz) ball peen hammer.

    It is "peen" as this is a process, most usually carried out by using a hammer (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peening ). There are hammer collectors out there see http://www.mehr-als-werkzeug.de/product/705692/Damascus-Steel-Hammer-Baba/detail.jsf for a hand made damascus steel one for a silly price