If you could pick just one tool that’s sure to be in every tool box, whether it belongs to a novice do-it-yourselfer or a skilled carpenter, that tool would probably be a hammer. Just about everyone has a hammer, usually with a flat face on one side for pounding nails into your home or apartment’s wall and a claw on the other side for removing those very same nails when you’ve pounded them into the wrong spot. It’s a tool, you might say, that’s designed to create and correct its own mistakes.

Of course, the story of hammers is a good deal more complicated than that, but it is true that they are venerable. In fact, the hammer is, by some accounts, the first tool—archaeologists have discovered stone hammers 2.5-million years old. More recently, in the Bronze Age, hammer heads were cast, while Romans wielded claw hammers that were remarkably similar in design to the ones we use today.

Within claw hammers there’s an amazing variety of designs, each tailored to a particular task. Basic claw hammers take their shapes from their Roman forebears, and in many ways have changed little in 2,000 years. The head of the hammer is a separate piece from the handle, which is typically made of hickory but in recent years has been produced out of fiberglass and other synthetic materials. While the top of a hammer’s head from the eye (the opening in the hammer head) to the face is essentially flat, the claw usually slopes downward, although some claws are straight.

Whatever their shape, all claws are designed to remove nails and some claws are designed for only specialized nails. For example, an upholsterer’s hammer has a small claw suited to the diminutive size of the nails and brads used on chairs and sofas. A cooper’s hammer, on the other hand, has a wide claw that would be useless for removing upholstery nails but is perfectly suited to the shape of wooden pegs used to make barrels and casks.

Other specialized claws include the one on the side of a slater’s hammer, used by those who make a living installing slate roofing. Crating hammers have their claws at the end of top of the hammer’s head, creating a tool that resembles a pry bar with a small hatchet head on one side—carpet hammers also have claws at their tops. And then there are the double-claw hammers, sometimes called Shaker hammers, which have a second claw below the top one to give the user more leverage when pulling a nail that’s been pounded deep into wood.

Hammer faces exhibit even more variety. The faces on upholsterer’s hammers, for example, are small, demanding precision strikes but allowing the user to tack nails and brads into corners and other tight spots. That cooper’s hammer mentioned above has a wide, squared-off face while a cobbler’s is wide and round. Ball-peen hammers, which are used by blacksmiths and other metal workers, have a regular hammer face on one side and a rounded “peen” on the other where the claw would normally be. Other types of peening heads are wedge-shaped, with faces positioned horizontally, vertically, or diagonally depending on the needs of the smith.

Veneer hammers feature a hatchet-like piece instead of a claw, only unlike a hatchet, the metal’s face runs horizontally instead of vertically and it's rounded instead of sharp. ...

Other hammers of note include a lumberman’s marking hammer, which has raised initials or numbers on its face so that the ends of boards or timbers can be branded by their owner, and a bill-poster’s hammer, which allowed advertising flyers to be nailed on walls and other surfaces that would otherwise be out of reach—one metal tab on the hammer’s handle held the nail in place, another held the flyer.

In the United States, late-19th- and early-20th-century tool manufacturers famous for their hammers included Stanley (its nickel-plated Sweet Hart hammers are particularly prized), and Keen Kutter (look for its wedge-shaped logo on the hammer’s head). Yerkes & Plumb was a popular brand of hammers and axes from 1869 to 1886, after which its Anchor and other tool brands were sold under the Plumb name only. Maydole hammers go back even further, to 1845, as does the Henry Cheney Hammer Co., which was founded in 1854 and made everything from farriers' hammers to prospector's picks. The A. R. Robertson made bill-poster’s hammers, while the specialty of the Double Claw Hammer Co. should be obvious.

A variation on the hammer is the mallet, which has wooden handles of varying lengths and large, solid wooden heads, sometimes made from beech or walnut burls. Mallets were used by everyone from wheelwrights, who used long-handled mallets to drive wooden spokes into their wheels, to carpenters, who favored shorter-handled mallets when using chisels in fine woodworking. In general, the grains on these hard-wood mallets ran horizontally, so that the chisel was struck by the ends of the wood’s grains, but some mallets had round heads, so extremely tough woods like lignum vitae would be used for these tools.

Mallets are interesting to collectors because they can be paired with the tools they were used to strike. Chisels have already been mentioned, but there’s a whole category of tools called froes that were designed for nothing except to be hit by a mallet in order to split a piece of wood. Mallets and froes were used to create shingles, clapboards, and even barrel staves, which required a curved cooper’s froe.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Alloy Artifacts

Alloy Artifacts

A tool collectors’ dream, this site is a deep repository of photos and info on 20th century hand tools and the co… [read review or visit site]

Drainspotting

Drainspotting

Josh and Cam Larios have created this site enabling people to upload and 'tag' photos of historic or artistic manho… [read review or visit site]

A Millers Falls Home Page

A Millers Falls Home Page

Randy Roeder has carved out a niche for himself with his fine website devoted to the history of the Millers Falls C… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Leather Workers Tool Lot Chisels Slitter Double Ended Blacksmith HammerBridge City Tool Works Jh-1 Jointmaker's Hammer Brass 1995 Antique / Vintage Hammer / Pick Tool Old Tool Woodworking Tool Vintage Hammer Blacksmith Rounding Or Turning ? Farrier 2 Lb. 4 Face?Antique Tool Rare Thayers Patent 1862 Hammer Rule Pry Jack Of All Trades MultiVintage Blacksmith HammerVintage Atkins No. 4 Crosscut Saw Sharpening Setting Hammer "nice"Old Vintage Antique Rare Dog Head Blacksmith Sawyer Hammer, File Maker Tool SawNew In Box Filson X Cergol Made In Usa Limited Edition Dwarven Rounding HammerBlacksmith/sawyer's Bladesmith Cross/straight Double Pein Saw Hammer Mkd. 2 1/2Antique Harvey W. Peace Saw 1869 Brooklyn Ny Tool Arm Hammer Medallion Us #5L4008- Antique Vintage Simonds Crosscut Saw Setting Hammer No. 337 Rare NrVintage Hammer Head Blacksmith Rounding Or Turning ? Farrier 2 LbLot Of 2 Hammers (1 Peddinghaus Embossing Blacksmith Hammer) 09/toolVintage Lot Of (3) Blacksmith HammersVintage Blacksmiths HammerLot Of 6 Good Vintage Blacksmith Hammer Heads Fuller Sledge Champion Flatter UsaLot Of 3 Hammers Blacksmith Sledge/cross Peen / RoundingVintage Blacksmith Sledge Hammer Maul , Bikers Buddy, Jim Poor 1.75 # Rounding Hammer HeadVintage Blacksmiths 1 & 1/2 Pound Rounding Hammer Head With A Narrow Handle HoleBlacksmith Biker Coconut Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat HandleRare 2 In 1 Hammer And Small Crowbar No Reserve TkVintage Blacksmith Brass Copper Lead Hammer Lot Non Spark Machinist Mechanic Vintage Cobblers Hammer Hand Tool 2" Round Face And PickDouglas Dfi 18 Finish Hammer Puller Usa Made Custom Woodworking Framer 15" Vtg Heller Brothers Blacksmith Hammer Horse Logo Drift Punch Cross Peen Sledge1 Lot Of 10 Antique Vintage Claw Hammers Carpenter Tools Woodworking Carpentry Vintage Cyclops Hammer Nail Puller - Union Hardware Co., Torrington Conn Vintage 24oz Blacksmith Ball Peen Hammer Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat Handle Vintage Shapleigh Hardware Company 8 Oz Finish Drop Claw Hammer Diamond Edge2 & 1/4 Pound Blacksmith's Hammer Head With A Unique Shape Stamped JapanShoemaker Or Cobbler's Hammer Saddler Harness Maker Leather ToolJapanese Vintage Forged Iron Tool Specialty Boat Builder Hammer Mixed Lot Of 14 Vintage Hammers Ball Peen Auto Body SledgeStanley Sweetheart Hammer No 12-13oz Size 2 Curved Claw2 Vintage Miniature Anvils,1 Brass, Jeweler Watchmaker Tool,1 Watchmaker HammerVintage H. D. Smith "perfect Handle" Ball Pein Hammer, Plantsville, Ct, 1907 PatVintage Welding Or Blacksmith Hammer Polished Lot Of 8 Estwing Hammers, Usa MadeAntique Tool Rock Hammer Macadam Stone Macadamizer Macadamizing Mason KnappingL3953- Lot Of Antique Vintage Hammers Heads - Blacksmith, Stone, Claw, Etc. Blacksmith Biker Coconut Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat HandleBlacksmith Biker Coconut Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat HandleMechanic 3 Auto Body HammersVintage Heller Combination Cross And Straight Pein Blacksmith Forge HammerVintage Lot Of 10 Small Hammers~samson,stanley,craftsman+++most Usa MadeTire Tumper Biker Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat Style Handle Vintage Estwing Ball Peen Hammer 8 Oz Head Stacked Leather HandleVtg Belknap Bluegrass Bg47-7 Claw Hammer 7-oz W/orig HandleLot Of Blacksmith Hammers Atha Vintage Tools Cross PeenVintage Tack Hammer Cobbler Upholstery SaddlemakerVintage Master Mechanic Blacksmith Sledge Hammer Maul , Bikers Buddy 40 OzVintage Blacksmith Metalworking Hammer Lot - 8 Pieces Unknown Brands -2 Vintage Blacksmith-farrier Hammers-1 Atha 3lb & 1 Unknown (rounding?) 2 1/2 LbBall Peen Hammer Heads Atha Fairmount Lot 5 Vintage English Strap Handle Hammer. Carpenter / Joinery.Vintage Fairmount Body Metal Forming Shaping Hammer 166g, 12" Long Made In UsaCustom Tire Tumper Biker Fish Hammer Custom Jesse Reed Warlock Style Handle Unique Antique Vintage Best Steel Cobbler Upholstery Blacksmith Tack Hammer Tool