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). 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]

Vintage Machinery

Vintage Machinery

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, also includes a large database of manufacture… [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]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Antique Hawards Warranted Woodworking Planes Saw Hammer Porcelain SignAntique German Chasing Repousse Hammer - Old Vintage Jewelers Silversmith ToolAntique E.c. Atkins Co. Saw Makers Blacksmith Signed Hammer #4 Vintage Spike War Hammer Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat Handle 1% Picaroon BikerOriginal Mayer Bros. Mankato Minn. Little Giant 25# Blacksmith Trip Hammer Blacksmith Rounding Hammer Polished Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat HandleNorth Woods Forge Blacksmith Rounding HammerVintage Tomahawk Ax Hatchet Picaroon Polished Custom Reed Handle War Hammer Hook Beautiful Antique Hammer - Old Vintage Jewelers Silversmith ToolVintage Spike War Hammer Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat Handle 1% Picaroon BikerKnife Makers Hammer, Dog Head Hammer, Blacksmith.Antique Brass Hammer Vintage Hand Tool 3lb MalletHauser & Reisfeld #2 Cobbler's Hammer (germany)Blacksmith HammerVint. Blacksmith/bladesmith Sawyer's Cross/double Pein Saw HammerVintage Vaughan Axe Hatchet Hammer Custom Jesse Reed Handle Finger GroovedVtg Vlchek Motorcycle Ball Peen Hammer W/tire Iron Harley-indian-henderson-aceVintage Unusual Atha Blacksmith Hammer Head Metalworking Tool 1 1/2Vintage Axe Hatchet Hammer Polished Custom Jesse Reed Handle Finger GroovedAntique W.m Beatty & Son "cow Logo" Chester Pa Hammer Axe W/ Original HandleVintage Old Adze Axe Hammer Nail Puller Woodworking Carpenter ToolVintage Axe, Hatchet, Hammer, Custum, Handmade, Leather SheathVintage Hubbard 2 Lb Blacksmith Sledge Hammer Blacksmith Tool Octagonal FaceLot Of 2 Blacksmith Hammers - Rounding Hammer - Lqqk !!Nice 18th Century Hammer With Iron Straps 2 Antique Cobbler HammersAntique Vintage Tool,true Temper Tommy Axe,hatchet Head,hammer Claws,collectibleVintage Hand Made Wood Box Antique Brass Hammer Steel Stamps Punch Alphabet #'sVintage Custom Sword Hilt Handle Klein Rounding Hammer Blacksmith Polished UsaOld Vintage Snap-on Tools Inc. H-50 Chisel Hammer Obscure Rare Steel ToolVintage Plumb Rigging Axe Hatchet Hammer Custom Jesse Reed Handle Finger GroovedVintage Carpenters Axe Hatchet Hammer Custom Jesse Reed Handle Drop ForgedVintage Rising & Nelson Slate Co. Slate Hammer West Pawlet Vt. Rutland CountyOlder Small Chasing Repousse Hammer - Vintage Jewelers Silversmith ToolVintage 8 Blacksmith Hammer Lot ToolsVintage Custom Sword Hilt Handle Yerkes & Plumb Swage Blacksmith Hammer 3/8 Usa Vintage Axe, Hatchet, Hammer, Custom, Handmade, Stonehenge Metal WorksVintage Hammers Ball Pein Blacksmith Auto Mechanic Lot Of 12 Plumb True Temper Vintage Upholstery 5" Tack HammerVintage Lathing Roofing Axe Hatchet Hammer Polished Custom Jesse Reed Handle Antique Cobbler's Leather Shoe Hammer HeadsVintage Belknap Bluegrass Claw HammerVtg.craftsman 6lb Single Blade Axe Head, Maul,log Splitter Hammer Head ComboNice 19th Century Hammer With Straps Vintage Auto Body Metalworking Dolly Block And Hammer Head LotVintage Pexto Sm.cross Pein Hammer 1 1/4 Lb.totalAntique Cast Iron Signed Broom Maker Hammer Embossed Name Jackson?Vintage Estwing Claw Hammer With Stacked Leather Handle Made In UsaMetal Working Hammer? / Japanese / VintageOld Used Vintage Woodworking Tools Pry Bar Hammer Crate TypeVintage Winchester Hatchet With Nail Puller And Hammer Head6 Vintage Ball Peen Hammer Heads / Machinest / Blacksmith ToolNice 19th Century Hammer With A Shaped HeadVintage Auto Body Hammer Head ToolVintage 4 Hammers For Stamping Nombers-letters Metal WorkingVintage Ec Simmons Keen Kutter Logo Hatchet Axe Hammer Head -antique Antique / Vintage Hammer & Pein Handles, New Old Stock, Mostly Oak, Nice ToolsBonney Ph 32 Solid Brass 20 Oz. Hammer Mallet Machinist ToolOld Tool Craftsman 3lb 13.8oz Single 4 7/8" Blade Axe Head,hammer Head Combo!!!! 1700´s Antique Blacksmith Sledge 13 Lbs Hammer - Hand Forged Iron !