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”)

Nailhunter

Nailhunter

Scott Weed's pictoral guide to date nails, or nails which have some kind of company, functional, or otherwise descr… [read review or visit site]

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]

Old Woodworking Machines

Old Woodworking Machines

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

Vintage 2-1/2 Pound Hammer, Nice Condition, No Handle, Look !!80 Pound Blacksmith Forge Hardy Hammer Flatter Hammer Post ViseVintage Collins "old Timer" Axe Collinsville, Conn. Logo Crown Fist & HammerJim Poor U.s.a. Blacksmith/farrier Driving Hammer 12.7 Oz. Total Weight Nr!Vintage Forming Hammer - Old Antique Jewelers Metalsmith Silversmith ToolVintage Heller 5/8" Square Punch - Blacksmith Forge Hammer ToolVintage Snap-on Bf604 Auto Body Hammer Pick Tip Mechanics Hot Rod Dent Tool UsaVintage Champion Blacksmith Hammer, Nice Condition, Take A Peek !!!Atha 2-1/2" 4 Lb Flatter Flatting Hammer NiceLot Vtg Old Marx Miniature Wood Working Tools Plane, Saw, Hammer ToysVintage Gesswein Chasing Repousse Hammer - Jewelers Metalsmith Silversmith ToolVintage Small Hatchet Axe Hammer Polished Custom Handle Belt Pack Vintage Fayette Plumb "autograf Tools" 16oz Claw Hammer With Decal, SignitureOdd Old Antique Plier Wrench Hammer Puller ToolVintage Ed M Spalding Iron Hammer Head Auto Body Black Smith Rounded Ends Tool Beautiful Vintage Jewelers Riveting (?) Hammer - Old Metalsmith Silversmith Tool2 Inch Blacksmith Flatter HammerVintage Boy Scout Style Hatchet Axe Hammer Polished Custom Handle Camp FireVintage Blacksmith Hammer Top And Bottom SwageVintage Fayette R Plumb 2 3/4 Blacksmith Flatter Hammer Anchor Brand ScarceVintage Plumb Victory Half Hatchet Axe Hammer Polished Custom Handle Old ToolVintage Blacksmith Hammer Head Selection, Atha, Verona !!!Antique Woodworker Mallet Hammer . Early Piece. Nice Carving.Crispy Pristine Henry Cheney Nailer Nail Holding Hammer With Labels Vintage Bushing Toothed Hammer Lot, 3lb To 4lb, Stone Mason Masonry ToolBarnsley No.3 Size Snob Hammer Bookbinders Saddle Makers CobblersK L Blacksmith's Cutoff Hammer Head That Weighs 5 & 1/4 Pounds Snap On # Hbbd40 Ballpeen Hammer Deadblow 40 Oz Red Handle Used Good ConditionOld Hammer,daiku, Japanese,genno.teuchi.total Weight 1200g.Vintage Antique Early Brass Bronze Hammer Head W/ Claw Tomahawk Style Primitive3.75 Pound Hand Forged Cergol Bladesmith Forging HammerVintage Rare Cobblers Leatherworking Closers Hammer Vgc Old ToolVintage Flatter Style Hammer - Older Metalsmith Blacksmith Tool - Grt ConditionAntique Blacksmith Made Silversmith Coppersmith Raising Repousse Hammer ToolVintage Carpenters Adze Hammer Head - 4" Wide, 2 LbsVintage Antique Woodworking Woodcarving Mini Adze Axe Head, Chisel HammerAntique Maine Lobster Trap Builders Engraving Punches W/ Blacksmith Hammer ToolVintage Germantown Axe Hatchet Tomahawk Hammer Old Woodworking Farm ToolWwi Us Cavalry M1912 Farrier Tool Picket Pin Stake Spike Hammer Wrought Iron 10 Vintage Super Nice Ball Peen Hammer ToolsRare Usa!! ~ Vintage Antique Hammer Works ~ Blacksmith Cavalry Horseshoe NailingAntique Coopers Barrel Making Hammer Adze - Blacksmith Tool19c Blacksmith Tinsmith Antique Metal Form Hammer ToolVintage Plumb "homethrift" 16oz Claw Hammer W Permabound Handle, Patent PendingVintage Small Brass Ballpein Jeweler's Hammer W/ Rosewood Handle & Brass ScrewVintage Goldblatt Blacksmith Iron Working Hammer Head ToolBlacksmith Hatchet With Calvary Hammer Vintage Adze Hammer Woodworking Tool, 11'' Head, 1 5/8" Ends Rare Tool Lqqk!Vintage Nice Hubbard Blacksmith Hammer Tool. 4.3 Lbs2 Vintage Antique Blacksmith Hammer Punch Heads (only), ~mechanic Auto Body ToolVintage Temco No. 2 Copper Hammer Lot, 1-1/2 Lb HeadVintage Maydole Small Claw Hammer - Nice Tool !!!Vintage French Pattern Cobbler's Hammer - Extraordinary Old Antique Tool CobblerStilletto Titanium 18"poly/fiberglass Curved Handle Framing Hammer Slightly UsedUnusual Antique Usmc Double Faced Cobblers Leather Hammer Vintage Hammer Hatchet Diamond Edge ~ Shapleigh Hardware ~ Usa ~ Original HandleSmall Vintage Adze / Adz Hammer Nail PullerHeller Bros 7 Oz Straight Claw Hammer Original Handle Horse Trademark No ReserveVintage 12oz True Temper Vulcan Ball Pein Hammer Old Mechanic ToolVintage D. Maydole #3 8 Oz. Curved Claw Hammer