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]

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]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Nice Vintage Peddinghaus 44oz. French Cross Pein Blacksmith HammerBig Blu, ”hofi" Style Blacksmith Hammer.Blacksmith Vintage Cross Peen Hammer, 1950'sBlacksmith/farrier Rounding/nailing Hammers And Other ToolsUnusual Vintage 22 Oz Square Head 14" Cross Peen-pein Hammer Worth A L00k Blacksmith Vintage Cross Peen Hammer, Very Early VintageVintage Proto No. 1427 Auto Body Hammer10 Vintage Hammers Various Hammers Tools Old Hammers Woodworking Tools Hammer7 Oz Long & Narrow Metal Forming HammerBlacksmith Rounding Hammer 2.5# (hand Forged By Coal Township Forge)Dixon # 26 Ball Pein Hammer-germany-silversmith/jewelers/blacksmith-free Us ShipVintage 1 7/8 Lb Farriers Hammer W/ Original Handle Nice ConditionVintage Atha Small Flatter Hammer, 2" Square, 1 Lb 5 Oz, Blacksmith Metalworking8 Vintage Blacksmith / Ball Peen HammersVintage 48oz Blacksmith Cross Peen Hammer Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat Handle Vintage Blacksmith 5 Small Or All Purpose HammersBlacksmith Hammers?Vintage Atha Blacksmith Cross Peen HammerTire Tumper Biker Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Ash Baseball Bat Handle Vintage Proto No. 1425 Auto Body HammerOld Used Machinist Mechanics Tools Fine Hammer Berylco BronzeLot Of 8 Vintage Hammer Heads Ball Peen, Square, Cross Peen, Double Faced SledgeProto 1424 Auto Body/tinsmith/jeweler HammerAntique Heller Bros Co Blacksmith Rounding Hammer Head Farrier Flat & Round FaceMixed Hammers Lot Ball Peen+ Gunsmith, Blacksmith, Auto, Machinist Trw Rocket+Small Tap Hammer / Yon-bun-no-ichi Zuchi / Japanese / VintageLot X10 Vtg Claw Hammers Stanley Dunlap Plumb 20 Oz True Temper Wood Handles Dixon Jewelry Making Raising Hammer Mint Hardly Used Low Start & No ReserveVery Nice Small Long Handled Straight Pein HammerVintage Blacksmith 2 Cross Peen HammersVintage Heller Bros Horse Logo 12 Oz. Cross Pein Peen Hammer Made In UsaVintage Proto No.1383 Soft Face Machinist's Hammer Mallet Octagonal Handle Nice5.6 Oz Cresent Shaped Metal Forming Hammer15.7 Oz Metal Forming HammerYerkes & Plumb Anchor Marked Top Swage Blacksmith Hammer-mining Tool-mining ToolVintage Cheney Adze Hammer No.777 Wood Bowl Chair Seat Carving Tool Clean L@@k Vintage Bell System Blacksmith Cross Peen HammerVtg True Temper Jet Rocket B16r Rip Hammer Bluegrass Fiberglass Lot X2 NiceAntique Tack Hammer Tack Puller Staple Puller Cobbler Leather Upholstery WorkerVintage Belknap Bluegrass Louisville, Ky Claw Hammer Head 16oz Collectible ToolVintage Unknown Maker Minaiture Or Small Hammer Tack Hammer W/wooden Handle Vintage Auto Body/tinsmith/jeweler HammerVintage Usa 3/8" Square Tapered Drift Punch Blacksmith Body Hammer Unique L@@k Vintage Blacksmith Biker Ball Peen Hammer Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat Handle Vintage Hartwell Hickory Vacuum Cup Auto Body Hammer Weighs 12oz.Vintage Early Pattern 8 Oz Cross Peen HammerVintage Hart Framer 25 Oz Framing Hammer Forged In Usa 16'' Hart Hickory HandleVintage Blue Rapids, Ks Coal Hammer Phone 24Rare, Very Small Watchmakers Hammer By Lucien Hugoniot-tissotRare! W & R W&r Blacksmith Farrier Hammer 7 ½ LbsProto 1424 Auto Body/tinsmith/jeweler HammerVintage Rock Stone Prospector Hammer Or PickVintage Klein & Logan Club Hammer Or Sledge - 10 Lb Blacksmith Hammer Head Vintage Lot Of Blacksmith And Metal Workers HammersVintage Lot Of 5ball Peen Hammer Heads Blacksmith Autobody Machinist ToolsStanley Replacement Tips For Soft Face Hammers Nos.Bookbinding Hammer - #3 Nice58.5 Oz Hot Cutoff HammerVintage Stanley Tools Unusual 8 Oz. Hammer Tack Hammer W/ Hickory Handle Very Nice Vintage Cheney Nail Holding Hammer-great Label-instructions-