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 Pexto #4 Auto Body Metal Work Metalsmith Planishing Hammer ToolTwo Snap-on Auto Body Hammers Bf 611 And Bf 604 Good Condition No Reserve2lb Jay Sharp Usa Farrier Blacksmith Rounding Hammer 1985 HorseshoeingHeavy Vintage Champion Farrier Blacksmith Rounding HammerHand Forged 3.5 Pound Cergol Blacksmiths Rounding HammerVintage Blacksmith 2 1/2" Flatter Hammer Head2lb Jay Sharp Farrier Blacksmith Rounding Hammer HorseshoeingVintage Tomahawk Ax Hatchet Picaroon Polished Custom Handle War Hammer Hook ReedVintage Roofing Axe Box Crate Hatchet Polished Custom Handle Old Hammer J Reed Unusual Old Hammer / Pick 11 OzVintage Tomahawk Ax Hatchet Picaroon Polished Custom Reed Handle War Hammer HookVintage Rounding Hammer Head In Good Condition Vintage Spike War Hammer Custom Baseball Bat Handle Biker Blacksmith 1% PicaroonVintage True Temper Flint Edge Axe Hatchet Hammer Custom Handle Jesse Reed Old Antique Hammer Head MoldHeller Auto Fender Hammer - Automobile Body Repair Hammer - Used Fender HammerAntique Cobbler Two-headed Cast Iron Hammer - Walnut Handle - Circa 1870Vintage Pair Axe Hatchet Hammer Heads, One Marked King Tool, One Unmarked4 Vintage Blacksmith Forging Tongs & One Old Hammer - Priced 2 SellVintage Spear & Jackson Sheffield 2 Lbs Cross Peen Hammer Solid Cast Steel LqqkVintage Blacksmith Sledge Hammer Polished Custom Baseball Bat Handle RoundingHand Forged 2 Pound Cergol Blacksmith Forging Planishing HammerVintage C S Osborne Upholsterer Leather Saddle Workers No. 5 Tack Hammer Vintage Blacksmith Simonds Polishing / Shaping Hammer HeadWoodworker's 6 Oz Cross Peen Pin HammerAntique & Vintage Lot Of 13 Ball Peen Blacksmithing Metalworking Hammer HeadsUnusual Long Headed Cleated Claw Hammer, 8 Oz Saddler's?, Cobblers?Vintage Double End Logging Log 'cp-29' Hammer Stamp Marker Canadian Pacific(?)Excellent Vintage Proto 1424 Auto Body Hammer W/original HandleWestern Saddle Horn Line Rider Tool Hammer Pick Cast Iron Fencing ToolVintage Small Cast Steel Jewellers Or Metal Smiths Hammer Old ToolVintage Chasing Repousse Hammer - Old Jewelers Silversmith ToolVintage Blacksmith Rounding Hammer HeadBlacksmith In Line Flatter Or Boiler Maker HammerVtg Tool Metal Hammer Proto 1428 Made In Usa Tinsmith Worker Auto Body Car Estate Old Vintage Lot Of 8 Cobbler Blacksmith ? Tacking Hammers Tools PartsCross Peen Blacksmith Hammer 2 Pound2 Blacksmith Punch Hammers Warren And TamcoVintage Unique Claw Hammer Marked H&m Gussstahl Head Strapped To Handle GermanyCobbler's Shoe Hammer 530g, 1 1/4 LbVintage Small Tack Hammer With Drop Claw Nice Little Tool Vintage Cobbler Hammer Special Type Brockton Mass Shoe CityD.maydole Cast Steel Finish Hammer Claw Head Good HandleBlacksmith Hammers?Large Vintage Blacksmith 2 1/2 Pound Cross Pein Hammer HeadAntique Old Leather Working Shoemaker Cobbler Iron Hammer Tool Marked No.5Vintage Blacksmith 1/4" Top Swage Hammer HeadBlacksmith Fuller Hammer HeadC S Oborne & Co No 5 Tack Hammer Cobbler Saddler Shoemaker Leather ToolCast Iron Saddle Horn Line Rider Tool Hammer Pick Ranch Fence ToolAntique Tools Hammer And Axe Wagon Tool 18th Century Atha Co.Heavy Traditional Wood Handled Claw Hammer 1 3/4 Lb Weight, VgcTim "the Tool Man" Allen Signature Tools Claw HammerJim Poor Flatland Forge Rounding 3lb Hammer New Never UsedHammacher Schlemmer & Co. Ny Piano Hammer Shank Roller Knurling ToolAntique Hammer / Screwdriver K24 Hamr-handl Crescent Tool Company / With BoxVintage Cross Peen, Club Hammer HeadsVintage True Temper Jet Rocket Single Bit Camping Hatchet Old Hammer Tool AxeLot Of 5 Old Antique Axe / Hammer Heads Old Vintage ToolsVintage Blacksmith Ken-tool Bead Buster Hammer Head