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]



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    

Douglas Framming Hammer 23ozRare Vintage Double Claw Hammer George Voight ?? Jack Tool Tools Nail Puller Vintage Piston Tire Tumper Biker Fish Club Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Handle Patriot Usa 21 0z Framing Hammer The Hart Tool Co 9-11 Edition Collectible ItemMachinist Tools Lathe Mill Machinist Lot Of Jewelers Blacksmith Hammers MalletsBlacksmith Biker Coconut Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat HandleVintage Lowe Camp Interalp Salewa Big Wall Climbing Rock Piton HammerVintage H. D. Smith "perfect Handle" Ball Peen Hammer, 1907 Patent, 19 Oz.-Rare Sawyers Dog Head Hammer 6.5 Lb.blacksmith,blade Smith,arm & Hammer Logo Nr Blacksmith Biker Coconut Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Baseball Bat HandleVintage 40 Oz Blacksmith Ball Peen Hammer Custom Jesse Reed Rosewood Handle Blacksmith Biker Coconut Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Johnny Law HandleSnap-on Collectible Big Hammer Demo/display OnlyVintage Perfect Handle Tool Lot ~ Ball Peen Hammer Screwdriver Tire Iron Wrench~*~estate Find~*~ Antique Decorative Ornamental HammerOld Cast Bronze Figural Goat Hammer Head~ Tool For Opening/closing Cigar Boxes Vintage Blacksmith/sawyer's Bladesmith "dog Head" Saw Hammer Excellent!Paschall (p&c 1302) 2 Ounce Ball Peen Hammer Original HandleVintage Blacksmith Sledge Hammer Maul , Bikers Buddy, Hammer No Mercy 14 Lb Made In Usa Bowling BallVintage Hercules Usa Hammer Nail Remover Pliers Wire Cutters Multi Tool Rare.Blacksmith Biker Coconut Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Beaded Style HandleFive Antique Small HammersBlacksmith Biker Coconut Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Beaded Style HandleJapanese Hammer/ryoguchi Genno 375g By Tenryu Vintage Tools Wrenches, Stanley Level And Bevel,cobblers Hammers Lot Of 8 6 Vintage Sledge Cross Pein Blacksmith Hammer LotBroom Makers HammerL136- Lot Of Vintage Ball Pein Peen Hammers - Blacksmith HammersTire Tumper Biker Fish Hammer Tool Custom Jesse Reed Johnny Law Stick Handle Keen Kutter Small Hammer With Original Handle4.5 Cross Pein Hammer On A 16" Hickory Handle Hand Forged By Jay Nickell DesignL131- Lot Of Vintage Brass Hammers - Berylco, Ampco, Etc No Spark Claw Ball PeinVintage Small Ball Peen Hammer . Jeweler Machinist Gunsmith Head Wt. 1 Oz.Old Hammer Panel Beating Metal Working Hammer Vintage Tool Vtg Blacksmith Pexto Raising Hammer Blacksmithing Swage Swaging Autobody JewelerVintage Cross Twist Face Saw Filer Machinist Sawsmith Blacksmith Hammer - 5 Lb.Ebony Handle For Japanese HammerAntique Vintage Cobbler Shoemaker French Style Hammer Marked Usmc 2 40Vintage Porter Ferguson Rh-10 Fender Bumping Roughing Out Auto Body Hammer HeadOld Primitive Blacksmith Hammer~dixon Germany~#21~raising~tree Branch HandleVintage Blacksmith Hammer With Anchor Logo 2 Lb 8 OzHercules Fence Master Tool Fencing Pliers Hammer RareVintage Blacksmith Rounding Hammer , Graybar **nice Shape**Nice Vintage Forming Hammer Jewelers Silversmith Instrument Tool Approx 8 3/8 InVintage Forming Hammer - Old Jewelers Silversmith Instrument Tool Approx 7.5Nice Vintage Forming Hammer - Old Jewelers Silversmith Instrument Tool Approx 8Vtg Blacksmith Swaging Hammer W/ Link Star Handle Salem, In Blacksmithing SwageVintage Blacksmith Warren 5/8" Punch HammerVintage Stone Mason Rock Spalling Hammer Head Lot 14lb Quikwerk 6lb True TemperVintage 14b Blacksmith Straightpein Striker Forging Hammer HeadVtg Belknap Bluegrass Hardware Claw Hammer / Bg47r-18 (b 41)Antique Cobbler Multi Purpose Tool. Punch-pliers- Hammer Etc. Leominter Mass.L134 - Lot Of Antique Vintage Hammers - Blacksmith, Machinist, Etc. Japanese Hammer/ryoguchi Genno 300g Made With Copper By KondoVtg "warren" Blacksmith "hole Punch?" Hammer Blacksmithing Swage Peining?Blacksmith / Machinist HammersVintage Dixon Germany 000 Silversmith Tinsmith Jeweler Hammer 10" Tool W 3" HeadRidgid 18oz Left Handed Cushion Grip Claw HammerNice 9" Vintage *tack Master* Usa 5 Oz Upholstery Claw Tack Hammer -worth A L00k