Canadian Woodworking
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Hammer time!

Blog by Rob Brown
hang it high

All woodworkers love tools. Sometimes, I think many of us love woodworking tools more than the actual woodworking.

I like tools that will make my job easier and faster as well as those that are beautiful and fun to use. Other tools I enjoy reaching for are those that I’ve inherited. I have a decent set of hand tools I got from my dad, who got them from his dad, and I like imagining my grandfather using some of these tools to build furniture and homes in the Lake of Bays area of central Ontario between the 1920s and 1960s.

I also like some of the tools I’ve made over the years. They range from ones that are incredibly basic and utilitarian to those that are somewhat fancy and maybe even over-engineered. Thankfully, they’re mainly in the former category, because “form follows function” is a saying I can get behind.

When great worlds collide

To the best of my knowledge, I have only one tool I inherited from my father that was also made by him. This little gem, a small hammer now hanging in my main tool chest, has the basic shape of a claw hammer, but the claw portion is virtually useless. If the word “claw” refers to the curved portion of a hammer that’s opposite the “face” of the hammer, then there’s only a single “finger” that makes up the claw on the hammer my father made. Typically, the claw of a hammer is made up of two fingers. (I’m just making up this nomenclature, so if you know what it’s really called, please let me know. Prongs? Not sure.) They allow the user to remove a nail when it’s positioned between the two fingers and the hammer is levered to force the nail upwards.

This claw might provide a small amount of mass to make driving home larger nails easier, but to be honest, this hammer’s size makes it pretty obvious that larger nails aren’t on its menu. I’m guessing the mass and location of the claw would also help keep the hammer from rotating when it strikes a nail. But the design of this claw is missing the main purpose of the claw’s shape, and that’s to remove nails between the two fingers.

Never thought of it

When I first saw this hammer in my father’s toolbox decades ago, I noticed the strange one-fingered claw, but I never thought to ask my dad about it, or about the general design of the hammer. Sadly, my dad’s not around to ask him about his hammer today. The only thing I know about it is that my dad made it in machine shop class when he was in high school, about 60 years ago.

I use the hammer for lighter tasks, mainly for driving in small tacks and nails. I sometimes use it to drive in glued, fluted dowels or Dominos. It’s nice knowing where it came from and it’s hard not to think of my dad for a moment when I reach for this hammer.

Reader’s letter

Not long ago I got a letter from a reader asking about the hammer. It had appeared in a photo of me taping in a Domino tenon on a floor lantern I made and wrote about in our Dec/Jan 2019 issue, “Build a Modern Floor Lantern.

In your article “Build a Modern Floor Lantern” there is a photo of you gluing in Dominoes, and I noticed the hammer you were using. In high school in the early 1970s I made the identical hammer in my machine shop class. I’m curious where your hammer came from and if we might share a common high school education. I went to high school in Hanover, Ontario.

Herb D.

I replied to Herb, telling him that it was my father who made the hammer, also in his high school shop class and around the same time, but I didn’t have any other information about it. It’s easy to imagine this design was commonplace in high school machine shops across the province, maybe even across Canada or beyond. Thinking about it a bit more, I could see that the design would have been much more complex if the claw included two fingers, as opposed to the single finger. That could very likely be the reason this claw design was adopted.

Info, anyone?

I’m putting this question out to all of you now. Have you seen this type of hammer before? Have you made this type of hammer in a high school machine shop class? Or maybe there’s someone out there who taught high school machine shop and had to supervise a couple dozen rookie machine shop students as they each made a hammer. If you were a machine shop teacher back then, and just want to put that traumatic and dangerous experience behind you, I understand. On the other hand, if anyone can enlighten me on the history of this hammer, I’m all ears.

I’d love to not only learn how widespread this hammer design is, but also see some photos of these hammers today. I’ll share any photos I get in future columns. I’d also be happy to share any stories or memories I get, as long as that’s okay with those who connect with me.

Hang It High

This hammer was made by my father in his high school machine shop class about 60 years ago.

hang it high

A Good Size

At about 9" long and 4" wide, this hammer is a good size for tasks that don’t require a lot of force.

A Good Size

Unique Claw

The claw on the hammer my father made only has one “finger”

Unique Claw

Past Article

This image was included in the modern floor lamp article I wrote in 2019.

Past Article
Published:
Last modified: July 14, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

9 Comments

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  2. I made the same hammer in (I would guess) grade 10 in 1970ish in Ontario as well. It was a wonderful learning project because every feature on the hammer was graded. I can remember the teacher measuring everything as it progressed throughout the year with his micrometer or calipers and for every thou you were off points were deducted. It was a tough project for a kid never having used machinery. Lathe, shaper, and a lot of hand work. The project included knurling of the handle which had to be just so, not too sharp but sharp enough for a nice grip judged by the teacher. Turning threads on the handle in the lathe to fit (I assume) the tapped threads in the head, heating and bending the claw and blackening the steel etc. etc. I still have it. Even though I went into electronics as a career those skills lead to my hobby in later life. Kids these days are really missing something without shop classes.

  3. I am wondering if this could be a shoemaker’s hammer for driving small nails to fasten leather soles to work boots.

  4. It actually looks like a mason’s hammer, for brick and block work. Could also double as a prospector/geologist hammer. Also, the welder reference is right on, though welder’s hammer are even more pointed…to knock the slag off..neat stuff all the same. Our shop made an aluminum double ended nylon tipped hammer. I LOVED shop!!

  5. My guess is that your dad made a tool for welding and brazing, the single curved end used for chipping off loose weld spatter and/or hardened flux left after brazing.

  6. My brother’s and I all made a version of this hammer in 1970’s metal tech classes. We had 4 versions to choose from , one was a small ball pean for riveting, one was a small cross pean for adjusting jigs, athird one was two convex faces for setting roll pins and the forth one had the bent claw and was used for upholstery work. Only the best one got the option of the fourth style. My youngest brother was assigned that one as his challenge. He ended up being a tool & die maker as well as a millwright in a nuke power plant. I made the cross peen and work as a heavy machinery mechanic. The other two I’ve forgotten but they’re engineers.

  7. I made one in shop class. Back then I was the only girl in the class…and I kicked butt…lol. we called it a tack hammer. The “claw” actually works to take the tacks out.

  8. I use a similar hammer when welding. After running a bead of weld I tap it with the curved end. This causes the poorly bonded metal to break off so that you can then run another bead or modify your welding process.

  9. Your father’s hammer may not have been meant for woodworking. I’ve seen shoe makers use a similar hammer for applying tacks into crevasses. As a high school machine shop project, it’s a good choice – challenging but not complex enough to exceed the school year.

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