Those old enough to remember, the term hammertime came from a song by MC Hammer in 1990, ‘U Can’t Touch This‘. Hammertime was also a reality TV show featuring MC Hammer and his family. Anyway, this story has nothing to do with MC Hammer and, if you haven’t already guessed it, it’s about hammers. Where would the world be without the hammer? Even the wheel probably wouldn’t have eventuated without a hammer to form, shape and put together the first wheel. Over time, hammers evolved into a myriad of shapes, sizes, materials and forms to suit the task at hand, from delicate nailing of shoes, to breaking rocks (and some nasty things in between). They also became somewhat more hand friendly over time.
Most people that I know have at least one hammer in their possession (even if they don’t realise it) and the idea for another irreverent story came about when I was searching for something (Google search that is) and I came across a site about hammers. That got me wondering about how many hammers I own, and I knew it was a few, so I went ferreting in my shed to find out what existed. I’m certain that my collection is tiny compared to what some may own, but I found it a pretty interesting exercise nonetheless. The most ‘petite’ hammer that I have is like a miniature version of a carpenter’s claw hammer (the handle is less than 140mm long), which is useful for things like tacks and picture nails, but not much more. It’s certainly a far cry from my regular claw hammer which has done a lot of serious nailing over the years.
The next most common hammer is possibly the ball peen or engineer’s hammer. These are predominantly used to shape metal, for striking punches, chisels and the like and wherever heavy duty use is required, and are found in every engineering workshop. The metal used for ball peen hammers is slightly different to that found in claw hammers and thus is more suited for pounding metal or striking hard metal tools without fracturing. You can see that my main ball peen hammer has had a fair few hits and misses (it really needs a new handle, though it still feels quite strong but isn’t used much nowadays), and is something left over from my days working in an engineering firm. The second ball peen, while it looks almost the same size, is much smaller (a 75mm vs 120mm long head) and is something left over from my father’s tool chest.
Another very common hammer forms the group called the mallet or, as some call the steel ones, club hammers and their big brothers sledge hammers. These are usually associated with heavy duty work that requires a lot of brute force, but they can also be used in lighter duties such as panel beating, stone and wood carving, and even meat tenderising. Mallets come in all shapes, sizes and materials; wood (for stone masonry, carpentry and kitchen use), rubber, hide and plastic (for sheet metal, wood and other similar tasks), aluminium, lead, brass and copper mallets (to reduce damage to objects being struck and especially to avoid setting off sparks) and steel (for serious pounding). Each mallet is designed for specific purposes and industries. You’ll note that I prefer to ‘fix’ things rather than just throw them away.
An often forgotten hammer is the slide hammer, which is an especially useful tool for removing seized bearings and the like. Slide hammers will be found in just about any garage or similar workshop where you encounter seized objects where you can’t get access with regular tools. Slide hammers are also often used by panel beaters and car restorers for pulling out dents and they come in numerous styles and sizes for different types of tasks. Instead of hitting the seized object, you attach it to the seized object and then slide the hammer (the round, grey object in the photo) in the opposite direction where it hits the stop and hopefully dislodges whatever is seized. This kit saved me a lot of money a while back when a bearing failed and caused it to seize inside the wheel hub.
And then there are groups of tools that are primarily designed for another purpose, but ostensibly also incorporate the function of a hammer, such as fencing pliers. One such tool, or set of tools, is the pry or wrecking bar. These bars come in a variety of sizes and, while not all have a hammer style head incorporated into the body, a number of them do. Even though some have a very noticeable hammer head, they aren’t primarily designed for hammering, but being a wrecking bar you sometimes need to hammer things in order to free them.
And finally, being in a rural area, one of the most common items used are star pickets and for that you need a special hammer, if you want to make things easy on yourself. And that hammer is generally called a post driver. The post driver is a very simple tool, but makes the task of hammering in star pickets and even timber stakes, without damaging the heads, so much faster and easier. In some ways it’s another slide hammer that works in reverse, but designed to do one specific job only, drive posts into the ground. This is one tool that you’ll find in just about every farm shed.
There are also many other types of hammers that I’ve left out, simply because I don’t have them, or no longer have one, like a welder’s hammer. I’m not sure what this all proved, but it was an interesting exercise collating my small arsenal of hammers. There are many others about, especially nowadays with electric and other mechanical, hydraulic etc, hammers available, but this is more a snapshot of what resides in my shed and home. I wonder how my list compares to what’s found in other people’s sheds and homes? It also shows how far we’ve come from those early days of using rocks.