Making a Workbench Hammer

A Stubby Hammer from a $4 Ball Peen

Yeah, I need another hammer like I need another hole in my head.  But sometimes ya just gotta do what ya gotta do!  I didn't know it, but apparently all these years I've needed a stubby hammer specifically for keeping close at hand on the workbench - and the time had come to get one.  But why buy a stubby hammer when one could make a stubby hammer!

The Idea (clearly not original to me!)

This whole thing came from a Youtuber I've mentioned before, Scoutcrafter.  The guy is a kind of guru of restoring tools, talking about tools, collecting tools - a tool guy!  Now, I can tell you all about it, and take you through every step, but really - you should check out his video - just come back when you're done!

What it all comes down to is - sometimes it's nice to have a short-handled hammer that's nimble and easy to use with lights tasks, and for me, that's perfect for having on the workbench.  A tap here, a rap there, no real heavy blows and no need to choke up on the handle.  Perfect idea!

My Amazon Find

After seeing Scoutcrafter's video I started looking around for a ball peen hammer.  I didn't want to cut up my ball peen, it's one of those things I've had for a couple decades so I've grown an irrational attachment to it.  My past few visits to The Tool Shed I saw an old ball peen hammer on the rack, but it was a bit too small for what I wanted.  After a few weeks, off to Amazon I went, and here's what I found:

And all that for less than $20!  The great thing is - this set gave me a total of four handles to mess up if need be!

But It Wasn't All Sunshine And Roses

Like whatever percentage of American shoppers, I've grown to love Amazon.  Sure you can buy just about anything with them, and delivery gets faster and faster, but the thing I really appreciate is their customer service.  Over the years I've had to return 4 or 5 items, usually due to my own error, and Amazon's even made that process simple.  The ball peen hammers I ordered came from China so, as with most things made in China, I didn't have particularly high expectations.  

Hickory wood is hard, stiff, dense and shock resistant. There are woods stronger than hickory and woods that are harder, but the combination of strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness found in hickory wood is not found in any other commercial wood.  It is used for tool handles, pickaxe handles, bows, wheel spokes, carts, drumsticks, lacrosse stick handles, golf club shafts, the bottom of skis, walking sticks, and for punitive use as a switch (like hazel), and especially as a cane-like hickory stick in schools and use by parents. Paddles are often made from hickory. - Wikipedia entry

But when this shipment arrived I was pleased with the quality of the hammer heads themselves.  The handles that were already on the heads were a little cheap feeling, but the extra handles seemed pretty good.  They kinda look like oak, but they should be hickory - you never know.  I chose one of the two hammers to be my project hammer, and the reason this one was chosen might be obvious:

Yep, it came with the handle cracked (in all directions) and ill fitted in the hole.  If I wasn't already planning on cutting a handle, I would certainly have been returning to Amazon!  

Mr. Teittleman: Do you have a daughter, Mr. Soprano?
Tony Soprano: Yes. Call me Tony.
Mr. Teittleman: What would you do if your daughter was abused by her husband?
Tony Soprano: I'd talk to him.
Silvio Dante: Yeah, in "Ball Peen Hammer". - The Sopranos

Lemons to Lemonade

The original plan was to simply cut down the handle on a hammer, smooth it out and wha-la - done!.  When my new ball peens arrived in the condition they were in, it dawned on me that I have never hung a hammer head on a handle.  So, as it turned out, that handle being so mashed up was a good thing.  And into the vise it went...

Before we go much further, let me add a little diagram for clarity as we go through this post:

Removal and Prep

I don't know why they call putting a handle on a hammer head "hanging a hammer" but there it is - that's what they call it.  The first step was to get the handle off the hammer head.  Funny thing is, as mashed up as the handle in the eye was, that handle gave me a battle.  I had to start out with the drill...

And believe it or not, because I didn't cut the handle off because I wanted to reuse it, it took all these tools to remove the handle - total amateur!

As I mentioned, besides the two handles previously affixed to the hammer heads, my Amazon order came with two additional handles.  The next step then, was to cut a kerf into one of those additional handles.  

That kerf is where you drive in a wedge that tightens the head onto the handle. Cutting the kerf took just a few strokes with my back saw. But before I actually hung the hammerhead, I removed the finish from the handle.  Now, I years past I would have sanded and sanded, and then when it was almost done - sand some more.  No more, I tell you!  Something else I learned from ol' John over at Scoutcrafter was to use a razor blade to take the varnish off the handle.  Brilliant!  It took less than five minutes to get the handle down to bare wood.  Wish I learned that one a long time ago!

Less Than Subtle Segue

I've always been a fan of Westerns, and so is my dad.  When I was a kid, we always watched Bonanza and The Big Valley, among others.  Hoss on Bonanza was dad's favorite and I still remember dad being a bit saddened when Dan Blocker (Hoss) died in 1972.  And The Big Valley...well in all my years I only ever heard dad comment on 3 women - mom, Angie Dickinson, and Barbara Stanwyck - the matriarch of the Barkley clan.  Interesting note - Stanwyck is one of my favorites too, having starred in some of my favorite Christmas movies.

Okay, I've strayed somewhat afield but the whole point of this is that usually when I hear the word 'hang' my mind's eye immediately conjures the the poster for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - one of the all time great westerns!  I'm also a fan of both True Grit movies!

Well, like I said - I have no idea the etymology of the phrase hanging a hammer, but isn't it fun to consider the way our minds associate such odd things sometimes?  Back to the hammer...

It's Hangin' Time!

After getting the original handle off the hammer head, it was at long last time to put on the new handle.  Believe it or not, it took every one of these tools to get that head mounted on the handle...

After trimming the neck to the right size for the eye of the hammer head, my wooden mallet turned out to be the most useful of the tools for driving the handle into the eye.  Keeping in mind Newton's first law of physics that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion and bodies not in motion tend to stay not in motion, I used my wooden mallet to drive the head on by repeatedly striking the bottom of the handle.  And when I say repeatedly I mean to say it took countless strokes of as much force as I could accurately deliver to get the handle driven up through the eye.  Oh - I mentioned accurately for a reason - one of those blows missed its target and found a place to stop anyway...right on my thumb!

One of the ways to see that the head is seating well on the hammer is when you see wood curling up at the bottom of the head.  The wood curls are fairly small so I pointed it out in the picture above. 

 After the head was seated solidly on the handle it was time for the wedges.  The first was the poplar wedge which I learned after this was done, should have been inserted on the wide axis of the handle.  But hey - as long as it works right?  After the wooden wedge was in, I put in the metal wedge.  Let me tell you - that head is on there tight!

From there it's just been a matter of applying a few drops of boiled linseed oil to the top of the handle.  Conventional wisdom is that on a newly hung hammer, you do this daily for a week, weekly for a month, monthly for a year and yearly from then on.  The oil helps to keep the hickory handle from contracting, making the head loosen.  The final step was to cut the handle to length.  I found the sweet spost on the hand, then cut it about an inch and a half below my hand, taking about 5" off.  This picture makes obvious the length of my new hammer!

Habitat and Uses

So like I said in the beginning of this post, I needed wanted a stubby hammer to just knock around with on the work bench.  It'll mostly be used for closing paint cans or persuading stubborn parts on whatever project I might be working on.  Here's the hammer in its natural habitat...

Sorry the bench is a bit messy, but I find it difficult to keep straight in the middle of a project.  So that's the story of my stubby bench hammer.  Of course you may be asking - what did I do with the second hammer?  Well, stay tuned to the same bat channel!

Thanks for stopping by!
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