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Thread: Ball peen hammer handle tutorial

  1. #1
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    Ball peen hammer handle tutorial

    So what we have here is a perfectly good hammer head (actually I have a bunch but we'll get to that later).

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    What it's missing is a nice handle..

    So the first thing we do is try to get a kind of straight grained piece of wood. This is white oak, not as nice as hickory.. but we're converting the shorts pile into useful things (I can have a stack of useless shorts and a box of nice hammer heads I can't use.. or.. well the alternative is obvious). So we split a chunk off to follow the grain.

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    Next I put it on the lathe and make round. I think of a hammer handle of this type having 3 or maybe 4 distinct parts. The rear handle part, the run out towards the head and the spot where the head attaches. Between the handle and the runout there is another section that is where I grip the hammer when I'm "choking up" on it so I like a bit of a swell there as well. To get the head section correct I measure the WIDE portion of the hole in the hammer head (the hole will be oval and beveled narrower from one enf of the hole to the other with the narrowest end being the side towards where the handle attaches - to give myself some slack I measure the widest possible part of the hole).

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    Done with the lathe, same idea but somewhat more refined. I usually clean it up a little with a skew and stop there like I did with this one. We'll be doing a lot more shaping here in a couple of minutes. You can see I left a bit of a shoulder where the head attaches, I'll use that later.
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    Because the hole is oval we have to figure out how wide it is. There are a bunch of ways to do this, with most ball peen hammers they have "cheeks" on the side so setting it on the ground and giving it a good smack after lining it up carefully does a pretty good job. For hammer heads without cheeks I often put a little BLO on the end and then line it up and dust some chalk over it - the blo helps hold the chalk. And yes that is a bit of tear out on the side of the handle - no worries we'll take care of that later..
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    In any case now you cut off the sides of the cheeks. Leave it a little proud and cut down to the shoulder we left before and cut off the waste. Yeah you could rasp that all away but a saw is SO much faster. This is a nice little (~20" or so) panel saw I bought at a yard sale for a couple of bucks and re-filed rip. I have another about the same size my dad gave me filed cross cut; the plate is short enough that they actually are pretty stiff and a decent substitute for a back saw (I have a couple of small back saws but the length of the cheeks here are deeper than they'll cut - this saw works just as well).
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    Now shape the part where the head attaches. I hold the head up and put the handle behind it and start down through the hole to see where light does/does not show to see where to remove more material. When you get close put the head on a board and then line the handle up with it and give it one (only one) good wack. That will mark the wood like this and let you know where to finish refining it. Make sure its pretty even all the way down this section, and you want it pretty snug.
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    Now we make the whole handle oval. I like to take a bit more off of the narrow section than the grabbing part. This gives the hammer some bounce and flex and lightens the handle, as well as making it nice to grip. You might have noticed that I'd left the square chunk on the end, well this is why. I start with a rasp (actually one of the iwasaki carving files - I love that thing) and then move to a finer wood file afterwards. Rough and then refine.. repeat if needed.
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    Here is a side by side of the side vs top views courtesy of my Macs "fantastic" built in photo editing tools. Hopefully gets the idea across anyway. Go ahead and cut the square piece off of the end now as well.
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    Now cut the wedge slot in the handle where the head goes. I don't cut all the way to the shoulder, but leave maybe 3/16" - 1/4" of solid wood; this helps keep it from splitting down into the handle when you drive the wedge.
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    Continued in the next post...

  2. #2
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    Now we drive the handle on. The "best" way to do this is to hold the hammer like I am below and strike the top of the handle with a mallet. Check carefully after every blow and make sure you aren't pealing wood back. Only drive to the shoulder, and be careful to stop as it touches otherwise you'll split the shoulder back. I should have mentioned earlier that I beveled the shoulder a little before I did this as well.
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    Not shown but cut any wood sticking out the top of the head off.

    Make a wedge. The wedge should be just as wide as the slot is and of as hard of or a harder wood than the handle. I'm using lyptus because it splits nicely and is very hard. This is my patented small piece of wood splitting technique. I made the square headed dogs on the lathe, they're useful for all sorts of stuff. Pare the entry part of the wedge so that the edge is thin but bevels back fairly fast so its strong.
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    Now drive the wedge it. Don't hammer on it, but tap it in slowly. Once it gets hard to drive cut it off with 1/8" - 1/4" left sticking out and then drive that it (shorter wood is stronger wood).
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    And we're done. Top and side comparison to an older commercial handle.
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    A selection of sizes, how very nice. I still need to finish some of the handles. I've just been using a few coats of BLO on these.
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  3. #3
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    Nice! So I have this wooden handled claw hammer I love. Fits well, but the desert has so dried out the wood, the head is loose. It has the metal wedge in it. Dismantle and make a wooden wedge? Any other suggestions from a master hammer maker?
    ++++++

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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carol Reed View Post
    Nice! So I have this wooden handled claw hammer I love. Fits well, but the desert has so dried out the wood, the head is loose. It has the metal wedge in it. Dismantle and make a wooden wedge? Any other suggestions from a master hammer maker?
    Hah, lets not get too carried away I've maybe made a 3 dozen in my life so that last picture would be close to 10%+- of my lifetime production.

    I'm going to take a semi-educated guess and say that its likely that the metal wedge was driven in cross wise (or more likely at an angle) like the one in the picture below. If that's the case there is a wooden wedge going front-back that was driven in first. The metal wedge then splits this and holds it in place as well as (somewhat) wedging the handle more in place front-back.
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    If you really like the handle.. my first try would be to put the hammer head down into a can of BLO mixed with Mineral Spirits (or pure gum turpentine) mix overnight and see if that swells the wood enough to solve the problem. Anything more invasive has a non zero chance of breaking the handle (might be low, but I tried to fix the one handle I thought was still good on these and it snapped like a dry twig when I clamped it to try and get the wedge out - granted that one was probably ~75+ years old so ymmv).

    If that fails I'd try to get ahold of the metal wedge with a pair of end nippers and pull it then drive another small wooden wedge in the same way I put the wedge in the tutorial above and then drive a smaller wooden wedge in to mostly fill the hole left by the metal wedge and finally re-drive the metal wedge back in on top of that.

    If you can't get the metal wedge out easily I'd simply drive some wooden wedges in fore and aft of it alongside the wooden wedge where I pointed at with the arrows above.

    If the metal wedge is front-back (which is less common but I have seen a few claw hammers like that so not ruling it out) again I'd probably try to pull it first and then put a shim in along side it and drive it back in. Failing it being easy to pull, "simply" drive another wedge in alongside it. If you can't get a wooden wedge to go in a short piece of scrap iron ground to have one sharp edge works as a metal wedge (that's what I used in the hammer shown here). I simply cut it to width with a hacksaw and then grabbed it with a pair of vise grips and ground the one edge sharp on the grinder and then cut it to length. It doesn't have to be super long, maybe 1/2 the total length of the hole in the hammer.

  5. #5
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    Great tutorial, Ryan. I'll put a copy of it over in the Tips & Tutorials subforum.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan Mooney View Post
    Hah, lets not get too carried away I've maybe made a 3 dozen in my life...
    I strongly suspect you've made maybe 3 dozen more than the rest of us. That makes you a Master as far as I'm concerned.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

    workingwoods.com

  6. #6
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    Thanks for the show and tell Ryan. And thanks to Vaughn for copying it over to the T&T. Our Knowledge Base continues to grow.
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  7. #7
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    Ryan, if you prefer the "flat sided" feel to a hammer handle instead of the round and don't want to use the rasp you can do this on your lathe. Find center on both ends, then mark on the left and right of center at each end a mark that is (random number here) 1/4" to each side. Then if you want the handle portion slab sided turn that end first. You will have to turn the left of center marks then the right of center marks until the size you prefer. Then by putting it back to the center marks you can turn the upper portion if you prefer it round. It is weird to see and interesting to watch it turn out, my students are always amazed when we do off center turning. Nice tutorial by the way.
    Jon

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  8. #8
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    Excellent tutorial! I've never made a hammer handle but I've put on a few ready made ones.
    I'd like to add...as a last step, after installing the metal wedge and smoothing everything out, stand the hammer or axe or whatever, in a bowl with a little bit of boiled linseed oil (BLO). Let it stay there for a few days. It'll soak up the BLO, keep it from drying out and the handle will stay tight for years. I have several hammers I did this to over 20 years ago and they're still tight.

    Just my 2 cents.
    "When the horse is dead....Get Off!"

  9. #9
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    Good info here... I have a small sledge, maybe a 3 pounder that's been missing a handle for years... might give this tutorial a run in the near future.
    Thanks for posting.
    Chuck
    Tellico Plains, TN
    https://www.etsy.com/shop/TellicoTurnings
    My parents taught me to respect my elders, but it's getting harder and harder to find any.
    If you go looking for trouble, it will usually find you.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan Shively View Post
    Ryan, if you prefer the "flat sided" feel to a hammer handle instead of the round and don't want to use the rasp you can do this on your lathe. Find center on both ends, then mark on the left and right of center at each end a mark that is (random number here) 1/4" to each side. Then if you want the handle portion slab sided turn that end first. You will have to turn the left of center marks then the right of center marks until the size you prefer. Then by putting it back to the center marks you can turn the upper portion if you prefer it round. It is weird to see and interesting to watch it turn out, my students are always amazed when we do off center turning. Nice tutorial by the way.

    Yeah I meant to mention that but it didn't make it from my head to my hands. I find it somewhat easier to control the oval curve by hand afterwards partially because I like the feel of a variable oval from the rear of the handle (less) towards the head (more) and partially because my off center turning skills seriously need practice I'm pretty sure if I practiced some I could get the shape I wanted, but it only takes about 5 minutes with a rasp so I haven't been that motivated. If you were doing a bunch its probably well worth learning (and had I actually counted how many hammer heads I had before I started.. ).

    I was planning to try some of these for presents later in the year: http://www.davidreedsmith.com/articl...ntrictrees.htm

    Joe - I'll +1 the BLO soak, I have a tub I used to soak finish some other stuff I've been using on these. The two things I'd add are to submerge the head (or you can end up with a dried blo mark on the meta) and to make sure you wipe off the hammer head good when you take it out or it will dry a bit gunky (the small amount of blo residue protects the metal as well), but that is mostly a cosmetic issue easily fixed with a mineral spirits or turpentine wipe.

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