So many woodworkers resist using hammers, and I suspect it’s because they use one that’s more suited for framing a house or cracking walnuts. In browsing through old tool catalogs, it’s obvious that cabinetmakers in England and Europe preferred a kind of hammer that’s uncommon in hardware stores today.
We’ve been buying a lot of hammers lately from England, Australia and the flea markets and have been experimenting with different weights, sizes and patterns. One of the most useful patterns we’re finding are those that have a cross pane at the back instead of a nail-pulling claw , the claw hammer is the dominant pattern on this continent.
The cross pane is useful for starting nails properly. You can hold the nail up by its head and give it a couple knocks to get it started. Then you turn the hammer around and drive it home. This is an enormous advantage when you use cut nails, which will try to rotate in their holes. And the cross pane is good with brads, which are short and have to be held by their heads anyway.
You can still buy new hammers with a cross pane if you’re interested in experimenting with them yourself. Lee Valley Tools sells Warrington pattern hammers from Stanley and less-expensive Asian ones. The Stanley hammers have the properly shaped handles; the Asian ones need a little work to be comfortable (but for the price, they’re quite nice).
Of course, the right hammer is best used with the right nail and the right tool to remove your mistakes. And there’s one other essential tool that goes with the hammer that most people forget about. The gimlet. More on the gimlet later.
, Christopher Schwarz