In Shop Blog, Techniques

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I noticed the head on my trusty Hamilton hammer was loose last weekend as I was driving a bunch of nails (good thing I have an extra hammer or two). This morning I decided to do something about it.

Conventional wisdom is that the head works loose because of the shock that the tool is subjected to daily. Sounds conventional. Sounds wise. But R. Bruce Hoadley, author of “Understanding Wood,” claims otherwise. He says it is the continuous cycle of seasonal expansion and contraction that results in the handle shrinking out.

In either case, the fix is the same in my shop. First I probe around in the head to find an area of the handle that I’m certain is wood. I’m going to be driving a chisel down there, so I don’t want any metallic surprises.

The adze eye here is 1/2″ wide, so I need a wedge that is that same width.

Make a Wedge
I tighten up my heads with wooden wedges. You can buy metal ones at the store, but I have lots of wood. I scrounged up a piece of 1/2″-thick maple (ash, oak or hickory are all good choices as well). Then I crosscut off a piece about 3/4″ long.

I created the wedge on the band saw. I have a little sled that presents the wood to the blade at 7Ã?° (you can set your saw’s miter gauge and attach an auxiliary fence if you like). You cut one end of your stock, flip it and cut the other. The result is a wedge with a 14Ã?° taper. Make a bunch of wedges and find the one that comes to the finest point.

Chisel Down
Fetch a 1/2″-wide chisel. Not the nice one; the other one that belongs to your neighbor. Secure your hammer with clamps or in a vise and drive the chisel as deeply as you can into the adze eye. Don’t be shy here.

Remove the chisel, turn it around and drive it in again. When you are done, this is about what it should look like.

Glue and Wedge
Apply glue to the chiseled slot in your handle and on both faces of the wedge. (I use yellow glue.) Drive the wedge in as deeply as you can.

This is why you need two hammers in your shop. This is exactly what got me in trouble in the first place. (See “Daddy has a hammer problem” for details.)  

Wait for the glue to cure and trim the excess with a chisel or saw. Now you’re ready for another beating.

– Christopher Schwarz

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  • jeffs

    something that blacksmiths do is soak the head and handle top with antifreeze. i’ve never heard an explanation, but the glycol (ie sugar) should penetrate and stay in the wood. Whether this just fills the pores or pulls moisture out of the air ( preventing shrinking ) is beyond me. I just know that with the heat in a "smithie" stuff dries out quickly, and a loose hammer head may go a fly-en.

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