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The Versatile, Humble Hand Hammer

Written by Brian Post

The Trow and Holden 3lb hand hammer is a great option for striking chisels and more.  It is also referred to as a striking hammer.   It was one of the two hammers I bought when first getting into walling over 25 years ago and it has served me well ever since.   A striking hammer needs to have a balance that feels good to you, making it easy to swing and control without effort.  Generally used to strike chisels, having good control is key.  When using chisels you often are doing a lot of hits.  So having a balance that feels right is important.  Balance is something that seems to be pretty individual, but it has to do with the weight of the head, length of the handle and where the eye hole in the hammer head is positioned, and thickness of the grip.   A well balanced hammer will be comparatively easy to swing accurately, again and again.  If your current hammer is not feeling good, it may not be that there is something wrong with your arm, but rather the hammer is just not balanced well for you.

For dry stone walling applications, particularly when dealing with harder stone types, striking power or force is the key factor.  The heavier the head of the hammer and the faster it is swung the more power you will have.  A longer handle will increase the speed of the strike.  However, both weight and and handle length come at a price.  The heavier the head and the longer the handle., the more difficult it will be to control and swing accurately again and again.   At our Stone Shaping Workshop and others you can try a wide range of weight and handle configurations to find out what is right for you.

My personal favorite striking hammer is the Trow and Holden 3lb Hand Hammer with the fiberglass handle.  I am generally not a fan of the fiberglass handles, but in this case I have found it suits me just right.  Fiberglass handles have the advantage of rarely needing to be replaced (just twice in 25 years for me) which is nice for a hammer that I just need to have available at all times.  However, fiberglass handles do tend to transfer more vibration and shock into your wrist and elbow than wood handles, so for my most used hammers I stick with wood, which also allows for more options in terms of length.

The wood-handled 3lb Hand Hammer comes with a shorter handle and, if you know you like shorter handles on other hammers it’s a good option.  Also if you want to be able to adjust the handle length in the future going with the wood handle makes sense.

Over the years I have found that while I occasionally use the back of a T&H Stone Buster for striking a chisel, the 4lb weight is too heavy and the 2lb version generally does not give enough power.  If I am doing more than a few swings I grab the 3lb Hand Hammer.  In addition to striking chisels, the hand hammer also works well for striking stone directly.  I use it most often for general shaping in applications when any hammer head shape will work. I make hearting, and even shape flagging stones with it.  Tilting it slightly to the side so the left or right “edge” of the striking face makes contact with the stone yields good results.  It is also handy for driving feathers and wedges, too.

Why spend more money on this Hand Hammer when hardware store versions are less? Because this hammer will be superior. The hardness of steel in the head matters. Too hard and the head will chip or crack. Too soft and it will quickly mushroom. Both instances can end with sending shards of steel shooting off into your leg. Handles matter too. Some of the most common 3lb hammer handles are steel. This sends a tremendous amount of shock and vibration into your wrist and elbow leading to all kinds of problems in the future. The shape of the head also affects the balance; many hardware store brands have a shape more to do with easy manufacturing than with ease of use. Like many others, when I first started walling I used inexpensive hardware store tools at first. But as soon as I could afford better, I bought T&H hammers and I have never looked back.

You can view the video below to see the Hand Hammer being used with 1.5″ Trow and Holden Hand Tracer (Tracing Chisel).