Toolbox Essentials: The Hammer

In 1949, Lee Hays and Pete Seeger wrote the song "If I Had a Hammer." The lyrics go like this:

"If I had a hammer I'd hammer in the morning, I'd hammer in the evening, All over this land …"

I'm glad they're not (or were not) my neighbours because all that hammering would drive me nuts! However, when I moved in to my very first apartment, I uttered the words "If I Had a Hammer" many times before I actually went out and bought one. Of course, the song is really not about having a hammer in the physical sense, but it is a catchy tune. The hammer is one of those tools that belong in every toolbox or tool drawer in every home. You do not even need a big one – a small 5-in-1 hammer is an excellent little tool that's not only a hammer, but it has four different size screwdrivers hidden in the handle.

The hammer is probably the oldest tool around. Evidence shows that stone hammers date back at least two million years. Early cave man constructed this tool using a stone attached to a sturdy wooden stick with strips of leather or animal sinew. I'm certain they were not using the hammer for hanging pictures in their homes, but I am certain that they were using the hammer for shaping bones and rocks into other useful implements.

There are a wide variety of hammers available, designed for specific uses. Here are a few of them:
• The most common is the claw hammer, used for driving or pulling nails or for opening crates and other general maintenance type work.
• Framing hammers, used for framing wooden houses, are heavy duty rip hammers with a straight claw.
• The ball peen hammer, with its rounded head is usually used for metalworking. It's the perfect tool for securing rivets.
• Sledgehammers, which are much larger than most other hammers are designed to distribute force over a wide area. They are most commonly used in destruction work, like breaking through drywall or masonry walls. They're also great for pounding in posts.
• Roofing hammers are used for, you guessed it, roofing. The hatchet side of the roofing hammer is designed for splitting wood shingles to size. The hatchet part of the roofing hammer can also be used for chopping out old roofing cement or flashing.
• Rubber mallets are used for work that requires a "softer blow" than that delivered by a metal hammer. They may be used for forcing tight-fitting parts together, for shifting sheetrock or plasterboard in to place, for upholstery work or for forming sheet metal. Typically they are used on materials where you do not want to leave a mark. A rubber mallet works great when securing the hub caps onto the rims of your car's tires, although I believe hub caps have become a thing of the past.
• Blacksmiths use a variety of hammers including twist hammers, dog-head hammers and cross-face hammers, just to name a few.
• A geologist's hammer, or rock pick is a hammer used for splitting and breaking rocks. These hammers are commonly used by paleontologists.

I have only scratched the surface of the types of hammers that are available. Whatever project you plan to undertake, be sure to select the right tools for the job. Regardless of the type of hammer you decide to purchase and use, remember safety first!