lanternnate

Fixing a loose head?

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Hi all. I have a simple little cross peen hammer I picked up used from a gentleman who buys and sells used blacksmith tools. It's nothing special, just a little no name 2lb cross peen. I like the way it feels in my hand though, and it was my "first" blacksmithing hammer. This weekend the head started slipping off the handle. I hammered it back on with another hammer, but after a couple more swings it was coming off again. I set it aside before I totally lost it, but is there any way to fix it? I know people will put new handles on an existing head, but is there any way to get this handle and head fitting tight again? I'm kind of sentimental so if it can't be fixed it will probably stay set aside as is. Thanks for any help, and if pictures or anything are needed to help answer just let me know what angles you need to see. Thanks guys!

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If the handle is properly fitted, you should be able to tighten it up by making a steel wedge almost as wide as the eye and about an inch long. The thick end should be about 1/8".

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It looks like perhaps a previous owner may have already made that repair. I see a wood wedge about 1/8" wide straight across then a second steel wedge at an angle (also 1/8" wide). Is removing the current steel wedge and putting in something thicker a viable option? I'm going to attempt to attach a picture.

IMG_20161207_222111948.jpg

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Looks like handle is fairly fitted to hammer eye. You might be seeing the effects of the natural oils of the handle wood drying out, this causes shrinkage, i.e. loose hammer heads.

I usually tap the end of the non hammer head end of the  handle, this uses the resistance of the hammer head inertia to help drive the handle tight in to the hammer head.

once this is accomplished, I soak the hammer head and about 2 to 3 inches of the handle in a bucket/coffee can of linseed oil overnight in a warm environment. the wood soaks this linseed oil up and swells the handle back into the head, making for a tight fit again.

 

You might have to do this twice but after awhile the wood will stop soaking up the linseed oil. This also acts as a preservative.

 

George

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I do the handle tap thing when I'm in a hurry, and I want to keep forging without fixing the handle in the middle of a project. I kept doing that the other day until the head just flew of the handle while I was hammering! No wonder I can't get anybody to be my striker!

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You could also sink the existing steel wedge a bit with a small punch, as it looks a bit "proud" (raised above) of the surface of the wood.

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Here's the deal: wood expands and contracts as it gains and loses moisture from the surrounding environment, mostly through the endgrain. (In other words, shrinkage is from drying out, but not from the oils in the wood, as ggraham says above.) When that expansion is constrained -- such as by the eye of a hammer -- the wood can actually shrink to a slightly smaller dimension than where it started. The net result is that hammer heads tend to be tighter in the winter than in the summer and to get looser over time.

The short-term solution to this is simply to wedge the handle more tightly. The long-term solution is to replace the moisture in the wood with something that either slows moisture transfer, makes the wood more rigid, or both. Soaking in a hardening oil like linseed or tung oil works fine; non-hardening oils like mineral oil or motor oil will just migrate through the handle without becoming rigid. Plenty of folks also use products like cyanoacrylate adhesive (superglue) or Swell-Lock to swell and harden the endgrain.

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If you keep it inside a climate controlled area the handles will dry out more in winter and get looser (example: you put a humidifier in your house in winter and a DEhumidifier in your house in summer)  When I moved from Ohio to New Mexico and from a location where humidities were often 80+% to a place where they were often lower than 10% I had to reset *every* wood handled tool I owned!  Usually it was enough to give it a few good taps on the heel of the handle with the eye over a bolster, then trim any excess now protruding and re-seat the wedge(s). I then soaked them all in linseed oil---got a small baking tray from the thrift store that would hold 3/8" of oil in it and lined up as many hammer heads as would fit and let them soak till I could see oil coming up over the hammer head's bottom---usually left it from Saturday to Saturday.  Then I would pick them up out of the tray and wipe it down with a clean rag and wipe the excess oil over the hammer head and handle. After doing that bunch I WOULD BURN THE RAG IN THE FORGE.  Yes they will spontaneously combust; we had a member of a ABANA affiliate that was a painter and once burned down a school accidentally that way!

Having treated the eye area of the handle so it couldn't gain/lose moisture the handles are generally stable save for normal wear and tear.

The old trick of soaking them in water is HORRIBLE as the wood tend to over expand and crush itself against the steel (or iron) eye and so when it dries out it's worse than before and the cycle has to be done again.  I reset 100 handled tools when I moved and have had to repeat on about 5 a year for the last 12 years and most of those were "new acquisitions".

There is another method of soaking in full strength antifreeze but AS ANTIFREEZE IS AN ATTRACTIVE POISON FOR PETS AND WILD ANIMALS I strongly suggest not using it and if you absolutely must AVOID BEING WITHIN 2 STATES OF MY DAUGHTER THE VETERINARIAN! 

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5 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

There is another method of soaking in full strength antifreeze but AS ANTIFREEZE IS AN ATTRACTIVE POISON FOR PETS AND WILD ANIMALS I strongly suggest not using it and if you absolutely must AVOID BEING WITHIN 2 STATES OF MY DAUGHTER THE VETERINARIAN! 

For that kind of thing, you want to use polyethylene glycol, PEG, which is effectively a form of antifreeze but with low toxicity.  It's used as a wood stabilizer for woods that tend to shrink and crack a lot--and also for that stuff they have you drink to clean your insides out before they scope you.  When they have to stabilize the wood from shipwrecks or other wet archaeology, they often soak it in PEG for a couple of years where it replaces the water in the wood and stops deterioration.

If I had it already hanging around, it'd be preferable to the linseed oil method IMHO.  It's available at many woodworking sources.  IIRC, you do need to keep the solution warm for it to work well.

Here's an old write up from Oregon State university on the subject http://owic.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/pubs/peg.pdf

 

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One thing I've found helpful is to use hollow round stock (metal)  to make a handle wedge. I grind 3/8" tubing to a tapered edge then cut it off square.  Most hammer holes are hourglass shaped both front to back, and side to side.  The hollow circular wedge pushes the handle stock against all sides. I try to grind with a coarse abrasive so that there are lines running the circumference of the tubing.  That way there are lots of little ridges that grab the wood fibers when I drive the wedge in. 

All of the above works best when the handles' been driven tight to the head, and there's minimal material protruding out the head.  When I get them in straight, they look a little like a "frogeye".  I suppose the size of the tubing would have to correlate to the size of the handle hole.  Too big, and it'd just split the peripheral material, too small, and it wouldn't provide much wedging action. 

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Make a new handle? I'm a huge fan of slab handles and buy 5/4 straight grain clear hickory from a local hard wood supplier. My handles taper wider from the head to the end with a bit of a knob on the end. The knob turned out to be unnecessary as the taper keeps you from accidentally throwing a hammer but the knob sort of turned into a personal brand so they all get it.

Anyway, being flat they fit the hand better and it's instinctive to automatically index in your hand so you're never unsure which face the hammer face is tilted. 

Propylene glycol soak will go a long way to keeping the wood swollen and tight. I had a few years of good luck by warming my hammer  & handle in the shop toaster oven to 200f and liberally waxing the end. It soaked up an amazing amount of carnuba wax and took about 10 years to work loose. Alaskan winters are famous for low humidity.

I have yet to mess with thinned epoxy resin to swell and glue hammers and handles, I might want to remove it someday without having to use a dental pick.

Frosty The Lucky.

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21 hours ago, lanternnate said:

Hi all. I have a simple little cross peen hammer I picked up used from a gentleman who buys and sells used blacksmith tools. It's nothing special, just a little no name 2lb cross peen. I like the way it feels in my hand though, and it was my "first" blacksmithing hammer. This weekend the head started slipping off the handle. I hammered it back on with another hammer, but after a couple more swings it was coming off again. I set it aside before I totally lost it, but is there any way to fix it? I know people will put new handles on an existing head, but is there any way to get this handle and head fitting tight again? I'm kind of sentimental so if it can't be fixed it will probably stay set aside as is. Thanks for any help, and if pictures or anything are needed to help answer just let me know what angles you need to see. Thanks guys!

Yea, making a new handle aint hard... but you can always soak the handle eye in a oil that doesn't dry to keep it expanded, i do this to a lot of axes i own, and a few hammers. i will probably get ridiculed for this by the others but it can be a viable temporary option i suppose.

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I use a type of superglue called "Wonder Lock 'Em", or similar spelling.  It was originally marketed to reset loose parts of chairs that move and squeak.  It apparently swells the wood and then locks the wooden/steel wedges in place to retain the tightness.  I've used it on several hammers with loose heads and they all are still tight as when new.  Regular superglue and epoxy never held tight when used.

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Thank you all for the helpful advice. I would like to try to save the handle, so here's my plan based on all of your help:

1. Tap the non head end of the handle to seat it

2. Hammer the current steel wedge in a little more (it is definitely sticking up out of the handle right now).

3. Get some linseed oil and soak the head end of the handle in that.

Some of you mentioned temperature changes. I live in Vermont, and I'm currently just forging on the back patio. My thought has been leaving my tools out in Vermont winter weather is no good for them, but am I doing harm bringing the hammer back and forth from a nice warm house to below freezing temps?

C-1, I cleaned up some grime and found the head says PLUMB. It's upside down, so I'm guessing it has been re-handled once. Here are a couple more pics of it.

IMG_20161208_191103545.jpg

IMG_20161208_191131064.jpg

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25 minutes ago, lanternnate said:

 I live in Vermont, and I'm currently just forging on the back patio.

If you haven't yet connected with the New England Blacksmiths Association, do. Good folks, some of whom (Judson Yaggy and notownkid spring to mind) are here on IFI.

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Or, another option, depending on how loose, is that you could remove the head, and make a new wood wedge for the handle, did that on a splitting maul and it seemed to have helped. May help. yeah, Nice hammer depending on the price.

                                                                                                                                  Littleblacksmith  

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A wise old blacksmith once remarked that when buying used hammer heads, what you purchasing is an eye with two *potential* faces attached.  So the two things to look at are: is the eye straight and square, and are the faces salvageable? Hard to judge the condition of the eye when some knot-head dealer or former owner has stuffed a random handle in place.

Just a thought: I have come across several re-handled hammers that were terrible about the heads coming loose, just like this one. There seems to be a pattern.

It seems that with reputable manufacturers, the hourglass shape of the eye is *supposed* to be more  larger and more pronounced on the top side. So when the new handle is put in up-side down, there is not enough taper on the new 'top' to hold the head in place. Of course with symmetrical tools, without a name or other legible marking, it is often impossible to tell once the eye is filled without breaking out calipers.

Also, many of the new tools have epoxy filling the eye instead of wedges, which inevitably fails. And is a royal pain to clean out.

Round hand files and carbide burrs in a die grinder are your friend when cleaning out hammer eyes and tool sockets in general.

Dragons hoard gold, blacksmiths hoard rust. We can't help ourselves. I have buckets of useless rusty junk fine but neglected tools that I will fix up someday. (Really, honey, I swear I will. Just walk around them for a few more years.)

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Another thought about re-handling: a lot of folks these days are using flexible adhesives in attaching their hammer handles, from the high-tech Sikaflex 11FC (the choice of Uri Hofi for handling his hammers) to the more pedestrian Shoe Goo (currently holding on the wrought iron head of my soft sledge). If you have a handle that comes all the way off, you might consider cleaning the eye, trimming the part of the handle that goes into the head, and reattaching with one of these adhesives.

22 minutes ago, John McPherson said:

Dragons hoard gold, blacksmiths hoard rust. We can't help ourselves. I have buckets of useless rusty junk fine but neglected tools that I will fix up someday. (Really, honey, I swear I will. Just walk around them for a few more years.)

As someone whose anvil sat for over twenty years either at the bottom of the coat closet or at the end of the living room sofa, I'm in no position to critique this observation.

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