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I Forge Iron

Handle woes, metal wedge too big?


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How wide of a kerf did you cut in your handles? I made sure the handle on my new (to me) one pound cross peen had a widened kerf. My bandsaw has narrow blade.

Perhaps you are crushing your handle rather than just wedging. I feel that was my problem with my steel wedge. Too thick.

Show us pics of handle before you hang the hammer.

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I'm up in Loveland, and I too suffered from a lot of broken handles.  I fixed a few causes which have dramatically increased my average handle lifespan.

#1 I watched a youtube video of a hammer maker who's name currently escapes me.  One of his teachings was to mark the handle to align with one end of the hammer head before trimming the handle to fit.  Although they appear to be perfectly symmetrical, hammer head eyes are rarely perfect.  That kept me from trimming the wrong side as I was fitting everything up.  I could never figure out why the handles went from too big, to too small.  I have found that a tight slip fit is absolutely essential to longevity. Too tight, or too loose won't work nearly so well, or for very long.  I use cabinet card scrapers to shave the stock till it just slips through the hammer eye with a gentle tap.

#2 I drill a small (1/8" or smaller) hole crosswise through the handle in line with where I want to put the wooden wedge.  That prevents a stress riser from forming when the wedge is pushed in.  I make sure that my wooden wedge is marked for full depth, but sufficiently long to allow it to project above the head for driving.

#3 I set the handle into the head freehand.  Putting the head on a bench or anvil to drive the handle in is how I ended up cocking the head, which invariably scars the handle inside the eye.  Now, I hold the handle in my left hand and strike it with my right similar to how Japanese tanged knives are handled.

#4 I take greater care to scale my wooden wedges to the task.  They're just wide enough to span the kerf, and thick enough to fill the top of the hammer's head.  The goal is for everything to fit without any gaps inside or out.  

#5 I make my own ring wedges.  I buy 3/8" diameter tube stock that has a 1/8" wall thickness.  Holding a long section of stock, I grind a 1/4" long taper around the circumference with my bench grinder or file.  Then I use a hacksaw to cut it off square.  An 18" length of the stuff makes an awful lot of handle wedges.  Longer ovals like sledges can use two placed like a figure eight.

#6 I've started using this swell locker stuff that hardware stores sell for fixing loose joints in chairs.  It flows like superglue but it makes the wood expand before hardening in place.  I got the idea from the hammer maker I mentioned in issue #1.  

#7 I apply Boiled Linseed Oil to all of my wood handled tools every fall.  I coat the steel as well to provide rust protection


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On 11/21/2020 at 1:54 AM, twigg said:

What do you do as far as drying? Last thing I want is to feel a creepy crawly on my hammer hand :D I asked around and all the city's ash trees got taken out recently because the emerald ash borer came to town.

I lost the ash tree in my front yard to EAB a few years ago. While most of it became firewood and wood chip mulch for the garden, I did salvage a few of the nicer straight-grained sections for hammer handles. These were split into billets, stacked to allow air to circulate around them, and eventually restacked on top of one of my shop cabinets. They work great, and no creepy crawlies.

On 11/21/2020 at 1:44 PM, Goods said:

[BLO is] a self hardening penetrating oil. Actually hardens the surface of the wood, and there are no VOCs to worry about.

The "no VOCs" is only true of raw linseed oil, which is available in health food stores as flax seed oil (flax being the plant that LINen comes from) and takes forever to dry. Boiled linseed oil has driers added to it, such as naphtha or mineral spirits.

"Boiled linseed oil" is actually a misnomer, as there is no heating involved in its commercial production. There is something called "polymerized linseed oil" that is raw linseed oil heated to about 575F in a low-oxygen environment for several days, but that is much less common (although, like the raw stuff, it has not VOCs).

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Historically boiled linseed oil was boiled as heating speeds up the natural polymerization,  (One way they try to date oil paintings is by how much the linseed oil in the oil paint has polymerized over long periods of time; I'll not go in how to fake it by speeding things up...)

Exposure to sunlight helps speed up the reaction too---especially out here where the actinic is fierce!

I use the modern stuff with the driers added, often naphtha&cobalt based IIRC.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Rusty:  Ash is a preferred wood for many applications.  In years past it was the choice for spear shafts.  An Anglo-Saxon kenning (poetic analogy) for an army carrying spears was "the ash grove."  Ash is still used for long tooled handles in the lumber industry.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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I have at least 3 standing dead ash thanks to the emerald ash borer, and a few more they haven't killed yet. In a few years, ash may be like chestnut and elm, very little left standing in the wild, and too valuable as resistant breeding stock, to cut for it's traditional uses. Hopefully the borers don't decide they like ash's cousins pecan and hickory.

I also have some sort of borers eating thru my pines. Just great.

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Sorry I've been meaning to get back to this thread. Wirerabbit, I just used a hardware store handle on my 16oz cross peen, I think the width of the wedge was about 1/8th" or so? It was loose after wooden wedge + linseed oil, so I sank a metal wedge at a 45 degree. It didn't split this time... yet. I think I've isolated the issue to my shaping of the insert. rustyanchor, I appreciate the offer, but I think I'm set. I hope your pines make it through! Rockstar, thank for all that info, it's very helpful.

I think my current handles are flawed, but it's been too long since I've gotten to the forge, so I'm gonna use them while they last. I might fix my rounding hammer while I finish lining my forge. I think what rockstar was saying about eyes being asymmetrical was what made my 16oz cross peen handle loose this time. I think I flipped the orientation and it suddenly "shrunk". I'll pay more attention for the rounding hammer tomorrow.

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Top tools often had "improvised handles"; I've seen tree branches, dimensional lumber/packing crate, broom handles. Often they are not wedged tightly in to allow the force of the blow on them to go directly into the workpiece and not stress the handle. As the handle is mainly for positioning you can even find triphammer tooling with sections of cable used for handles to not transmit shock  back to the holder.

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I use hokey sticks on my top tools, No Thomas, NOT the whole stick,:rolleyes: I cut handle lengths from them. I picked up half a dozen from the trash can outside the high school gym door. There must've been 30-40 broken sticks in it so I selected the ones without damage along the shaft, I got the broken paddle ends. They must break a dozen every practice and games must produce hundreds of top tool handle stock sticks.

A RR rail spring clip made a perfect eye drift with little work. Rounded the edges and put a longish taper on it. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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