Fair Woodworking

January 28, 2012

For want of a hammer

It’s not every day that I need a new hammer for work. Even when they are the bosses tools, I try to treat them well. Yesterday I found myself -1 hammer, and +1 job needing a hammer, so it was off to the local big box store for a new one.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am a total tool snob, but I don’t think that was the issue here. You see yesterday, my concern for the state of woodworking, and construction went up yet another notch. While standing in the store (no names, but the first word rimes “dome” and the second rimes with”yo-yo”), I was surprised to find that their selection has changed dramatically since the last time I took the time to look at it. Metal and fiberglass handles were the only options unless you wanted the el cheapo junker on the bottom shelf. It took a while for this to sink in, and while I pondered, I noticed this sign.

When I first got into the trades, back in the Bob & Larry days. I knew nothing about tools. My boss took me to the hardware store and helped me pick out some basic tools. When we got to hammers, he picked up a steel shafted Estwing hammer and said, “here’s a good hammer”. What he said was true, Estwing makes a very good hammer. They are nearly bullet proof to the point that they are as much crow bar as they are hammer.

Within months I started noticing that my right elbow was really sore by the end of the day. Within the year, it hurt all the time. After 5-6 years an old guy on site saw me favoring my elbow and pointed out that vibrations of my steel shafted hammer would one day destroy my elbow. He pulled out his wood handled hammer and said, “give this a try”.

It felt good.

He then explained how important a wood handle is for a hammer. The wood works as a shock absorber so that it is not transmitted through your hand and into your elbow. Although steel handles are strong, the strength come at the price of your physical health.

When I look back at this all, my boss was never taught the value of a good wood handled hammer so he couldn’t know what kind of damage that hammer would do to me. Without proper instruction, who wouldn’t see a steel shafted hammer as a wonder tool. It removes the need to carry a pry-bar, so it must be a good thing.

This sign really concerns me. I’m not in any way a safety nut, but this kind of instruction is borderline negligent. In our society stronger is always seen as better, and lighter weight is is for the weak. The top row of hammers were all steel shafted and portrayed as the best. Below them were the fiberglass for the lightweight sissy’s. The wood handled were tossed in a wire bin at the bottom for the cheapskates.

I know, I know, you may be thinking I’m blowing this out of proportion, but not a day goes by that the pain in my elbow does not remind me of that hammer. I’m not mad at Estwing, they sure are handy for demo work, but I do hope that this post serves as a warning to others to not use tools that will harm them in the long run. I have no experience with fiberglass hammers, but there have been claims that they have similar shock absorption properties to wood. This may be true, but you would never get that information from the sign above.

So if you are looking for a new hammer, or you are using a steel one, please think soberly before you use it. Yes God gave you two elbows, but I don’t think he gave you the second one as a spare…

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