How To Make A New Handle For A Hammer Homemade Woodworking Tools
I bought this hammer somewhere around 10 years ago to replace one that was stolen from me on a job site:
Of course, it looked cleaner and newer then, but it still had that not very appealing orange handle. And it was the orange handle (and the much lower cost) that sold me on it: I figured it would be less attractive to potential thieves because it obviously was a cheap knockoff of the blue handle version. The one that was stolen from me was the ubiquitous Estwing ripping claw hammer that every serious tradesman has, and I’d had it for several years (cause, you know I wanted to be a serious tradesman too, right?).
Anyway, fast forward to today and that handle colour still hasn’t grown on me, and every time I look at it I remind myself that someday I’ll replace the handle and fix the too thick and blunt claw. Oh yeah, that was another major difference – the claw was substantially thicker (and therefore harder to wedge in between two boards) than the Estwing. Or at least the one I had at the time and the ones I’d had before it. But looking at the new ones today, even the Estwing has fattened up the claws on theirs. I guess it’s cheaper to produce a hammer with lower quality steel that has a thicker claw.
To get started, I cut off the rubber handle:
Exposing the tang inside. And that’s another difference between this brand of hammer and the Estwing – the tang is much beefier on the more expensive one. Or at least that was the case 20 years ago, when I made a wooden handle for one that was accidentally dropped into a fire by another worker. I was working by the hour at the time and things were a bit slow, so I made the handle from a piece of maple. But I used a combination of regular wood glue and vinyl base adhesive to assemble it, and as it turns out, neither are particularly water resistant when you leave it out in the rain overnight.
Next was to select the type of wood to use and I settled on spalted maple (left over from making my spalted maple bowling ball sized sphere, which was in turn left over from making my spalted maple footstool) and a strip of sapele that is the same thickness as the tang:
The sapele strip added a contrasting colour and also simplified the handle construction, since it eliminated the need to cut slots in maple for the tang.
But before gluing the new handle on, I took the hammer out to the shed and ground off the accumulated rust from ten years of indifference with my homemade belt grinder:
I could have taken this further and really polished it up, but figured the difference looked striking enough. Striking – see that?
I used a very liberal amount of polyurethane construction adhesive to glue the handle parts on:
And of course this glue is extremely water resistant, so this handle should stay together. Cameo appearance by my carving knife made from a drill bit in the background, the handle on that is sumac that was growing in my backyard.
Clamped up and left to dry overnight:
In the morning, I cut out the paper templates I drew from the original handle shape and used them to mark out the new handle:
You might be saying that now is the time to be creative and change the handle shape to something more ergonomic or cool looking, but there’s a good reason why Bostitch copied this handle design from Estwing – it is perfect. The right size, the right curves, everything – perfect.
I removed the bulk of the material on my homemade band saw following the lines:
And do the rest of the rough shaping using a spokeshave in my wooden vise:
Then there’s a lot of sanding from coarse up to fine to make it perfectly smooth:
Along with the poor choice of glue used for the one I did years ago, I also didn’t bother to finish the wood in any way. My preference for wooden handles is to keep them natural, but a few coats of linseed oil will add protection and also bring out the grain and colour of the wood:
I ended up putting on five coats over the course of a week, lightly sanding with 400 grit paper between coats.
I also went back and did some extra polishing on the steel, just to make it look more impressive for the photos:
But polished steel does have notable advantage in that it resists rust much better than rougher steel. It has to do with less surface area for the rust to develop.
I made a video covering the festivities: