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Hammer preparation question

i just bought some hammers, one of which has a loose head. the rio
grande catalog gives a tip for "keeping hammer heads tight & secure."
it suggests placing hammers into auto antifreeze for 48 hours to
cause the wood to swell.

the idea of putting my new hammers into antifreeze makes me uneasy.
have any of you tried it? i have cats and prefer the synthetic
antifreeze for my car. do you think synthetic antifreeze would work
for my hammers?

thank you for your time,
jean adkins

Hi Delia,

I would expect to apply that suggestion to hammers you’ve had for a
while, when the head works loose from use and wear. I think it’s a
reasonable expectation that the head would be tight when you buy the
hammer new. I would contact the vendor and see about an exchange, if

My two cents,


The point of using antifreeze is that the moisture it imparts into
the wood will evaporate out much more slowly than plain water. I have
also used drug-store plain glycerine mixed into water for hydrating
wooden objects. I live in a quite warm environment, and the place I
store my tools is a very sun heated metal building, so tool handle
drying is a concern, and I’ve found the difference between the two to
be negligable.

The synthetic should work. The point being a higher evaporation

Ron Charlotte -- Gainesville, FL OR @Ron_Charlotte1

Hello, Jean; Soaking hammer heads in antifreeze is an old blacksmith’s
trick and yes, it does work. Of course, you must make sure the stuff
is nowhere that animals (pets or wild) can get at it. (For those who
don’t know, antifreeze, although poisonous, smells attractive to
animals and they like to drink it, with disasterous results). Don’t
know about the synthetic stuff. Don’t try plain water though. Water
will swell the wood and make the handle tighter, but it will soon dry
out and take some of the natural oils out of the wood with it, making
the problem worse. Perhaps a good hardware store might have a
commercial product specifically for this problem. Take a look at
these sites and see if their search engines have anything on the

David L. Huffman

Since moisture migrates through longitudinal capillaries in the wood,
try this. After soaking the tool (with the handle inserted) in hot
water and allowing it to dry, seal the end grain of the handle with
dop wax.


Allan Wilkinson
small potatoes studio


Why doing difficult with hammers. Just ram a extra pin in the wood on
top of the head, They sell these pins in any good hardware store. Or
take a big nail at least 4 mm in diameter hammer this in and cut of
the rest staying above the hammer head Good luck

Martin Niemeijer

Hammer Heads coming Loose. Gluing the head or treating the handles is
just a stop gap process you will be doing this very often.

To avoid this from happening one should buy hammers that come with an
installed wedge. Most of the good manufacturers install metal wedges.

We Import several thousands Karat Hammers made by one of the finest
manufacturers in France. The hammers have been provided with a Metal
wedge and all one has to do is to Tap on the metal Wedge with a flat
blade screwdriver trying to drive the Wedge deeper. We do that for
some of the brand new hammers that come from the factory.

Good Hammer Handles have to be made with wood that will soften the
aftershock. Usually this softer wood will not crack when you drive
the wedge. Germany & France produce the best Jewelers Hammers and
their handles last much longer. These manufacturers offer/sell
replacement handles with wedges.

Kenneth Singh

   I would expect to apply that suggestion to hammers you've had
for a while, when the head works loose from use and wear. I think
it's a reasonable expectation that the head would be tight when you
buy the hammer new. I would contact the vendor and see about an
exchange, if possible. 

I think that the antifreeze soak suggestion that she refers to is one
that pops up in new tool catalogs from time to time (it’s in the '01
Rio Grande catalog, for example). It’s a preventative measure that
delays that head loosening effect substantially. Some people follow
the treatment with putting varnish or epoxy on the exposed endgrain at
the head and butt end to retain the extra moisture even better. I was
exposed to useing that trick on carpentry and blacksmithing hammers
when I was a kid.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL OR @Ron_Charlotte1

One of the reasons a hammer head will loosen is that it was installed
upside down. I know that they look semetrical on the outside but
they are not (at least the good ones) on the inside. The hole in the
head has two tapers. A short taper from one side and a longer from
the other. The short taper is the one that goes towards the handle.

You should fit the handle to the head so as to get a good tight fit
without a wedge. First scorch the head end of the handle. This will
dry out the wood. Push the handle into the head, then remove it and
carve off the high spots, they will be shinny. Keep doing this until
you get at least a 75 to 80 percent wood to metal contact. You should
have a bit of wood hanging out the top of the head when is ready to
set. Drive the head on the handle by banging the bottom of handle on
a hard surface when the head is on as far as possible, then drive a
WOOD wedge into the handle. This wedge should run length wise on the
head. When this wedge is fully set, the drive a metal wedge at 90
degrees to it Use as thin and small a wedge as possible as when the
first two steps are done correctly, the wood will be very compressed
and it will be difficult to get a wedge in very deep. The metal
wedge should be driven down deep enough the it is slightly below the
surface of the head. Cut off the protruding wood and sand it down to
the level of the head. Now give the whole handle a good work down
with linseed oil. Some will paint the wood around the wedges after
the linseed drys some but it is not really necessary. A hammer
handle set in this manner will last a lifetime. This was one of the
first skills my journeyman taught me when I started on my machine
repair apprentisship some 40 years ago. I still have and use that
hammer and the head is as tight today as when I set it.