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Restoring old hammers

Hi all, Over time I have collected some great antique hammers. Could
anyone give me some advice on restoring and maintaining them? What
are the steps for polishing the hammer faces? I have tried to polish
a couple but am not sure I am properly equipped. I know a belt sander
would be very helful with this, but I don’t have one. I do have a
polishing machine. Could you reccomend the proper grinding wheels,
polishing wheels, compounds to use? Any tips for securing loose
hammer heads? Thanks for any advice you can offer. -Carrie Nunes


Hi Carrie,

I have been collecting antique hammers for many years and lately I
have been progressively more interested in pliers. To me these two
categories of hand tools represent the most primitive, yet ingenious
tools man has devised. There seems to be no end to the variations. My
favorites are the ones that have been crudely forged by craftsmen
using the most limited means.

For the most part I don’t like to do much to them because it detracts
from their age and simplicity. As with most collectors, restoration
is normally mostly a matter of cleaning them up while retaining an
old look.

We collectors are usually a bit daft, but the other day while I was
conversing with a customer about the subject I made a comment to the
effect that people will collect anything and " I wouldn’t be
surprised to hear of someone who collected toilet paper. Out of
nowhere, a lady who was browsing in the background exclaimed, " How
did you know !!! I have been collecting toilet paper for many
years and I have examples from all over the world "…(
I didn’t ask whether it was used or new) Ron at Mills Gem, Los
Osos, CA.

Carrie - Check the Orchid archives for the rust removal step. For
polishing the working surfaces I use my lapidary 8" drum sander,
finishing with a worn 600 grit belt. Ask around, and see if you can
find a local lapidary that you can swap services with.

Jim Small
Small Wonders

Could you reccomend the proper grinding wheels, polishing wheels,
compounds to use? 

When dressing the head of a hammer, it is important not the change
the hardness or temper of the hammer. This means that you should
not generate heat while refinishing the head. If you are using a
machine driven method of refinishing the head, heat will build
up. So the solution is a bucket of water that you can dip the head
into to prevent it from reaching the temperature where hardening and
tempering occur. IE the head should never get hot enough to sizzle
when put into the water. If you keep this in mind while finishing
the head back to where you want it, it will retain the original
hardness and temper, providing that you didn’t remove to much
surface metal.

 Any tips for securing loose hammer heads? 

This can be a problem. To secure a loose head, I would remove the
head from the handle, and recut the handle to fit the head. The
handle should fit with a tight fit without the wedges used for the
final fit.

You should note that the head has two tapers in its bore. The long
taper should go to the handle, while the short taper is for the
wedge. In other words, there is an up and a down for a hammer head.
You need to make sure you have the head on correctly. If you are
the first to work on the head/handle fit problem, remember which way
the head came off. The manufacture probably did it right.

Now use a pocket knife and gently carve the handle to accept the
head. You might want to use a little color to help here. Use some
lipstick, rouge, something to give some color to the inside of the
head and push in the handle. Wiggle it a bit and then remove it.
Cut off anything that has the color on it. Be gentle, you only want
to remove the high spots, not dig new canyons. Once you have the
lower taper fitted to the handle, you can then go about securing the
head to the handle. Hopefully there will be a bit of the handle
protruding above the head at this point. Place the head on the
handle, and drive the handle into the head by striking the butt of
the handle with a leather mallet. Once the head is forced down on
the handle, you can then drive in a hardwood wedge to flare out the
handle to lock down the head. The hardwood wedge should be running
from the face to the opposite side of the head. Drive the wedge in
to the point that it starts to crumble at the top of the handle.
Take a fine saw and cut off everything that extends above the head.
Now put the head and handle in a bowl of water over night. Next
day, drive in two more wedges at 45 Degrees from the first, One
right handed, and the second left handed. The first wedge will
tighten up the handle to head along the length of the head. The
second two will tighten up the end play, making the final lock. Cut
and then sand off the final finish of the head and then apply some
Linseed oil to seal the head. You now have a head to handle fit
that will last until you break the handle, however long that takes.
You won’t wear it out.

One last point, the handle under the head should be small. You
want some spring here. Somewhat like a golf club. You never see a
golf club with a 1/2" pipe shaft. They always have a long taper to
the head and the smallest diameter at the head. The same applies to
your hammers. Let the wrist do the work and let the hammer head
translate the message.


Carrie I would first use a wire brush wheel to knock off all the
years of build up and corrosion on them, you would be surprised at
the shine from just doing that, from that point would be how much
more, I would start with buffing next with greaseless buffing
compounds, you can get them at Eastwood company in 80, 220, 320, and
400 grits these do an excellent job, next if you desire use the
buffing compound normally as you would in polishing to the luster
desired Clint