Have you ever broken a tool and thrown it away, rather than fixing it.
Guilty as charged.
As I’ve embraced the fact that our throwaway culture is on the verge of collapse, I’ve started to think differently about my tools and the potential assets around mes.
Wooden pallets aren’t just for firewood anymore… I’m breaking them down and building with them. I’ve also started to put aside extra tools and even buy (and sell) expensive garden tools that basically last forever.
A couple of years ago, I picked up a few tools at a garage sale, including an old claw hammer. My kids are always playing around with my tools and strewing nails about the barn (and occasionally the yard), so having back-up tools isn’t just a good idea: it’s a necessity. I don’t want to curtail their creativity too much – I remember how I learned basic carpentry through trial and error as a kid, thanks to my patient grandfather and a dad who let me borrow his tools even though I left them all over the yard (thanks, Dad!).
Unfortunately, while building our new Epic Tree Fort in my front yard a couple weekends ago, I snapped the head off that old claw hammer while pulling a nail.
No big deal – I had a backup. Unfortunately, that hammer had been left in the yard too long… and also lost its head at some point during the weekend building frenzy.
We finished up our building for the day by nailing in nails with the backside of an axe – and the next day, I got to work on re-handling my hammers, starting with the old claw hammer from the garage sale.
Though I’m sure there are plenty out there that can correct me on my method, I did end up with a really sturdy handle that looks cool as heck. Here’s how I did it:
STEP 1: Get the Old Wood Out
You could chip it out with a chisel or flat head screwdriver, but I like fire.
STEP 2: Find a New Handle
Some years ago I discovered that wood from a dogwood tree is awesomely hard stuff. I had pruned a branch off the specimen in my front yard and found it quite impressive. The problem with dogwood is that it’s usually not all that straight of a wood – and the trees aren’t all that large. This is why, despite the beautiful color and grain of the wood, you’re not likely to find dogwood lumber anywhere. Though for a new hammer handle, it’s perfect. Anytime I get a chance I save branches from them and put them away in the barn to cure. Here’s the piece I cut for my handle:
That wood has dried for at least a year, probably two. It’s as stable as it’s going to get.
Once I had my piece, it was time to eye up the socket in the hammer head and start grinding the squared-off peg that would fit it.
STEP 3: Make The Peg Thingy For the Head Bit
This takes some tweaking. You want it to fit really tightly. I had to return to my grinding wheel multiple times before I really nailed the fit – and even then, it wasn’t perfect. Good enough, though.
STEP 4: Attach the Head
How can you hammer the head without a hammer? Just find a brick or something. Thwack that head down until it’s all the way on the handle. When you do hammer it on, find a concrete nail and smack it into the top, like this:
Despite the fact that the wood doesn’t look tight at the top, there’s a gradation to inside of the hammer head that makes it very, very tight a little further down inside the socket. Again: my grinding wasn’t the best or this would be even closer fitting; however, this head isn’t going anywhere. It’s really darned tight. After hammering on the head, I did a little more shaping on the handle until it felt really good in my hand. One thing that you’ll see with handle replacements sold in the hardware store: they often have a slot and a shim piece to really pack that sucker in tight. I could’ve done that… maybe I will next time.
STEP 5: Oil That Puppy
I really like linseed oil. I use it on most of my outdoor tools. That or bacon fat. The problem with bacon fat is that it makes your tools smell delicious. Linseed oil makes them smell like fine art. Either way, you need to seal wood to make it last longer. Linseed oil gets into the pores and ensures a longer life for your reclaimed hammer.
Pretty cool looking – and functional. Though I’m sure my method isn’t the “right” way to go about this process, it works and wasn’t particularly time consuming.
I’m not a pro at this and your mileage may vary – but it’s good to be re-using something that would have otherwise hit the dump.
(Got a better method? Leave me a comment – I’d love to hear it.)