Let's remember gang, if we're talking sledge hammers, attention to such detail can save your hammering partner from a blunt trauma vasectomy (Invariably a sledge head will always cut loose waist high). Make certain before you use a sledge that the growth rings are oriented as in Fig.1. Ring Orientation This guarantees the greatest strength and flexibility in the direction of greatest stress. Next, make sure that the handle is wedged in both directions. Wedging front to back is most critical, but a wooden wedge (So it can be crossed by steel wedges) should have been used side to side. If the handle is undamaged, knot free hickory, arrow straight of grain and Ka-Chunk free, you are cleared for takeoff, otherwise prepare to create firewood.

If you are creating your own handle from scratch, a few caveats. First as mentioned, you need to pay strict attention to growth ring orientation and grain straightness. Second, if you want to use some nifty looking wood species such as oak, walnut, cherry, mahogany etc. follow these instructions:

A.) Take the bare hammer head over to your hammering partner.

B.) Drop it on his right foot.

C.) Ask him "If this were to happen again with the head traveling at 100 MPH and the jagged wooden remnant of the handle were to perforate your foot and stake you to the ground on this spot, would you find it pleasurable?" If he says "Oh my, yes" go ahead and make your nifty looking handle. Otherwise use ONLY hickory or osage orange (Also an archery wood). Third, don't cut your handle blanks. Splitting follows the natural strength of the grain and produces a far stronger handle. This is the one time when it's alright to use a handle that's a little bent (I mean a little) or wavy, since these defects in a split handle do not significantly impair strength unless you try to "pretty" it up and sand or cut it straight again.

If there's a natural flare or knob on one end, shave down the other to a taper which fits the contour of the hammer eye as closely as possible, leaving a flared out shoulder just under where the head will come to rest when driven on. Remember to maintain as large a cross sectional area as possible above the hammer eye center (Fig.2). Hammer Eye Center The head should be driven on firmly (This is the one time when it's OK to rap the hammer, handle first, onto the anvil face, but put down a hardwood block first so as not to split or mash the end of the handle). The wood extending above the head can then be cutoff as close to the head as possible. Next take a wood chisel as wide as the eye is long and begin a split bisecting the handle showing through the eye from front to back (Fig.3). With this split started, you can drive in a wedge, shaved from an old handle, far enough to fully fill the eye from side to side. Shave this wooden wedge thicker at its base and longer than it will need to be and just keep driving it until it will go no further and breaks off. Earlier, while working on the forge, you will have pointed the end of a 1/2" rebar, flattening it along its length to be very thin at the tip and 3/16" at the base of the pointed section. You will have then extended it 1/4" at a time over a sharp anvil edge while administering sharp blows producing "barbs" to hold it in place before finally cutting it off over a hardy and quenching it. Such wedges can be made between heats of larger projects and only require 1 heat themselves. These wedges, when cool, will be driven into the handle at a diagonal. This orientation creates greatest expansive forces front to rear, but also some side to side, supplementing the action of the wooden wedge. Hammer Eye Keep driving wedges in with a 4 lb. hammer until you can't get any more in--I mean it! This having been completed, a right angle grinder can be used to dress any wood or iron making an unsightly display.

I believe that even greater safety could be had by using some of the composite/fiberglass handles on the market, though striking barehanded as I do, my hands have never found one that didn't give them blisters.

Next time Frank takes us through the tantalizing topic of team tools with SLEDGE, Team Striking Part V: "Just Tooling Around". Till then remember a sledge is just a cannonball with an earpierce!

Jeffrey D. Knight


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Last Updated:Sun, Jul 30, 1995