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How many of us are running around with a cracked hammer handle that's taped together, full of horseshoe nails to tighten the head or dunked in water every time we use the hammer so the head won't sail off while we're working??


I found out that it's not that hard to change a hammer handle and I'm here to show you how. A friend of mine gave me a hammer and a new handle to use for this demonstation. Take a look at this thing. This handle is HUGE!! Aside from the extra length, a good forging hammer handle should be small enough in diameter that your finger tips just barely touch the heel of your thumb when you grasp the handle. Some people may want it even small than that, but it's a good starting point.

Obviously, we have a lot of material to get rid of before we can use this handle for our purpose. Luckily, we farriers all have the perfect tool for shaping hammer handles. It's called a hoof rasp. You can remove a lot of material quickly with a hoof rasp and smooth the edges out with the file side. For some reason, a rectangular shape seems to be the best. One person suggested useing old, broken hockey sticks for hammer handles. The shape is right, but you'll still have to reduce the size to get it to fit nicely.

The inside of the hammer head will have a "V" shape or an "Hour Glass" shape. In either case, the hammer handle needs to be trimmed down, so it can go through the narrowest part of the head from the bottom and reach the top of the hole. Make sure you don't trim any more wood off than is absolutely necessary or you'll have a gap around the hole at the top of the hammer head when you're done. Since you can't easily slide the handle through the hole, it's a little tricky trying to figure out how much to take off. Always err to not trimming enough. You can always tap the handle back out of the hole and trim some more, but you can't add missing wood afterward. The hammer I'm working on has the Hour Glass hole, so I need to leave a tapered shoulder where the bottom of the hammer head can rest on the handle. If your hammer has a ""V" shaped hole, still leave a little shoulder on the bottom where you want the handle to stop.

Check the slot that has been cut in the end of the hammer handle. It needs to be cut deep enough to reach the narrowest part of the hammer head hole. Now, we can install the handle. As you can see, I haven't cut the length of the handle yet because I'll be pounding on it. Also note that I'm holding the hammer and hitting the handle up instead of hitting the hammer head down. The reason we do that is that the weight of the hammer head will seat the handle just fine and the head will always go on straight, because I'm not hitting the hammer head on one side and then the other. No matter what the reason, this technique works perfectly.

Hammer the handle on until it is seated the way you want it to be. There may be additional material sticking out of the top of the hammer head. Cut the extra wood off flush with the top of of the hammer head. Now, we're going to install the wooden wedge. Two thing must be done before you start. First, cut any excess width off of the wedge. It's pointless to hammer on a wedge that's wider than the hole it's suppose to span. Second, I take a Dremel tool and cut a bevel along the slot where the wedge is suppose to go. After you've driven the handle through the hammer head, the slot that was cut in the handle will be squashed shut and it's very difficult to get the wooden wedge to start without making a groove for it.

Once again, we'll hold the hammer and drive the wedge in without the hammer butted up against anything. It's best to use a hammer that has a head on it large enough to cover the entire wedge. That will help prevent the wedge from splitting with an errant hit. Drive the wedge in the handle until it bottoms out. It will start breaking when it's gone in far enough. Cut any additional wedge material off flush with the top of the hammer head.

Now, it's time to install the metal wedges. I always sharpen the wedges to make it easier to drive and I always slant the wedge a little so it can apply pressure both sideways and lengthwise. I also use two metal wedges in each hammer head.

After we've installed the new hammer handle, it's time to "finish" the handle. A heat gun works best for the next step. You could probably use a good hair dryer, but don't use a propane torch. We need to heat up the end of the handle at the top. You don't have to burn the wood - just get it very warm. (you can see here how the steel wedges should look when you're done)

With the wood good and warm, let the hammer head soak overnight in a bowl of Linseed Oil. Put only as much oil in the bowl as is needed to cover the metal hammer head. You don't want to soak the handle below the hammer head, yet. Soaking the wood in oil will keep it from drying out resulting in a loose head later on.

Now is the time to cut the hammer handle to the length you want. Most people find that cutting the handle to "elbow" length is pretty close. To determine that length, simply place the hammer head in the palm of your hand with the hammer handle laying on your forarm. With your fingers wrapped around the end of the hammer head, mark where the crook of your elbow intersects with the hammer handle and cut the handle at that point.

Sand the handle to make it as smooth as you can. Next, we will char the handle with a propane torch. Why you ask?? Because charring the wood eliminates any little slivers that might exist and it really looks cool. It's probably a good idea to wear a leather glove on your holding hand while you do this. It can get quite warm.

For the next step, you'll need to make a high tech tool for soaking the handle in Linseed Oil. This tool is made out of 2 inch PVC pipe that is closed off on the end with duct tape. The length of the tube is important, because you'll want the hammer head to rest on the top of the tube when the hammer is inserted while leaving a small space below the handle. That way the entire handle and the porous butt end will be able to absorb the oil.

Place the hammer in the tube immediately after charring the handle so it's good and warm. I recommend that you pour the Linseed Oil in the tube after you put the hammer in. Otherwise, you could have a nasty spill like those idiots who burn the garage down trying to deep-fry a turkey. Let the hammer soak overnight again so it will soak up as much oil as it can. Treating the hammer handle with oil has a two-fold purpose. First, it makes the handle less likely to dry out and, second, the oil in the handle gives it a little more "life" when you hit with it. I don't know if I can even swing a hammer good enough to feel the "life" in it, but forgemasters much better than me can feel the difference.

After the overnight bath, wipe the handle down, go over it one more time with fine steel wool to take down any grain that has lifted with the oil, and enjoy!!

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