How I fixed Herbie’s Hammer—or how I love old tools.

As promised in Day 19 of the Workbench saga, here is the story of my great-grandfather’s hammer.  Genealogy is another of my pursuits and it is a joy to be able to combine woodworking with genealogy.  I love it!

My great-grandfather Herbert (“Herbie”) Vaught was born in September of 1875 to his parents George W. Vaught and Emily Ann Tucker in Shelbyville, Indiana.

Here is Herbie in 1938 at the age of  62.  This is one of only two photographs we have of him. 

He was listed on the 1900 US Census for Indiana as a Blacksmith:

Kinda hard to read, but it says “Vaught, Herbie…24 yrs…Blacksmith”

At some point around this time, family story has it that he made this hammer and in time passed it on to his son, my grandfather, who left it to his son, my dad, who gave it to me some time around when my wife and I bought our first house, about 10 years ago in Florida.  When I was still just a kid, my dad had to replace the old handle that was just falling apart—we think it was the original handle.

I think it was the move from Delaware to Florida, and then from Florida to Texas that caused the shrinkage in the handle where it meets the head.  For the past few years, the crazy thing would wobble every time you swung it.  But it never got so bad I felt unsafe using it.  It did get bad enough that we got a second hammer and used that for most of our projects ever since.  I always loved Herbie’s Hammer though—it just…looks old.  It feels great in the hand (which, albeit is probably because of a well seasoned handle) and just feels…I don’t know, better than the new-fangled fiberglass carbon-fiber reinforced wonder hammer we got to “replace” it.  Meh.

Anyways, I decided today with a need for more oomph in the persuasion department, I wanted to use Herbie’s Hammer to finish off the bench, not the wonder hammer.  It just seemed appropriate.  To repay the hammer for it’s work, though I felt obligated to finally fix the old girl.  I had done some internet research on old hammers a while ago and just never got around to fixing it so I put that knowledge to good use.

Step one was to seat the hammer head further down the handle to expose the…uh…metal piece that is wedged into the…wedge…at the top of the handle.  Sorry, not big on the hammer terminology yet!

Here is the hammer before we started:

To do this, I pulled out the ship modeling files again and filed down the wood just below the base of the hammer:

You can see how the conical file easily removed the patina and the finish on the handle, revealing lighter wood underneath.  I did the same thing all the way around the handle and it gave the head another 1/16″ of space to wobble back and forth.

The next step was gently tap the head of the hammer as far down on the handle as possible.  This pushed the wedge (and the metal…wedge) further up out of the top of the hammer.  Prime easy target for smashing with the new hammer, driving the metal wedge deeper into the wooden wedge which forced the handle to get nice and tight and solved the wobble completely!

After hammering it down, the top of the hammer is now super tight.

And now the hammer is as good as new (new to me at least…I can only imagine how cool it looked when it was first made!).

I think Herbie would be happy his hammer is still in use!

Now I know this isn’t really a “rehab” of an old tool, but just this simple task has breathed new life in this grand old tool and it’s got me itching to find more tools to rescue.  I think it’d be really neat to take a hunk of rust people were trying to throw out and forget and bring it back to life and use again.  To fix something like this that was not only held in the hand of my ancestor, but actually made by him gives me such a thrill.  I only wish we had more of Herbie’s tools around….



About Marcus Richardson

Marcus attended the University of Delaware and later graduated from law school at the age of 26. Since then, he has at times been employed (or not) as: a stock boy, a cashier, a department manager at a home furnishing store, an assistant manager at and arts and crafts store, an unemployed handyman, husband, cook, groundskeeper, spider killer extraordinaire, stay at home dad, and a writer.
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2 Responses to How I fixed Herbie’s Hammer—or how I love old tools.

  1. David says:

    You won’t have any more of his but I suspect there will be a bunch of yours.

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