Origin of the Lump Hammer
Posted on 12 September 2018
While the lump hammer appears in English workshops in the mid-20th century, I suspect its origins are much earlier.For many years I’ve collected English “joiner’s mallets” or “infill mallets,” which have a heavy cast metal striking head that has hardwood striking faces. These mallets are quite common on the secondary market and vary so much in design that I suspect many were homemade (buy the cast head and make the remainder yourself).
So you have to replace the striking faces. Usually this involves prying the wooden remnants out of the head and then fashioning replacements to fit the interior rough casting. Depending on the the shape of the interior of the head, you may or may not need an adhesive to help keep the striking face in place. Sometimes the holes for the striking faces are slightly tapered. The more you use the mallet, the tighter the striking faces get. Until they split.
Usually the metal head is brass or bronze and can vary in its decorative properties from “rock-like” to H.O. Studley. Many of the joiner’s mallets I have owned have Lignum vitae striking faces. Invariably, these striking faces are in bad shape after 100 or more years of beating things, no matter how vitae the wood is.
Lee Valley Tools sells a similar product – the Cabinetmaker’s Mallet. This nice tool has round wooden inserts that you can make with a hole saw. I used this mallet for many years and replaced the striking faces several times until the handle broke on me.
At some point in the 20th century, these joiners mallets disappeared and lump hammers appear. Lump hammers are simpler to manufacture – a piece of metal and a piece of wood. There are no wooden inserts to replace. They are cheap as chips. Heck, they are actually an engineer’s hammer with the handle a bit shorter.
And that’s where I think the lump hammer came from. Fancy and fussy joiner’s mallets were replaced with the simpler and cheaper lump hammer.So why aren’t we making bronze joiner’s mallets with rosewood inserts and an integral oiler and compass in the handle? Simple. We think the lump hammer was an evolutionary step in the right direction. Lump hammers are far more durable and less expensive. And if you need to protect the wood from the lump hammer’s metal striking faces, you simply use an expendable scrap to protect your work.
— Christopher Schwarz