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).

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.

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.

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

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  • Ray Schwanenberger: September 14, 2018

    I think I heard somewhere that the Welsh invented the lump hammer.

  • Mark Gilsdorf: September 14, 2018

    I always chuckle a bit when I see older cast hammers that reproduce the fullered valleys of hand forged hammers. What began in the forging process as a way to isolate the material for the faces from the body got carried over as an aesthetic design element in the cast versions.
    The new hammers are beauts by the way

  • Duane Peterson: September 14, 2018

    Kevin’s comment makes sense to me, about the only hammer I’ve seen close to a lump hammer in a wood shop is the one the English Woodworker likes to use. Although the lump hammer pictured looks like the hammer my Grandfather used in his blacksmith forge in the middle of the last century.

  • Graham: September 14, 2018

    Kevin, I was going to share a similar thought. I can’t help but check out boot sales, vintage market, etc and I’ve not been lucky enough to find an infill mallet. A lump hammer can be very useful in the workshop. However, it’s been my experience, here in the UK at least, that lump hammers are used vary sparingly in a joiners workshop. Perhaps more where a trade overlaps on site? Good in a carpenters tool kit. However I see no reason why a lump hammer would not be effective if one chose to use it in a workshop setting. I’m sure for many tasks it would be a good option and further, I’m sure many esteemed woodworkers past and present have found a use from it. My gut just tells me the correlation between a infill mallets and lump hammers just doesn’t sit right. Perhaps a lump hammer is the masons tool that found use in the workshop as the hardpoint saw found use in the builders van?

  • Bernard Naish: September 14, 2018

    Kevin is absolutely bang on. My Grandfather working in 1800’s used the club hammer I have to drive pegs into heavy barn timbers to draw them tight. BTW he used a tapered steel punch rounded at the tip and fading back into flats to give a stable grip while lining up the holes much as one might in fancier stuff.

    Both tools were hand forged probably in Somerset.

  • Kevin: September 13, 2018

    Interesting . In the UK at least I dont think you are quite on the money , firstly the wooden faced mallet you describe is in my experience not very common at all and hardly ever appear at yard or boot sales . Secondly The club, mash or lump hammer has been in carpenter and joiners shops for centuries but they are a masons tool , on site they are used with metal chisels such as floor board and plugging. as well as for driving home large spikes and dogs in larger work such as formwork, shoring and bridges .Metal sledgehammers or mauls which are generally heavier and with longer handles have also been around for centuries but again are on site tools . The only workshop where I have seen them used was a wheelwrights. I know from my own apprenticship and from my great Grandfather and Father in law , that if a club hammer appeared on the bench, stand by for some mickey taking regarding the quality of your work !. The wooden mallet never disappeared in any workshop I have worked in.In fact for many it was one of the first things you might make as n apprentice . The “Thor” hide and copper faced hammers were acceptable to have on the bench.

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