Testing the Crap Out of Tools

Posted on 11 October 2017

Raney handed me four pairs of dividers he’d made with a simple set of instructions: “Ruin these.”

So for a month I went at those dividers during my regular work at the bench, over-extending their legs, wrenching the hinge and being “unkind” to the tips.

I ruined a couple of the dividers right good. And the two surviving pairs had traits that passed into our Improved Pattern Dividers.

With our holdfasts, however, I wasn’t able to ruin them. I beat on them with a sledge and quickly became worried I was going to crack my 6”-thick benchtop before our Iron Holdfast gave out. I knew from long experience that ductile iron was going to work just fine (see this blog entry for an explanation).

For the last several months I’ve been testing our forthcoming lump hammer. What you see above is still a prototype – the final handle will be a bit different. But the prototype has taken (and given) a good whupping.

So last week I loaned it to a crew that is helping me demolish the interior of my shop and rebuild a masonry wall. They showed no mercy. They used it to beat mortar, concrete, metal, tile, plaster and who knows what else.

The hammer’s faces survived just fine (so we got the hardness correct). And, most importantly, the crew gave me the stink eye when I took the hammer back today.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. We’re still finishing up work on the hammer, so I cannot promise a timeline or retail price. We’re shooting for the end of the year and less than $100. But no promises.

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  • Brian Hayner : October 17, 2017

    Are you taking advance orders for these now sight unseen ?

  • Chris: October 12, 2017

    Hang on, wait, that’s just a prototype for designing the handle, isn’t it? I’m so confused….

  • Chris: October 12, 2017

    The head is CONCRETE? Well hell, why didn’t you say so!

    Interest has been officially piqued.

  • G D Blake: October 12, 2017


    The biggest problem with current hammers is the lack of a swell in the middle and at the end of the hammer. Most have a nearly straight shaft that forces you to tighten your grip on the hammer to keep it from slipping out of your hand which zaps your strength and shortens how long you can work. Having done remodel construction work for years, I’ve always keep my eyes open at flea markets and antique stores for old hammers of all sizes and types that have their original, properly formed handles. You can use a 100 year old 2 to 5 lb sledge for hours without experiencing the fatigue 1 hour with a new sledge will cause. If you’ve cracked the code on what makes for a non-fatiguing ergonomic handle you’ll sell a ton of these.

  • Kevin: October 12, 2017

    As a someone who started out life as a bricklayer and concretor, and has therefore spent many hours swinging club hammers from 2lb to 14lb with handles of various lengths . I am not sure that such a thing can be “re designed”. I have certainly used and own ones that look pretty much the same as the one you have come up with . In fact the handle looks a little skinny to me ?. Certainly in the UK you can buy well handled and balanced club hammers for around £15 . You would have to work really hard to persuade me that I would be getting extra usability for the money . But as others have said if people are happy to buy them thats fine,and good luck to you but it wont be me,

  • Doctorian : October 12, 2017

    I myself cannot wait to hand over a hundred dollars to replace my unbalanced, soft (and especially ugly) Menards special for something I can hand down to my son.

  • Patrick: October 12, 2017

    I’m getting a little tired of people claiming they know how much something should cost or is “worth”, however you care to define “worth”. Sure, you can get by with simpler tools. Let them by imported crap at the big box store.

    Those who have tried know that to get any product “right” takes tremendous skill, time, energy and money. I applaud anyone who goes through the painful birthing process to produce something, domestically where possible, worth using every day and then passing on to a future generation. Personally, I’m happy to save up and splurge on a well-made, domestic tool for anything I use frequently. I may have fewer tools than some, but the nice ones put a smile on my face and inspire me to do better work every time I use them, and allow me to help put bread on the table for those people who create them. For me, that’s a privilege. Doesn’t matter if it’s a humble hammer, a chisel, or a track saw, a mechanical pencil, software, or really anything we use.

    Chris, Raney, John (in any order) I hope you’ll keep going for a long time.

  • jaycel adkins: October 12, 2017

    Looking forward to purchasing one. Thank you for doing this.

  • Christopher Schwarz: October 11, 2017


    I refuse to criticize another maker.

    We do what we do. We make small quantities. Made to particular specifications that we like. All our parts and processes are domestic.

    If that doesn’t make sense to you, then buy the cheap one.

  • Matt: October 11, 2017

    I can see the advantage of the long handle and superior metal for demolition work, but for woodworking applications, what are the advantages over a Spear and Jackson 2-1/2 lb. hickory-handled lump hammer that sells for about $26.00?

  • Matt: October 11, 2017

    I can see the advantage of the long handle and superior metal for demolition work, but for woodworking applications, what are the advantages over a Spear and Jackson 2-1/2 lb. hickory-handled lump hammer that sells for about $26.00?

  • Mark Allen: October 11, 2017

    That head is hardened steel? I’m no steel expert but that has a real unique look for steel. Any finish or treatment applied … other than hardening … that gives it that look? Maybe I’m just a steel noob?

  • Dee Davis: October 11, 2017

    Nice thumper! I have my Grandfather’s lump hammer and use it all the time. I have probably re-handled it 5 times in 40 years and I have no idea how many times Gramps did in the 40-50 years before that. When yours is ready, I’ll pony up for one so I can rest this old guy up and hopefully pass it on to a grandchild who wants to ‘make stuff’ someday.

  • Chris: October 11, 2017

    I can tell from your somewhat defensive tone (and previous blogs) that you’ve been getting a LOT of crap on this issue. I’m not intending on giving you more, I’m just interested in the motivation. I have a $30 AUD lump hammer with a hickory handle, bought from a box store, that does everything I need to do in a lump hammer – both on the farm and on the bench. I’d never pay more than that for what it is.

    I WOULD pay more for a tool that gives me more. The price of my Knew Concepts coping saw stung like the billy-o, but it’s proven worth every dollar. I’m keen to understand what those things might be in the tool you guys are putting together.

  • Dale Barber: October 11, 2017

    You are right about a hammer like this (ie correct hardness, balance, etc.) not being made for years. Luckily I have a few that are old enough to be good. A couple that were used about 100 years ago in my family and then into a box until I found them – and started using again!

  • Christopher Schwarz: October 11, 2017

    Yes, that and about 10 other little things. But hey, all I want is a hammer for me. If you don’t dig it, I’m OK because I have something that speaks to me after years of experimentation and research (not something based on years of cost-cutting and compromising).

  • Chris: October 11, 2017

    So, balance and hardness (and I’m guessing distinctive styling) is the improvement you’re looking for?

  • Christopher Schwarz: October 11, 2017

    If you think you can make a hammer like this in the United States for less than $100 than be my guest. Please put us out of business so we can go back to making furniture full-time.

    Good tools cost. Hammers that are properly balanced and hardened do not exist in the market today. And they haven’t for many decades.

    If this tool doesn’t make any sense to you, then ignore it. For those who are sick of rubber clown hammers, fragile wooden mallets and unbalanced crap from overseas, you might want to give this a look.

  • Chris: October 11, 2017

    Wow, $100 seems steep for a pretty basic tool. What problem do you see with a lump hammer that this tool intends to correct? Or is it intended to be more of a vanity tool?

  • Corey: October 11, 2017

    Let me preface my comment by saying I pretty much love every product you have touched – both lost art press and crucible. The dividers, holdfasts, and curves – excellent niche and quality products. I don’t understand the hammer for hopefully under $100. Is there a product or quality gap I am unaware of? I would really like to see you guys produce a sector similar to the tool temporarily offered by Gaffney.

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