How to Renovate Your Old Hammer





Introduction: How to Renovate Your Old Hammer

About: skin on frame kayak builder since 1987

Renovating an old hammer is fairly easy, but like all things maintenance oriented are often deferred because maintenance feels like it's too much trouble.  I have had an old hammer in my tool box for almost a decade and used it occasionally because it still did the job even though its head was loose and the handle was beat up and the head was all rusted.  Then I watched one of my shop mates restore a hammer and I said to myself, time to fix up my old hammer.
Quick cut to the finish - once I put a new handle on the hammer and removed some of the rust off the head, I found myself much more inclined to use it - apparently we like to work with attractive tools. And even if a thing is easy to do, it's more likely to get done if we have a precedent.  So, all you beat up hammer users out there - renovate!

Step 1: Tools Needed

To do this job you will need the following:
1) A new handle and wedges - available as a kit at your hardware store. If in doubt, bring the hammer with you to the store to make sure you buy the right size replacement handle. A friend has pointed out that a replacement handle may cost almost as much as a new hammer.  Perhaps you might want to whittle your own handle.
2) A hacksaw for sawing off the old handle
3) A hammer and punch to drive out the old handle.

Step 2: Saw Off the Old Handle

Time to saw off the old handle. At this point you may be experiencing some remorse. I know I did.  Maybe the old handle isn't so bad. This handle has a lot of history - etc. etc. Point is, you could maybe save the old handle except it's hard to get off unless you saw it off.
Also note the use of the hack saw.  At some point in its life, the owner, probably someone other than you may have pounded nails into the end of the handle and you don't want to run into one of those with a wood saw.  Ruins the teeth.

Step 3: Remove the Stub From the Head

You would think that the piece of handle remaining in the head would just fall out since the head was so loose.  But it doesn't seem to so you have to punch it out.  I used a punch, but heavens forbid, you could use a screw driver or any blunt object, even a piece of hard wood.
Now that you have a rusty hammer head without a handle, you may also wish to polish up the head a bit on a grinder or with some sand paper or a file.  This will make it more shiny and attractive to use.

Step 4: Install New Handle

Holes in the heads of hammers seem to be fairly standard size so the new handle should fit the head.  If the end of the handle is too fat, file it down so it fits. The end of the handle should be flush with the top of the head.

Step 5: Install Wooden Wedge

The top of the hole in the hammer head is wider than the bottom so as to provide some room for splaying out the handle for a good seat.
You may need to whittle down the sides of the wooden wedge to match the width of the slot in the hammer head. 
Once you have a good fit, pound the wooden wedge as deep as it will go.
Then trim off the wedge with your hack saw.

Step 6: Pound in the Metal Wedge

If your kit comes with a metal wedge, pound that in at an angle to the wooden wedge.  The point of this is to seat the handle against the ends of the slot and to lock in the wooden wedge. 
File or grind off anything protruding out the end of the head to give it a nice smooth finish.

Step 7: You're Done

Now you're done. 
Enjoy the renewed addition to your tool box. 
If you're feeling empowered by this exercise, renovate something else, like maybe a screw driver.



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    23 Discussions

    Nice Instructable!!! But to easily get the stub out of the head build a hot fire and bury the top of the head in the hottest coals take it out and the stub will be gone. Use an old pair of lopers to take it out of the fire

    1 reply

    Don't do this unless you want a soft hammer. They are specifically heat treated at the factory and this will make it soft.


    Yes it has shrink. .0001 of an inch over 8 years of working when ever I needed it. By the way I really did measure it.

    IMHO. I was taught after you replace the handle. Put the hammer in a bucket of water for 24 hours to swell the wood.

    6 replies

    I've heard that too. Haven't tried it though. Only thing is, after the handle dries back out it will shrink again.

    No it will not shrink. I have replacement handles on hammers, axes, pick axes, sledge hammers, and don't have any problem with them.

    Actually it will contract again, especially if it gets into a very dry area. What makes this an even worse idea is that since you're expanding the wood inside the metal head, you can actually crush the cells of the wood and make the handle even looser than before and it's likely that the head could even come flying off if that happens. It's likely that you live in a humid environment if a handle has never shrunk back down.

    Hasn't happened yet which is over many years of use. I live in a temperate zone, with all 4 seasons. Thanx for the reply.

    The new handle I've got is hickory-wood, so do the wedge have to be the same kind of wood or soft wood or what? Linseed sounds far better than water: Thanks!

    1 reply

    I have head the same hammer for 30 years-I only had to replace the head and handle a few times.;)

    I have had success with packing the gap using epoxy putty.

    I just made an instructable on making a new handle for hatchets which could easily be altered to fit an axe

    What i used for a bunch of very rusty old tools, including a wood hammer was Evaporust, a great and very safe rust remover. Cleans the parts and you can get it on your hands.

    I've made several handle by shaping the outline on a lathe, then just planing the flats on the sides. Besides, that way I get to use my lathe.

    I use a file myself to trim handles to fit hammers. It takes me quite a few fittings to get a handle fully seated though. I mark a side of the hammer head and a side of the handle so I always fit parts the same way around as I work. If you look very closely at the handle after you remove it you may see a little dirty, or after a while shiny spot in the handle wood, that is where you file next.

    Also it pays to study hammer handle grain to gain an understanding of which way around a handle is supposed to go on a hammer. Because hammer handles are a lot like baseball bats in that there is a hit and a no hit side. Sure it works if you put it in the wrong way, just it'll be more durable if you put it in the right way around.

    This guy has a few tips that add to this topic:

    Nicely done.

    I've got a little cup in my toolbox where I keep my old wedges. The handles I buy come with 1 wood and 1 steel wedge, but I sometimes find I need two or more of the steel ones. Usually you can get at least one extra from the old handle.

    I've redone a sledge before and sometimes you need three or more.

    Hammers, axes, etc., properly cared for, can last forever.

    My grandfather left me an axe that has been in the family since the 1840's.

    (We've had to replace the handled every ten or fifteen years, or so, and we've had to replace the head twice, but it's the same axe...)