Intro: Making Hammers From a Railroad Spike
I was recently inspired by Uri Tuchman's YouTube channel. He does some amazing engraving and all around great builds if you don't know who he is I highly suggest checking out his channel. The first video of his I watched he made a hammer. It sparked my curiosity and I wondered if I could make one. I was looking around my garage for scrap pieces of metal but I came up empty handed that is until I remembered I had two rust encrusted railroad spikes that I've had for about 15 years. The story of how I got these is fairly entertaining but way too long to write about here.
Anyhow I thought the shape of the head of the spike, with a little shaping would work as a hammer head. Originally I was just going to make one hammer but since the railroad spike was long enough I was able to make two small hammer heads. The steel is fairly soft and scratches easily which leads me to believe it will get beat up fairly quickly. I plan to use these for light hammering and possibly for engraving so I did not try to heat treat them. I am curious to see how long they will last with out being hardened.
The first thing I did was try and remove as much of the rust as possible. I used an angle grinder with a grinding wheel attachment. I chucked the railroad spike in my vice and got to work trying to evenly grind away the rust.
This is the railroad spike after grinding. Next it was time to clean up the piece and start shaping the head of the rail road spike. This consisted of my flattening the domed head and straightening all the sides. I just bought this Multitool Grinder attachment and this was a good opportunity to test it out. It uses a 2x36 inch sanding belt and I have to say it worked quite well.
Here I am trying to mark the center of one of the sides to make the eye of the hammer, the part where the wood handle will attach. I am terrible at getting things centered, as can be seen once I drilled the hole. However since I was going to have to elongate the hole I knew it didn't have to be perfect as I could adjust the hole using files.
In order to drill the hole for the eye I first started with a small diameter drill bit and then worked my way up through larger drill bits. In total I used 4 different drill bits to get a final hole that was 5/16 of inch wide. This was the size I needed in order to fit my file through the hole for shaping. Its important when drilling a metal object like this to use a drill press vice to hold the piece this will help prevent injury.
With the hole drilled I began elongating the eye with a file. I didn't aim for a specific size I just went with what looked right. At this point I felt the hole was large enough but after attaching the handle, which you will see later, I felt like I should have made the eye larger. If the handle breaks I will take the opportunity to make the hole larger. Time will tell I suppose.
After shaping the eye I cut the railroad spike in half using my angle grinder fitted with a cut off wheel. I performed the same process for the other half of the spike off camera as its identical and would just be repetitive if I documented it here.
In this picture the hammer head is just sitting on top of what will be the wood handle. I was trying to see what looked right as far as scale and length of handle were concerned. Next I traced the eye hole on to the top of the wood and then marked the length of the hammer head on the side of the handle.
I started to carve the tenon portion that would be fitted in the eye of the hammer head. I started using a carving knife and then moved to a trim saw. I tried to cut away the excess wood with the trim saw so I would have less carving and chiseling to do. I used a chisel to clean up the tenon and saw marks.
I would periodically check the fit of the hammer head on the handle to make sure I wasn't removing too much material.
Once I got close I switched over to using a file to clean up any areas that needed a little adjustment.
After the tenon was done, I started to shape the handle. At first I used a wood rasp to get the rough shape I was after then I sanded the handle starting with 120 grit and finishing with 220 grit. The last picture shows the finished handle almost ready to be attached.
I drilled a small hole at the base of the tenon so that when the wedge is hammered in to the tenon it won't split, it acts as sort of a stress relief. After drilling the hole I cut the tenon in half this is for the small triangular wedge that will be hammered in place to secure the handle to the hammer head.
I mixed some 5 minute epoxy and spread some on all the mating pieces. In the third picture you can see the small maple wedge being inserted in to the middle of the tenon. Next I hammered the wedge in to the tenon. I also made sure to clean off any excess epoxy with acetone. I let the epoxy cure overnight.
This is actually the second handle I made for the hammer I split the first one because I was too aggressive when hammering in the wedge. And this is the third tenon I had to carve as the second one ended up being too small.
After letting the epoxy dry I took my trim saw and cut off the excess tenon and then sanded that flat. I wanted to maintain the feel of the wood so I applied four coats of Danish Tung oil to the handle per the instructions on the can.
This is my first time trying something like this and as always I made several mistakes and learned a lot along the way. To say that I am happy with how they turned out is an understatement. I suppose part of the reason I am so pleased with them is because of the story behind how I got the spikes. Every time I use one of these little hammers it will remind me of that story.
I plan to use these hammers for light work so I didn't hardened them with that said I am curious as to how much abuse they will be able to take.