Myths and mysteries busted

For more information on hammer, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.

Books and articles in magazines are often sources of misinformation rather than information that really helps. You read them, store information gleaned, and then, some time later, try using what you learned as knowledge without a practical application and find that they will not work. This is one of those pieces of information
Cross-peen hammers are used by different trades including, but not exhaustively, furniture makers, blacksmiths, joiners and carpenters and upholsterers. In reviewing Mastering Hand Tool Techniques by Allan and Gill Bridgewater recently (Skyhorse Publishing Inc) I came across some flawed thinking and thereby flawed presentation of erroneous information presented with confidence as fact. This always worries me and it happens all the time in different books.

This issue seems a small one.

The authors show a small cross-peen hammer driving a panel pin (finish nail US) and states that to start the nail you use the face of the hammer “and then use the tail of the hammer and a few well-place blows to drive the pin home.” Now I don’t know how good the authors are at driving nails with the cross-peen aspect of a cross-peen or Warrington hammer, but I would like to see the “delicate bead” when done.

Here is the reality of how a cross-peen hammer is used to set small nails. For the main part, once a nail or pin is started, you obviously continue to drive it with the face of the hammer until fully driven to the wood surface but not beyond. You then set the pin with a nail punch (or nail set US). This works will any nail larger than say 5/8”. Smaller nails however are more awkward because the fingers get in the way and cover the head and this is where the cross-peen is masterful. Hold the nail between the finger and thumb in the position you want and simply aim the cross-peen for the valley between the closed thumb and finger. This then directs the cross-peen aspect precisely to the pinhead. Once started, turn the hammer over and drive home. The authors also say that a 3 ½ ounce pin hammer is the hammer you want for small work, but in reality this size is quite impractical. The smallest hammer I find of functional value is no less than 6oz and mostly an 8-10oz does everything in my shop.

Otherwise I found the book quite useful, informative and interesting though I hasten to add a little sterile and less organic than I like for a resource book.


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