My Warrington cross pein hammer has been with me since 1966. It’s from the days when it cost 30 pence and what was then 7 shillings and 6 pence (£0.7.6p), the simpler days when we had 20 shillings in a pound and 12 pence in a shilling, things cost half a crown, two bob, and then again a tanner, thruppence and more. As with almost all UK hammer shafts, axe shafts etc, the handle was ash. It was and is a Stanley 10 ounce and it is well used with 55 years of six-day weeks and between 8- and 10-hour days.

Within a few weeks of my arriving in Texas and my tools being in dark green storage containers from a sea voyage on the sunny docks for a few weeks, the heads of my hammers and axes arrived loose. I did not have any steel wedges for my Warrington version so I used wooden wedges and surprisingly this worked well for my 23-year life living in or near the Texas Hill country in central to south Texas. Since I arrived back in the UK the head has come loose. With steel wedges, this is usually just a question of striking the end of the hammer shaft with another hammer to shock the head down onto the bulb of the shaft, the part just behind the inside of the hammer head. Once shocked on, the steel wedges can be driven deeper into the eye of the hammer head to spread the wood intro its dovetailed profile with a nail punch (set US).

My hammerhead only came loose a few days ago so I decided to resolve the issue long-term. I don’t know how it is where you live but many so-called hardware stores mostly stock household stuff like cleaners and plastic ware these days. Steel hammer wedges have long since gone, hence a general leaning towards procrastination. My wooden wedges cannot be tightened more for obvious reasons. Of course, you do get those ‘experts’ who say, “Leave it in a bucket of water overnight and that will fix it.” Please don’t.

How to stop procrastination

Take a piece of mild steel and grind a shallow wedge. My steel is 1/8″ (4mm) thick. Best to do it on the length of steel for safe handling.

Once you have the wedge shape you want, take a sharp cold chisel and create barbs on each of the corners.These barbs will prevent the wedge from backing out.

Use the corner of the cold chisel to make more barbs on each wide face of the wedge. As the wedge is driven in, the wood yields to the one-way barbs and beds into the wood.

Use a chisel in the eye of the hammer head just to give a firm start point for driving the wedge.

Strike the end of the hammer shaft to drive the head onto the bulb tight.

The shaft will protrude through the hammer eye as seen here.

Drive the wedge in as far as it will go. You will be surprised how much compression will take place in the wood to absorb the wedge.

Remove any excess protruding from the eye with a file or file and chisel.

Job done!

52 Comments

  1. Donald L Kreher on 28 April 2021 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you for this. I have always repaired my hammers, with wooden wedges. Unless I buy a new handle from the hardware store. They do come with a steel wedge and also a wooden edge, that you are to install at right angles to each other. I will try making a steel wedge with barbs on the next one.

  2. Donald L Kreher on 28 April 2021 at 12:47 pm

    I just looked. It turns out you can buy steel wedges from our hardware stores here in the U.S. That’s a surprise.

    • Paul Sellers on 28 April 2021 at 2:18 pm

      Yes, I could always find decent hardware in the US when I lived there. Some of the stores were like set[[ing back to my youth here in the UK.

  3. Matt Sims on 28 April 2021 at 1:05 pm

    “It’s from the days when it cost 30 pence and what was then 7 shillings and 6 pence ”
    Oh dear Paul… You’ve got something wrong!!… 7 6d is equal to 35.5 pence…
    30 pence was only 6 shillings!

    Regards,
    Matt

    • RS Hughes on 28 April 2021 at 2:13 pm

      37.5 pence. (Anorak, lol)!

      • Jay GIll on 28 April 2021 at 2:34 pm

        “back in the day when things were simpler” 🙂

      • Matt Sims on 28 April 2021 at 4:42 pm

        I came back to correct my own figure to 37.5… only to find it had been done!
        Doh!
        Matt

        • Larry on 28 April 2021 at 5:26 pm

          This is where I point out the dollar has always been metric😙

          • Paul Sellers on 28 April 2021 at 6:03 pm

            Now, if we could just persuade you go a couple of steps more. Hmm!



          • Kevin Orr on 4 May 2021 at 2:28 am

            The dollar, metric…BOOM!



          • Gerard on 10 May 2021 at 9:45 pm

            Ah, the idea of the US going metric! New Zealand changed to metric (the SI system) when I was a boy, so I remember the imperial world. However, Engineering school was all metric and all was well. Then I joined an airline with Boeing aircraft, which also maintained Air Force Hercules and suddenly I was confronted with strange things from the past. I had row after row of C130 stress reports dating from before I was born. And then we bought some Airbus aircraft: at last, familiar units! And, when in Toulouse, wine with lunch.



    • Tupper on 28 April 2021 at 4:34 pm

      He’s saying the price went up — my favorite is the guinea, which stopped being an actual coin but became a concept indicating 105%, used in professional fees, commissions and horse racing, according to Wikipedia.

  4. Tom on 28 April 2021 at 1:31 pm

    Here in New England my basement humidity gets dow to as low as 15% RH. In the summer it gets to 70% or so unless you control it. Consequently I tighten my wooden handles in the winter so presumably they only get tighter after that. When I bought my Thor hammer a few years ago the wedge was made of a plastic material and I had to use a torch to get it out and replace it with a steel wedge that my hardware store down the street carries. I like wooden handles on my hammers but I notice that they are now fiberglass or forged steel which don’t have the same balance or feel. Some of the forged steel hammers ring when you use them making them very unpleasant to use. You have to tap the faces together in the store to find one that won’t do that I found out afterwards.

    • Al on 28 April 2021 at 9:57 pm

      So, I have a Stanley 20 oz framing hammer with a fiberglass handle that is closing in on giving me 40 years of reliable service. Not only do I love the balance, it is designed to absorb shock in a way that makes it less tiring to use over a long day. It certainly is more comfortable to use than my wooden handled framing hammer.

      • Mark in NZ on 4 May 2021 at 11:04 am

        I’m with you. My go-to hammer for the last 20+ years has a fibreglass handle and I find it more comfortable and less tiring to use than any of my others. Especially, as you say, if you are hammering all day. I need a new head for it – the face is chipped and half of one of the claws has broken off. The handle has out-lasted the head.

  5. Andrew on 28 April 2021 at 2:45 pm

    What ever happened to hickory replacement handles. If ash is good, would sycamore do?

    • Paul Sellers on 28 April 2021 at 4:01 pm

      Not in the UK. US for hickory, mainly, although some hickory on Stanleys of the past. I think hickory is better than ash.

  6. Mike on 28 April 2021 at 4:30 pm

    I live in Oklahoma, 6 years ago a tornado broke up my hickory trees. I used a chainsaw to cut billets and let dry.
    Hickory and mesquite is available at the grocery stores i have found bags with some suitable pieces for
    Handles.
    Garage sales for old sledge handles, kids baseball bats. Broken shovel handles all sources

  7. Skip Hall on 28 April 2021 at 4:54 pm

    Yes! Old ash baseball bats make great hammer handles, and beautiful Tommy bars for old vises too. I have repurposed several from my childhood days.

  8. John on 28 April 2021 at 6:54 pm

    Iron wedges are available here in the US where I live, even in the Big Box “home”stores. Trouble is decent wood handles here on the west coast. Sadly the local hardware store that had been around since I was in grammar school closed its doors. Regarding metric money and other things, my dad always referred to dollars in “bits” which are 12.5 cents, so a quarter was two bits, and 50-cent piece 4 bits. It was wood working that got me back to using the fractional measures rather than decimal. I used metric throughout my working career in archaeology, but prefer inches and fractions for wood. I find the arithmetic is easier to do in my head.

  9. Richard Kelly on 28 April 2021 at 7:41 pm

    The well-known auction site in the UK appears to list a number of different forms of steel wedges – some even purporting to be UK-made!

  10. Mike Towndrow on 28 April 2021 at 7:55 pm

    Draper and Faithful both sell steel wedges in the UK. It looks like they’re available from various on-line outlets. Sadly not many decent walk in hardware stores left.

    • Paul Sellers on 28 April 2021 at 8:07 pm

      I lament the loss of part of our culture whereby ensuing generations are settling for so much less week on week by their believing that we are somehow miraculously evolving something superior and better than a timber yard selling good quality wood and another stocking everything needed for maintaining a home when in reality we are indeed being made a laughing stock by the big box proprietors who call their customers punters and live anonymously in their empires.

      • ken on 4 May 2021 at 8:36 pm

        The chickens will come home to roost with our disposable society where items are deliberately made unservicable by design or by economics (9 times out of 10 it is cheaper to buy new than to fix due to the cost of repair parts if even available). My father back in the UK “when I were a lad” fixed everything, and everything was kept/used for decades. Now, it is expected to buy new and throw away the old every one or two years. Shameful mountains of thrown away items. I fear for us all………….

  11. TC on 28 April 2021 at 9:12 pm

    Paul.

    I have bought wedges – not three or four years back – from Champion’s in Wallingford. They asked what size I wanted.

    Helpfully,
    TC

    • Paul Sellers on 28 April 2021 at 9:50 pm

      I know, an odd one here and there, but if you live in most areas that store is not convenient. We will see the hardware stores disappear with each generation no matter how affectionately we see this or that store I am afraid. And it is now cheaper and as convenient to shop online too; no car fuel, click of a button, carry on working without downtime.

  12. TC on 28 April 2021 at 10:04 pm

    You should have stocked up before you headed to the bright lights of Abingdon, Sir.

    You are right though. I walk to Champions, and don’t mind paying the extra few bob for this and that because of the service and the immediacy. And there are a surprising number of non-chain local stores that still provide knowledge as well as stock. But I just bought five decent Bessey table clamps online because the price cannot be beaten by a proper shop and the object is a known thing.

    BTW thanks for the mitre joint video. I just cut two very accurate bridle joints by adapting/simplifying it. I am learning to let go of my engineer’s need to measure things with numbers and just make them so that they fit. Unlearning is harder than learning.

  13. Steve P on 29 April 2021 at 7:33 am

    Hey Paul,
    What is your take on the UK warrington hammer vs the “German” style square cross pein hammer? And what weight? I went to my local lumberyard and they had the warrington style in 2 different weights, and they had the German style in 2 different weights. All made by a German company. But I was confused so left with nothing.

  14. KeithW on 29 April 2021 at 9:13 am

    One hardware store I go in in a local village still sells them. But I have a drawer of at least a dozen in different sizes, plus a number of assorted handles. Must have had some for some time, one still has the 25p price still on it. Now the going price seems to be £5 + . I sort of understand why people buy new rather then rehandle. Often see hammer heads cheap in “junk” sales. There ought to be a market for reselling them with a new handle, but I doubt that it is economically viable. I have often thought about trying it.

    My favourite Warrington hammer is a Brades. Not sure when they stopped making them. Some of my hammers I think of as new because I bought them new, but over 40 years ago.

    • Keith C on 29 April 2021 at 11:37 am

      Brades were a good manufacturer, I picked up a Brades N0 1 hand axe in a junk shop and I love the feel of it. The wooden shaft is much more user friendly than the solid steel ones.

  15. James on 29 April 2021 at 9:18 am

    Last time I needed one (a few years ago) I was able to get a wedge from Vickery’s in Drayton.

  16. steve on 29 April 2021 at 10:05 am

    There was a marvellous hardware store near where I live in Warwickshire. When they closed they still had stocks of Parkes Bi-ped hoe heads, paraffin hurricane lamps and Record plane blades wrapped in brown paper.

  17. Keith C on 29 April 2021 at 11:46 am

    Great article Paul and the old money is well remembered by me.

    Its not just hammers that used to be better, there has been reduction in quality of many tools and inflation has had a large impact on prices. e.g. I inherited my father’s Stanley 220 block plane, still in its orange box, dated 11 July 1973 and priced at £1.91 from Woolworths. You can now pay £24 for a lesser quality 220 block plane.

    • Mike Armitage on 4 May 2021 at 8:41 am

      I’ve been watching a router plane on EBay. Purchased in Bath for £4.38 umpteen years ago, and finally sold again on EBay for £165. That’s a good return!

  18. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe on 29 April 2021 at 11:49 am

    I just read a blog post from 19. december 2015 where you mentioned some old blue chips chisels you retired from work and archived.

    It would be very interesting and fun to see some of your old tools you no longer see fit for daily work in a blog post. I have a couple of yard sale chisels, and one of them is too short for my honing guide (I still relies on training wheels every now an then). From the looks of it, it has been mistaken for screwdriver and paint can opener. Still, it is a decent chisel that holds an edge well after I worked up a sweat at the diamond plates. Swedish made, I believe. It might not survive in my shop when my set of brand new chisels eventually arrives, but only time will tell.
    “When is a tool no longer useful for its intended purpose?”. 🙂

  19. Robert Owen Millinson on 29 April 2021 at 4:29 pm

    four candles (fork handles), and the best `ommer` is a Gilpin med in Cannock. Soo theere!.

  20. pATRICK on 2 May 2021 at 12:00 pm

    Paul, why do you orientate the wedge across the smaller profile, rather than the long?

    • Paul Sellers on 2 May 2021 at 2:39 pm

      It’s done both ways as standard. Sometimes two wedges the short way. I have good wooden wedge longways. The eye of thishammer head is really small.

  21. Andrew Niven-Reed on 3 May 2021 at 10:02 am

    Hi Paul,
    I inherited a Warrington hammer from my late father-in-law. This hammer could be as old as yours, possibly. He had ‘repaired’ the head/handle with a screw. This hammer is only used for light work, the head is, er, wobbly! I can try your mild steel wedge solution, hopefully. If it works, great. If there’s too much of a hole left by the screw then I’ll have to buy a modern one. Thank you.

    • TimD on 3 May 2021 at 10:02 pm

      You should be able to drive a wooden wedge, shaped like the screw, into the hole. Once the hole is filled use the metal wedge. You might want a drop of glue or two on the wooden wedge.

  22. JohnM on 3 May 2021 at 12:26 pm

    I recently had to replace the handle on my great grandfathers sledge hammer. I opted for the pack of wooden & round steel wedges made by Faithfull tools. I also glued the shaft and the wedges with Epoxy resin plus a finishing coat of Epoxy after I had filed the shaft & wedges flush with the head. No sign of movement after a couple of years and the wedges have not rusted begin coated in Epoxy.

    Bodge or a nod to modern materials – I leave that to you to decide !

  23. Alasdair Munro on 3 May 2021 at 5:18 pm

    If I may be so bold as to disagree, the ‘new fangled’ decimal 5p and 10p were introduced gradually to replace the shilling and florin from 1968 in preparation for decimalisation which occurred on 15th February 1971, my brother’s 15th birthday. Six shillings was 30 new pence whereas 7s 6d was 37 1/2 new pence. We spent years at school learning the old and new systems so that we would be able to cope, and I have to say, the teachers did a fine job.

  24. BackYardJackOfAllTrades on 3 May 2021 at 8:48 pm

    Paul, Thanks immensely for this. There’s always a way to do things without having to hire someone or drive miles for a fix or replace an item. Just your concepts alone makes my day more enjoyable. On my days off the last thing I want to do is to drive to the Big Box store to replace a worn tool. You’re the best. Reggie

  25. John Cadd on 3 May 2021 at 9:36 pm

    I bought a packet of steel wedges on ebay. I also ordered a hickory handle for a small axe. That arrived with a nicely cut shape but a very twisted grain. I sent it straight back and just reshaped the old handle .The original handle grain followed the handle curves perfectly .

    • TimD on 3 May 2021 at 10:08 pm

      They care little for the grain when cutting handles. I think they must sell the cast offs to the big chain hardware stores. I picked through eight handles before I found one that had reasonable grain. The kid (helpful store staff) watching me had no idea why I was rejecting them. Once I found a decent one I showed him the difference.

  26. Flemming Aaberg on 4 May 2021 at 1:02 am

    I must live in a land of the blessed (Australia) – our nationwide big green shed stocks hammer wedges. Think I’ll go get some now (even though I don’t need them yet) just in case.

    • Ben Sokol on 4 May 2021 at 2:45 am

      Or find a local blacksmith.
      If the fire is on it’ll take five minutes to knock ten out, and another five minutes to nick the corners.

  27. Ben Sokol on 4 May 2021 at 2:39 am

    Good job. Glad to hear you say never to soak the handle to swell it. Drives me nuts whenever I’ve heard that too.
    It’ll last until it dries back out and then be worse than before.

    I’ve heard mention of a product that was once used (not universally) for binding wooden wedges in tools and possibly joinery as well, but since hearing about it never again been able to find reference to it.
    A powder, not glue like. There may have been various brands.
    The only thing I can imagine it might have been is some sort of finely powdered resin or gum, maybe a silica gel. Something that would swell with humidity, stick and grip but then not let go of the moisture it captured.

  28. Ric Seaton on 4 May 2021 at 8:58 am

    Love these ‘nostalgic’ posts which prove that quality doesn’t really evolve. The best way are often the old ways. Norman churches still standing after 1000 years whilst cardboard homes fall down in decades.

    I always make my own axe handles from locally-sourced timber (love that expression) and knock in a wooden hardwood wedge. Then give them a decent wax seal on top of the end gains. They last for years and never loosen.

    I made a video of an axe handle shaping and fitting if anyone’s interested please let me know…

    • Ric Seaton on 4 May 2021 at 8:59 am

      (sorry about the howling typos!)

  29. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe on 4 May 2021 at 1:53 pm

    I thought of this post last yesterday, when I replaced a cracked 4 kilos Fiskars “classic” sledgehammer handle for a new one. They still sell replacement handles for their “classic” line of garden tools – which is the line I prefer. No composite or plastic covered metal handles, no thank you!
    Not only did I buy a brand new ash handle – the store had metal wedges in stock as well. I salvaged the old one in light of this post. A month ago, I replaced the handle on a Fiskars Classic pick axe. I snapped the handle while doing some gardening. I think it was about 15 years old.

    I hope Fiskars continues to make the classic line with wooden handles, but I fear that they too soon will offer spalted epoxy river handles… It’s certainly a fad that does not seem to die quick enough, in my opinion..

  30. Richard King on 4 May 2021 at 5:50 pm

    Good idea making your own wedges. They seem ridiculously expensive to buy, almost a pound each, when they probably are made for pence.

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