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Reader Gil sent in a question about acceptable tools for the job.  He asks, “Can I use a 3-pound cross-pein #3 sledge hammer on masonry chisels?  Or will the hammer explode like a clay-more?”

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Well that’s a new one for me, but in my experience hammers are made to beat on things.  I’ve cracked handles, and heads have slipped off before, but I’ve never had one explode.  However I’m not the best judge in this situation — there are far more experienced folks of the hammer out there.

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How ‘bout it Toolmonger readers — does our friend Gil worry with good reason about this hammer, or does the “grip it and rip” philosophy apply here?  Let us know in comments.

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19 Responses to Reader Question: Cross-Pein Explosion

  1. George says:

    Sounds like the urban myth on human spontaneous combustion.

  2. fred says:

    I recall that Stanley used to make 2 classes of Ball Pein hammers – one they called “jobmaster” and another they called “handyman”. The jobmaster was about twice the price – but had what Stanley claimed was a tempered and polished rim on the flat striking face – that was guaranteed not to splinter when struck on a chisel.

  3. Dave says:

    AFAIK sledge hammers and ball-pein hammers are made for whackin’ metal.

    Mythbusters had a nice exploding-hammers episode.

    Dave

  4. ToolGuyd says:

    I cannot see why this would not be okay. In theory, it *might* be a different story if you were talking about say, a claw hammer.

  5. G says:

    Entertainingly, Mythbusters tried to get a claw hammer to shatter. After they couldn’t get them to shatter, they tried to make them more brittle and still couldn’t get them to even chip.

  6. Joe C. says:

    I dress mushroomed chisels a lot more frequently than I do hammer faces, no matter what I’m whacking with (soft-faced hammers aside), so I’m gonna assume that hammers are generally harder than chisel butt ends (although the difference in diameter probably makes some difference, as does hitting it offsquare).

    The butt end of the chisel isn’t soft steel, but it isn’t very hardened either, since you can usually dress them with a file (though grinding is faster & easier). Hardened steel, like at the cutting end of a good chisel, won’t be removed by a file.

    I ain’t no scientist, but I’ve whacked a lot of stuff.

    I’m also not very smart, but I can lift heavy things!

  7. james b says:

    If the chisel is tempered properly it should be normalized on the struck end, and barely drawn to a temper on the pointed end. This is why chisels mushroom on top: the metal is softer on that end and designed to take the impact. The hammer is likely tempered roughly to a hardness you would find somewhere between the ends of the chisel. So if you turned the chisel around backwards you might dent the face of the hammer, or fracture the end of the chisel. I’ve seen cast iron explode, but I really doubt a tempered steel hammer head would ever do that.

  8. Ron says:

    The question, Gil, is; Can you swing a three pound sledge hard enough to make it explode? Remember that you have to hold the chisel with one hand, which only leaves you one to swing that beater, unless you’re some kind of three armed freak in which case it may explode.

  9. JKB says:

    Barring some defect no splintering should occur. The hammer is tempered to be harder than the striking end of the chisel which would as stated be normalized. The hardened part of the chisel is the cutting end. Hammers are hardened to reduce marring and deformation while what is struck is to be softer since they are cheaper and easier to produce or, as nails, designed for short term use.

    In any case, I would far more concerned with a framing or claw hammer splintering since they usually have some flair out to the face to reduce weight while giving a large striking area. The cross peen hammer has a solid mass out to the face.

  10. Joe Birmingham says:

    Below is a link to a lawsuit from 1960 in which the plaintiff lost sight in on eye as a result of a sliver of hammer being lodged in that eye after two hammers were banged together. I realize this was a long time about but I would expect that a Craftsman hammer manufactured by Vaughn 40 years ago is a lot higher quality than that new Kobalt hammer from China.

    http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/274/274.F2d.441.12742.html

  11. Wayne D. says:

    Wear face protection while using a chisel like you should and you’ll be fine.

  12. Peter says:

    Regarding the court document found by Joe Birmingham, the jury found the plaintiff (the guy who lost his sight in one eye) as the responsible party, thus he collected nothing. Sears and the hammer manufacturer were found completely without fault and owed nothing.

    Among the numerous issues that proved Sears innocent was the fact that the plaintiff denied ever receiving safety instruction or a safety pamphlet on proper use of tools at his place of employment. However, his signature indicating proof of receipt of the pamphlet showed otherwise.

    The upshot? Remember what your mother said – Stop acting like an idiot or someone is going to lose an eye! Also, don’t blame others for your own mistake.

  13. [...] Reader Question: Cross-Pein Explosion Reader Gil sent in a question about acceptable tools for the job.  He asks, “Can I use a 3-pound cross-pein #3 sledge hammer on masonry chisels?  Or will the hammer explode like a clay-more?” Toolmonger readers sound off on what’s up. [...]

  14. Gil L. Braverman says:

    Thanks to everyone for your comments and for making this post #1!!

  15. SuperJdynamite says:

    “Regarding the court document found by Joe Birmingham, the jury found the plaintiff (the guy who lost his sight in one eye) as the responsible party”

    The issue isn’t about culpability — it’s about whether hammers will chip or shatter.

  16. BobH says:

    I used to work in the log home industry in Montana, and one day at work one of my fellow workers got metal in his eye when two hammer heads were hit together and one of them exploded. I was 20 feet away when it happened, so this is not here say. This was 20 years ago. I forget why we occasionally had to do such things with hammers, but you can be sure we did it more carefully after that.

    I remember everyone’s surprise because the hammers were not hit together all that hard.

    No idea what brands of hammer were involved. His injury was not permanent. Eye protection would have prevented his injury.

  17. > The issue isn’t about culpability — it’s
    > about whether hammers will chip or shatter.

    And clearly, occasionally, they will at least chip. But if you’re smacking a masonry chisel with a hammer, there’s probably some, you know, MASONRY involved in the operation, and that stuff chips and shatters just fine. Which is kind of the point.

    So yes, if you’re smashing up masonry and don’t wear eye protection, you’re liable to get something in your eye.

    If you’re wearing eye protection, though, you’re far more likely to break your hand with that big hammer than you are to injure any other part of your body with flying fragments, and said fragments are very unlikely to include any steel.

  18. Bob The Drywall Guy says:

    I may just be a drywall junkie, but it would seem like smashing two hardened steel hammer faces together would be a great way to chip a hammer.. If you hit a hammer face with something just as hard, no real good can come of it.

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