Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Bostitch Hammer

Since the 90's, I've faithfully used a 21 oz. Stanley model hammer (the wooded handled driver shown above).  When the hammer was brand new, the last 2" of it's handle was painted canary yellow, but the factory finish has worn off over the years.  When Stanley stopped making what I believed to be the perfect hammer,  I became open to the possibility that some other paragon of nailing utility might surface.  This said, I stock piled half a dozen or so of the Stanleys (such was my faith) because the handles are custom fitted to the model's unique head and not easily replaced.  So for more than a decade now I've waited, while the hardware market has been inundated by a range of "nifty" excuses for a hammer.  Of course these have been intermingled with old standards like Vaughn and Estwing which have been the go to nail drivers for more than half a century despite poor design.  

One by one, the handles broke and the hammer shown here is the last of my Stanley 21 ouncers.  I've been using it with care since 1999, though a crack in the upper handle has been threatening for more than half that time.  At some point, while lamenting a world without readily available good hammers, the decision was made that the day my last hammer breaks, I will stop work at that moment no matter what the cost, and get wrecked.  On reflection this is not only a tribute to the tool, but to the French Timber Framers Guild who are known for the practice of breaking out a bottle of wine when an incredibly debilitating joinery mistake has been made.

All this to say, Bostitch has come out with an outstanding 20 oz. driver.  I would prefer a wooden handle, but best not to look the gift horse ....  The anti-vibe handle design and the magnetic nail slot in the top of the head are cute marketing tricks I can live with, but the hammer's real success is the size of the driving face and the face's balanced proximity to the shaft of the handle.  The new Bostitch touts a 75% increase in the nailing face and this alone was enough to make me believe the designers of this tool might have actually considered using it.

Because of what I speculate to be a production limitation, most factory made smooth faced hammers have a slightly convex nailing surface.  Naturally, this causes the hammer to glance off the nail; but the problem is easily remedied by grinding the surface down until it is slightly concave.  In the case of the Bostitch, there is a bevel around the perimeter of the nailing face which I have also ground down a bit to increase the nailing surface even more.  

The groove of the Bostitch hammer's nail claw is also too shallow; this causes more force than should be necessary to deal with stubborn nails.  But this also can be addressed by tooling the groove to the appropriate width and depth.  

The jury is still out on how long the applied rubber handle will last.  The length of the handle is actually more appropriate than the Stanley, and though every good father tells his son that the appropriate way to hold a hammer is at the end of the handle, this is simply not the case.  Of course holding it at the end affords more swinging force but the goal is to land in a place where power and accuracy are balanced — this requires a bit of choking up, and by using this method you can set and drive a 16 cc nail (3"nail) with one lick (in spruce).  The trick is getting the nail about a third of the way into the material on the set and this is where one's fingers beg for precision.  After explaining the technique to zealous, home for the summer, collegiates who are chomping at the bit for action, the following moments can be painfully entertaining.

Note: Not long after writing the above comments, I was using the new Bostitch driver and noticed an almost imperceptibly small bit of brand copy near the Bostitch title on the hammer's head.  I put it out in the light for a better squint, and to my surprise, the subtle hailing, "Stanley." Well what-a-you-know, Bostitch is a subsidiary.  

Cheers Stanley,
a carpenter 

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