Highland Woodworking
Turning the Corner: Nut Hammer
By Temple Blackwood

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Turning the Corner focuses on using woodturning on the lathe as a way of enhancing cabinetry, furniture designs, and architectural installations. Each article also suggests an important woodworking book to read, reread or listen to, and a link to an appropriate article in The Highland Woodturner. Along the way, these articles seek to inspire woodworkers (cabinetmakers, carpenters, and housewrights) to extend their skills into basic, novice, and advanced woodturning while discovering for themselves this particularly sensual and spiritually rewarding dimension of working with wood.

The holidays here at home, as well as in the shop, included a full opportunity for visitors to enjoy cracking and eating an assortment of nuts – walnuts, pecans, peanuts, and more – in the new "butternut" nut bowl that was featured in last month's column.

Last month's article included some suggestions about how to make a proper nut bowl, copied more or less from a friend's historic (1914) family nut bowl that hosted a cast anvil and special hammer. With the help of Blacksmith John, we made similar copies for each of my friend's five children, given this year as Christmas gifts. The problem, however, for those of us challenged with working in steel is the anvil, and Blacksmith John has limited interest in making more than the original five. This led to developing a variation using stainless 3/4" (and later 5/8") hex-head bolts in place of the anvil.

Thinking further about how to fashion an attractive small hammer to go with the bowl, we again reached into the 3/4" (and then 1/2") hex-head bolt bin for a solution which worked out well and became the standard. One of the challenges is that stainless bolts longer than 2" are not threaded all the way to the bottom of the head which disallows using an extra nut as the spacer. The 2" length seems just shy of long enough although with the 3/4" bolts the heft is adequate and makes for a substantial weighted hammer. The 1/2" X 2-1/2" bolts are also not threaded all the way to the underside of the head necessitating a spacer of some other materials. In this case, a small scrap of cocobolo added a bit of color and just the right hardness and spacing to withstand the pounding. Trial and error settled on using the 1/2" X 2-1/2" bolts rather than the 3/4" which seem like over-kill.

To make the hammer, begin with a 1-1/2" X 12" blank of figured hardwood (cherry, oak, locust, and black walnut scraps are handy here in the shop). Drill a hole for the 1/2" X 2-1/2" hex-head bolt first leaving a section of handle to protrude and a waste block to allow finishing both ends of the handle. This is a living room gift, after all.

The first step is to mount the blank with the top of the blank toward the tailstock.

Round the blank and smooth it, leaving as much bulk as possible around the drilled hole.

Smooth the length of the blank and shape the bottom end in a pleasing fashion.

My preference in design is to reduce the diameter just below the hammer head to give an attractive, curved shape that encourages the user to apply the hammer properly but gripping it lower on the shaft.

Finish shaping and smoothing with the skew; then sand through the grits to about 400.

Given the nature of use for this hammer, I prefer my quick'n easy friction polish for the finish – 1/3 each of boiled linseed oil, shellac, and turpentine in a well-sealed (keep the air out) container. These do not mix with each other, so the turner must shake the mixture before applying to the turning.

From the heat generated by the spinning item and a liberal application with a paper-towel, the finish soon covers and dries. The linseed oil provides a lubricant; the shellac acts as an adhesive, grabbing the sanding dust and filling the pores while applying a layer of shine; the turpentine acts as a hardener and burns away. I would add that I use this mixture often at demonstrations and find that nearly everyone present finds the slight odor pleasing.

With the handle turned, reduce the end waste blocks.

Remove from the lathe and finish sanding and polishing the top and bottom ends.

Drill and turn the necessary spacer to complete the required set of parts.

Gage the spacer size before cutting and chamfering to length.

Assemble the "business" face of the head.

Add the securing bolt...

The goal is to secure a second nut to lock the first in place.

Adjust the angle of the hex-head to suit.

Lock the two securing bolts firmly together in place and add a drop of Thin CA Glue to the threads.

Three of the hammers are complete showing similar but different shapes.Those shown are actually all the same size but the angle of the photo suggests otherwise.

The biggest difference between using the 1/2" stainless bolt over trying out the look of a 3/4" stainless bolt is weight, but there is an appealing look to the larger choice, and it could be adapted to a 2-1/2" length again with a spacer of some sort. My concern about the greater weight of the 3/4" is that a too-mighty blow on the anvil might actually split the bowl rather than simply crack the nut, which is, after all, the goal.

The essence of a hand-made gift embodies the core of gift-giving at Christmas and other celebration days. We find an extra special quality in making gifts that are as admired for their beauty as for their usefulness. The original nut bowl sample that initiated this expanding project was stamped with someone's initials "AHS" as well as the year "1914," and clearly that gift has been treasured, used, and valued far beyond the maker's original goal and imagination.

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Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at temple@highlandswoodturning.com. Take a look at Temple's Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/

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