How to Make Hammers
with Simple Hand Tools
You can make your own hammers with a few simple hand tools. In addition, you can design your hammers to make your dulcimer sound better (it’s much less expensive than buying a new dulcimer). If you’re thinking about designing your own hammers, read the information under Characteristics.
Most of the first-time attempts at making hammers that I’ve seen are rather large, heavy, and clunky. Don’t be afraid to rasp/file/sand the shaft and handles down to a nice sleek size. You can test the hammers at various stages in the process to see if you want to take them down further.
1. Coping saw (or a hand-held electric jig saw, or best of all – a scroll saw)
2. File/Rasp combination – one side is flat, other side half-round (or set of files and rasps) (or best of all – an oscillating spindle sander)
3. Hand drill (or hand-held electric drill, or best of all – a drill press)
4. Sand paper – medium (100 grit), fine (150 grit), and very fine (220 grit)
5. Two 2 or 3-inch C-clamps (sometimes called G-Clamps)
6. A 1/8-inch bolt, nut, and two washers
7. A 1/8-inch drill bit for the above bolt and a ½-inch or ⅜-inch drill bit for the final hole in the head.
8. Glue – Titebond Original Wood Glue or Elmer’s Carpenter’s Glue
9. Finish – Minwax Wipe-On Poly (clear satin) and Johnson’s Paste Wax
The following is a simple way of making double-sided hammers using only hand tools. It is certainly not the only way. It is designed to be a relatively foolproof and generic method for first-time hammer makers.
If you plan to use power tools, be sure to use eye goggles, hearing protectors, and a dust mask.
STEP 1: Making the Pattern1. Most of us will copy the pattern of a hammer we like. Simply place the hammer on a blank piece of card stock (such as an old file folder or the cardboard in a new shirt package) and trace the outline with a sharp pencil. What you will come out with will be a reasonable copy of the hammer, albeit slightly larger – but that’s OK, you will be sanding down the hammers to the desired shape and size in the final steps.
2. Next, carefully cut along the lines out the card stock with a sharp pair of scissors (or xacto knife on a scrap piece of wood for a cutting board) to produce a template or pattern. Then measure the exact center of the head (especially from striking surface to striking surface) and poke a small pin hole in that spot.
3. Also measure the exact center of the grip at the narrowest point and poke another small pin hole in that spot. Later you will be using these pin holes to draw a center line to make sure your double-sided hammers are exactly symmetrical.
STEP 2: Obtaining the Wood
1. You need to obtain ⅛-inch thick wood for the shaft/head (mahogany, cherry, and walnut are available at Hobby Town USA-sometimes they have to special order it).
2. You can also order ⅛-inch thick pieces of wood online. One source is www.constantines.com. They have a toll-free ordering number and very fast service. They carry maple, cherry, rosewood, purpleheart, walnut, wenge, and others. It is much easier to obtain ⅛-inch thick stock rather than trying to plane wood down to proper thickness (unless you have access to a thickness sander).
3. You will also need to obtain wood 3/16th of an inch thick for ½-inch wide handles, or ¼ inch thick wood for wider handles (which I prefer). Hobby Town USA has (or can order) some 3/16 inch strips of walnut. Again, you can shop online for a wider assortment of ¼ inch thick hardwood.
STEP 3: Tracing the Pattern on the Wood
1. Trace out the pattern on the 1/4–inch thick wood for two hammers (one pair). Then poke a pencil through the two holes in the pattern onto the wood (one hole in head and one in handle).
2. Then take a straight edge and a sharp pencil and lightly and carefully draw the center line from the pencil mark in the head to the pencil mark in the handle.
3. Be sure you don’t bear down on the pencil to leave an impression in the wood. It must be light enough to be easily sanded or erased off later (but dark enough to see).
STEP 4: Cutting out the Hammers
1. Use a coping saw to cut out the hammers. Work slowly and carefully, cutting slightly outside the lines. If you have a scroll saw, by all means use it. But work very, very slowly. Sit down on a stool and enjoy yourself. I make it matter of practice to always wear eye goggles when working with any power tool.
2. By cutting just outside the lines, you will be leaving the line pattern showing so you can carefully sand or file down to the line later.
3. Now, sand or file the very tip end of the handle down to the pattern line. Then make a mark at the very tip end of the handles that is in line with the center line. This line will come in handy later on.
STEP 5: Shaping the Head and Shaft
1. Drill a small pilot hole in heads of the hammers where the pencil mark is and bolt the two hammers together. Make sure the side of the hammer that has the pattern is facing up on both hammers. You will need a small bolt, a nut, two small washers, and a drill bit of the same size. Use the washers to protect the wood. I use a 1/8-inch bolt and drill holes to match. You can use a hand drill, but a drill press is best. When working with wood, I prefer brad point bits or forstner bits. They make a cleaner cut.
2. Then with the two hammers bolted together, and with the two marks on the very tip end of the handles lined up, place the hammers in a vise. If you don’t have a vise you can use a 2 or 3-inch C-clamp fastened to a workbench or table (or back of an old chair). If you are clamping the hammers to a workbench, place a small piece of wood between the clamp and the wood. If you don’t protect the wood, the vise or clamp will leave impressions in the wood. I have stuck some rubber gasket material I obtained at Lowes to the jaws of the vise with double-sided carpet tape. Works great.
3. With the hammers firmly in place, file and sand the head and shaft of the hammers down to the pattern line (and perhaps a little beyond it). The flat side of the rasp/file combination tool works great for the shaft. Use the curved side of the file for shaping where the head meets the shaft and for shaping the handles.
4. One of the handiest tools I’ve ever made was simply a belt from a belt sander, wrapped around a piece of wood. It’s like a super large sanding block, but one that lasts a long, long time. I especially use it on flexible hammers to sand the shafts down to a certain thickness while making the shafts perfectly straight. I also use it on stiff hammers. Belts come in different widths (1 to 6 inches) and lengths (16 to 48 inches). You will want a narrower width (2-4 inches) so you can move the hammer back and forth. I use medium (100-120) grit for adequate wood removal without being overly scratchy.
STEP 6: Making the Handles
1. Unbolt the hammers.
2. Cut the wood for the handles in rectangle pieces a little longer and wider than needed according to the pattern (about 1/16 inch larger in both directions). Don’t try to cut the pieces to shape before gluing – leave them as rectangles to be rasped and filed to shape after gluing. Before gluing the handles onto the shaft, erase (or lightly sand off) the center line on the shaft only where it will meet the beginning of the handles – its easier to do it now then after the handles are glued on.
3. Glue together one side at a time. If you have two clamps, you can glue up two hammers at the same time. Again, use pieces of scrap wood (cauls) to protect the wood from being marred by the clamps. I prefer Titebond Original Wood Glue, but regular Elmer’s Carpenter’s Glue, or even Elmer’s White Glue will work. It is important to get a good bond. The surfaces must be clean and flat. I hold the two pieces that are about to be glued up to the light to see if they are flat against one another. If not, I sand them flat on my “belt sanding block” (see picture under step #5). Wipe off any excess with a damp cloth (especially where the handles meet the shaft). Different glues have different clamping times. I allow wood glued with Titebond to dry in the clamps for at least 30 minutes. You could use spring clamps or even large binder or bulldog clips you can purchase at Office Depot or Staples.
4. Then clamp each hammer in the vise (or in your make-shift vise using C-clamps) and rasp and file the handle to shape with the convex (curved) side of the rasp/file tool. You will have covered over the pattern with the layers of wood, but it can be redrawn on the outside layer of the handle by lining up the center line on the shaft and the mark on the very tip end of the handles. As you work, keep “eyeballing” down the length of each hammer from handle end to see if the handle is symmetrical and in line with shaft.
5. If you have a drill press, you can shape the handles using a drum sander attachment. Or if you have a bench mounted belt sander, you can use the round end of the belt to groove out the handles. The best method is to use an oscillating spindle sander.
STEP 7: Drilling the Holes in the Head
1. Drill ½-inch or ⅜-inch holes in the center of each head. You can use hand drills, a hand-held electric drill, or a drill press if you have access to one.
2. Use forstner or brad point bits.
3. Be careful not to splinter the underside as the bit comes through. One way to avoid splintering the underside is to drill one side almost all the way so that the center of the bit starts to poke through the wood. Then use that poke hole to center your bit as you drill through from the opposite side.
STEP 8: Preparing for the Finish
1. Sand hammers down to the desired size (if needed) with course or medium grit sandpaper.
2. Sand the entire hammer smooth (removing any pencil marks, nicks, etc.) and round off edges of the shaft, head, and handle with medium (100 grit) sand paper. Follow by sanding the hammers with fine (150 grit) sand paper.
3. Sand hole in head smooth.
STEP 9: Applying the Finish
1. Apply 3 to 5 thin coats of Minwax Wipe-On Poly (satin) with a clean, lint-free cloth. The more coats you apply, the more glossy it becomes. You could use lacquer applied with an artist’s brush, but I prefer to wipe on thin coats of polyurethane with a soft cloth (I use a piece of an old T-shirt and wear Nitrile gloves). The hand-rubbed finish comes out very nice every time, and you don’t have to worry about cleaning your brush – just throw away the cloth.
2. Very lightly sand with 220 grit sand paper or fine steel wool between each coat to nock off any dust particles or other kinds of lumps that got stuck in the finish.
3. Apply a thin coat of “Johnson’s Paste Wax” or guitar polish and buff with soft cloth to bring out luster.
STEP 10: Attaching the Padding
1. You can pad one side of the head with ⅛ thick suede leather lace which is available at Wal-Mart. Some people cut some felt from an old hat. With either leather or felt, you will either have to glue it on the hammers or use double-sided duck tape.
2. Or you can pad your hammers with DrSholl’s Moleskin. It is inexpensive, readily available, thin, and easy to apply. It comes with a self-adhesive backing.
3. You can buy DrSholl’s Moleskin Plus at any drug store. You can also find it in the drug department of grocery stores or department stores (Wal-Mart has the lowest price). Some drug stores have their own brands (the CVS brand contains an extra sheet).
4. You need to cut 1/8 wide strips. Place the fuzzy side of the moleskin face down on the table. Then with a sharp pencil make a few marks on the paper backing ⅛ inch in from the edge. Line up your straight edge (ruler) along the marks to guide you as you make your cut.
5. Use a sharp pair of scissors to cut the strips.
6. One layer will give a nice sound, but for an even softer sound, you could apply a second layer. Trim off any excess and shape the sides with your fingers.