The modern sledgehammer is a very useful tool, most commonly used for driving spikes, cracking nuts, and de-braining enemies. Yet despite the appreciation felt for such a tool, few of its users seem to understand the many centuries, even millenniums that have built up to the sledgehammer we use today. The hard work, sweat, toil and bloodshed that went into the making of our modern sledgehammer, have been all too easily forgotten, to the point that hardly anyone knows where it originated.
If you were to ask the average man on the streets where his sledgehammer came from, he would reply that it was made in China. If he was further pressed about where and when the sledgehammer was invented, he would simply state, “I don’t know.” As sledgehammer expert Ryan Mackenzie says, “In the average man’s brain, there is a pitiful lack of information on the sledgehammer.”
However, as Mackenzie goes on to state, there is actually a large store of information on the sledgehammer, with more being discovered each day.
It is believed that the first sledgehammer was created five thousand years ago, as cave paintings of this date show stick figures of men carrying an early type of the sledgehammer. These early sledgehammers consisted merely of a heavy stone, which was aimed carefully at an object, and then bodily slammed into it. John Macy of the Sledgehammer Research Association (SRA), defines these early models as, “effective but crude.”
This opinion was evidently shared by the users of this sledgehammer, as they went on to add handles to their tools. However, it is noted that these handles were very clumsily affixed to the heads; and that the heads tended to escape the handles quite often, flying in unpredictable directions. As this made working with sledgehammers very dangerous, the handle was abandoned for a period of time.
Later on, perhaps several hundred years later, a method of shaping the sledgehammer stones was developed, in order to make aiming easier and safer. These first shaped stones were not impressive, but the method was continually refined, particularly as the sledgehammer craftsmen came into being.
Benjamin Harding, also of the SRA specializes in the study of these sledgehammer craftsmen. Harding indicates that these men were one of the single most important factors in the development of the sledgehammer. “They were truly remarkable,” he says. “They persistently adjusted and refined the tool far more than the average man ever would have done. In a large sense, we owe it to them, that we still have the sledgehammer today.”
With such men at the helm of sledgehammer development, it was not long before the handle made it’s second appearance. This time it caught on for good, and ‘sledge-stones’, as Macy calls them, became a thing of the past.
Craftsmen continued to develop the tool, shaping both the handle and head to perfection. Indeed, with such perfection, the story of the sledgehammer might have ended here, if man had not discovered iron, steel, and their uses.
As with all tools, the sledgehammer underwent a great change as more and more was discovered about metal and how to use it. Over the natural course of time, the sledgehammer craftsman disappeared, and the making of sledgehammers became the duty of those who worked with metal, such as the blacksmith.
The heads, now made of metal, were much more durable than their stone counterparts. Sledgehammers continued to be a valuable tool, and soon became a favorite worldwide. Since then, sledgehammers have been used for a variety of tasks, from building things such as railroads and bridges, to tearing them down again.
Today sledgehammers are made in factories. The heads are made of iron and steel, with the best shape for delivering the most accurate and forceful blows. The handles are made of wood or metal, and shaped for maximum grip and comfort. Truly the sledgehammer has become one of the greatest tools in the world.
In conclusion, no one says it better than Ryan Mackenzie when he declares that “The sledgehammer is truly a triumph of ancient ingenuity, and modern technology. May people the world over always have a place for it as they carry out their tasks.”