Making a wooden hammer

You’re probably wondering why a wooden hammer is relevant when talking about whiskey.  That’s fair – it seems an odd sort of thing to talk about when discussing one of the finest adult beverages known to man.  No fear – there’s a valid reason.  Have you ever had a mint julep?  I mean, like a real mint julep?  In other words – not one made from a mix?  I discovered them last year and rather fell in love with them.  One of the things they require is properly crushed ice and not the kind that comes out of your ice maker.  So how do you crush ice?

Have you ever heard of or used a Lewis bag?  It’s a heavy canvas bag used to crush ice.  You fill it with larger chunks of ice, put in on a hard surface, and then hit it with a hammer to create crushed ice.  Simple concept right?  Well I bought a lewis bag last year off of Amazon and while I’ve used it a couple of times, it sort of sucked.  Why?  Because I was using a meat pounding hammer I found in a kitchen drawer.  It was far too small and I always ended up with big chunks leftover.  What I really wanted was a large, oversized, impractical, hammer.  One like this awesome gentleman uses in this great YouTube video of him making the beloved mint julep.

I mean – look at that thing.  It’s massive and likely has no other worldly use besides crushing ice.  After a disappointing 15 minutes of searching on the internets I came up with only lame excuses for ice hammers.  The ones I did find that I liked were made of soft woods like poplar and I knew I wanted something heavy duty.  So I decided to build my own.  Below are the steps I took (completely winging it) to build a ice crushing hammer.

I started with an 8 foot piece of rough sawn cedar.  I planed the board to a thickness of 3/4 inches out in the garage (it was cold, sorry no pictures).  Then I split it on the table saw to width of 5 inches.  I split the remaining piece once again to use for the handle of the hammer.

Then I cut it into lengths of 8 inches since I wanted to the hammer head to ~5×8 inches. I cut the pieces for the hammer to a length of 12 inches.

When I was done, I had all the pieces I needed to make the hammer.  Above you can see all of the pieces laid out to give you a general idea of what the hammer will look like.

I then glued all the pieces together.  When I started wood working as hobby someone told me that you’d need a lot clamps.  I can tell you this is a true statement.  Once the glue is dried I’ll have a total of 5 pieces.  Two sides, one handle, and 2 spacers.

Once dried, the two spacers had to be cut to allow for a bevel at the top of the hammer.  The bevel will be used when I drive wedges into the handle to keep the head from flying off the hammer.  To cut the bevel I clamped a guide board to the miter gauge and then clamped the board to be cut to the guide board.  You can barely see it, but there’s a tiny little wooden spacer on the right side of the guide board that keeps the piece to be cut at a slight angle.

Now if we put all of the pieces together again we can see the resulting bevel at the top between the handle and the spacers.

Next we have to cut the wedge splines in the top of the handle.  These are the gaps in which I’ll drive the wedges into to keep the handle in place.  I used a similar method for cutting these by clamping the handle to a piece of guide board.

Above you can see the first glue up.  You can see the splines cut in the handle along with the bevel in the spacers.  On the first glue up I glued the two spacers to one of the side boards.  Lots of clamps to make sure the spacers are tight against the handle.  The handle isn’t glued in place at this point, it’s just there to keep the spacing where it needs to be.  Once that dried I glued on the second side board.

When the glue dried I had a pretty ugly piece of wood.  No worries, this will clean up nicely in the table saw.

A few passes through the table saw and I’ve got a much nicer looking hammer head.

Next I ran the long edges through a router to round them over.  I had considered doing this with the side edges but I always worry about the wood splintering when I cut end grain like that.  I’ll just sand those edges down.

Next – to make things things a little stronger, I decided to put in some Miller dowels.  Miller dowels are sort of like wooden nails.  You use a special drill bit like the one shown, put some glue in the hole, and then pound the wooden nail in.

I put three in each side and did the reverse on the other side.  Once the glue dries you just sand off the top of the wooden nail.

Next I had to cut some shims to use for the handle.  I made a simple jig for the table saw for doing this.  You’d cut one shim in the jig, then the next off the straight table saw guide, and then back to the jig, etc.  I needed 4 total.

Next I put plenty of glue on the handle and drove it into the hammer head.  Once again you can see the splines where I will put the shims.

Here are the shims put in by hand.  They then had to be pounded in with a mallet to get them to spread the handle.

One driven in they spread the handle all the way against the spacers.

Once the glue dried I used a chisel to cut the top of the wedges off.

A belt sander took the rest off quite easily.  That’s it!  All done.  I finished the wood with a safe coating of canning wax and mineral oil.  It’s a combination often used to seal wooden cutting boards.  Now the only thing left is to make a mint julep.

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