Ten Hammers :: aka deconstructing the hammer
. . . A saying
I have only spoken briefly about my last house – a 1920s cedar-shaked Colonial. It was a large hulking structure on a street filled with duplexes, I-houses, and bungalows. And that’s what my neighbor Thomas had . . . a bungalow.
Thomas and I are actually quite different. He is a smart, gritty, street-savvy entrepreneur, the owner of a local coffee establishment. He is in all ways representative of the diy super-culture that exists here in Baltimore. He is a friend.
As neighbors, we did share a couple common interests; for one, our love of beer. While he is strictly a micro-brew guy, for me, it’s always the mass-produced Miller Lite. For two, and another odd thing we had in common, we both lived in houses partially renovated by the same man, a carpenter.
Scott did a great job with both of these houses; there is no question. Yet, there was much work that remained. And when Thomas asked me up one Saturday, I knew I was going to be giving him help with an item on his to-do list.
Preparing the opening
Thomas didn’t call me over for my expertise; he had the matter well in hand. But this day, he needed, well, another hand.
Thomas had been working on installing pull down attic stairs. Like many bungalow owners with growing families, he was concerned about, and trying to access an underutilized portion of his house. With stairs, he’d be able to use a small bit of the third floor for storage.
The ceiling on his second floor was finished with plaster and lath. He had a very solid plan of attack for it. (More on this in the More Moxie section below.) I would be his spotter, or was that his catcher; he needed to protect his refinished floors from falling debris.
That day, he made some cuts and a smallish section of the ceiling was removed almost perfectly to plan. I did my part; I eased the cutout, extending from the existing attic access, down to the covered floor.
It’s heavy, hoppy micro-brew Time!
The origin of the “Ten Hammers”
So as Thomas and I hung for a bit, talking over a beer, it came up. I am not sure how. I don’t remember if it was before I told him about my time working for a general contractor, or after he had told me that his dad was a sheet metal contractor.
Not sure if it was before we laughed about my first experience with demoing plaster, or after he had told me he worked for a bit in set construction on stage crews.
But he said it. You know the saying . . . he paused, You give ten carpenters a hammer. . . .
And that was it, or at least what I remember him actually saying. And to be honest, I did not know the saying.
The hammer is a tool used in construction, or . . . is that . . . deconstruction
So I left, and went about my business that Saturday. But here we are, and for some reason, those few little words, like a riddle, left me thinking.
Let’s be fair, too, and I will show my age, and expertise, I probably have as much experience with pneumatic tools as I do with a hammer. But . . . I still know what one is. It was the first known iteration of an impact tool; it is used to drive things, like nails.
It is a symbol of the worker, of the god, of the warrior, of the carpenter. Does it take skill and focus to wield a hammer? Yes, absolutely. I find that you (general) must focus dead set on your target, an extension of your hand, and becoming one with it, you deliver a blow.
So I try to finish the phrase. And I haven’t spoken with Thomas about this since. I think what he was trying to get across was . . . “You (can) give ten carpenters a (the same) hammer, and they will all swing it in 10 different ways.” One hammer becomes ten.
The final blows and setting the nail
There are many different kinds of hammers, each with a design for its specific purpose. And you may have a favorite one for each of the myriad of construction-type tasks you must perform. (I always hear about Tom Silva‘s series of 20 ouncers, you know, with the wooden handle shopped to look like Swiss cheese.)
Picking and using a hammer, for me, is all about feel. Sure, it’s OK to look for features, and to take your time when selecting.
Question: Why don’t hardware stores or home centers give you a place for a good test drive. A table where you could, I don’t know, bang some nails? Liability?)
But . . . it should all come down to how that hammer feels in your hand. And remember, they are different one to the next.
So I think, in the end, what my neighbor Thomas was really trying to say that day, and I am not sure what sparked it, was — Everyone is different, and that the hammer is really only as good as the person who wields it.
ps: If anyone would like to contribute a hammer story of any kind, please feel free. The photo above is courtesy of Mike Hines at HomePath Products (@eXapath). It is the world’s first (his words) Fiber-To-The-Hammer device.
>> More Moxie (Related Links):
A short how-to for making cutouts in plaster:
Because he was working from an existing attic access, which measured roughly 30×30, he needed only to extend the opening, making a cut-out long ways above the hallway. To do this, and since he was removing plaster and lath, he came up with this procedure. In his situation, the opening was to run with his framing. It requires two people, and the resulting waste will be heavy! So . . . SAFETY FIRST!
1. Take two or three 2x4s (preferably scrap) and cut two pieces just short of the length of the desired cut-out. Then cut four pieces just short of the width of the cut-out.
2. With two people, one working above, hold the longer 2x4s just slightly inside the perimeter of the planned opening.
3. With some sort of squared up working lines, and with a solid point of reference (gained maybe from several pilot holes), hold the shorter 2x4s at regular intervals across the proposed opening. Working together, screw two 3 1/2 inch screws into each board. These screws go up through the bottom cleat, through the plaster and lath, and into the cleat above. (Trust me – this will not be easy.)
4. Now, take a sturdy rope, approximately a 16 foot length, and attach it the top side of the assembly in some manner. Attach it at, at least, two points in a widespread manner.
5. Then, take the free end of the rope and tie it off somewhere. In our situation, a sturdy collar tie above our heads worked very nicely.
6. Drill a large starter hole, approximately 1 ¼, just inside each corner of the proposed cut-out.
7. Note: We were going for a rough cut that day, but with a little more precision and accuracy, we could have made a full-blown jig for the cut-out we were creating. In other words, we could have made a full ladder,” offsetting it on the underside, and using it as a guide for the fence on our sawzall.
8. On the cut link – make your cut with a reciprocating, or a mess-making circular saw (using a disguardable blade). At this point, it is not a bad idea to have one person above holding the rope.
9. When the cut is complete, pry the lath away from the framing, untie the rope and lower the slab of now free plaster and lath to the ground. One person spots from below.
In doing this, and while you do need to be conscious of existing framing members, you will keep the plaster and lath coupled – greatly minimizing dust and debris. Later, Thomas came back — to frame the opening, and finished with a standard set of pull down stairs.
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About jb bartkowiak (259 posts)
A one-time construction manager, and always handyman, turned blogger and editor. My wife, Jen, and I are on our 6th property (. . . yes, together). She is a real estate agent. We have two beautiful daughters Evyn and Eva. We currently live and are restoring an 1889 farmhouse in Baltimore's Lauraville area.