December 1, 2011 in Fieldwork
I recently had a conversation with a woman who had allowed someone to borrow her husband’s hammer and it was never returned.
“He kept saying, ‘How could you lose my blue hammer?’” she told me.
“Was the handle blue?” I asked.
“Yes” she replied.
“Was it an Estwing?”
“Yes.” She looked surprised. “What’s the difference?”
“That wasn’t JUST a hammer.” I told her.
As a geologist, few tools are more important than a good hammer and Estwing has gained a loyal following among people whose job is to break rocks. An unscientific study (made up) of geology texts reveals that over 90% of hammers used by geologists as scale in photographs, are in fact, made by Estwing. Most have the classic blue handle, but some have a beautiful leather handle made of polished leather discs. I still use my first Estwing, purchased as a first year geology undergrad and it has never let me down. Of course, my collection has grown a bit since then.
This picture was taken on the eve of an expedition (successful!) to hunt red beryls in Utah’s Wah Wah mountains (the subject of a future post, I promise.). If some look new, it’s because most were purchased for this trip.
The point is that geologists love their hammers and none more than the trusted Estwing. The quality, variety, and the fact that they created hammers specifically for geologists make them the only choice for many in our field. The pick axe is particularly useful for carving through beryl bearing rhyolites.
I never gave much thought to where they came from, though. That is, until I attended the North-Central GSA meeting in Rockford, IL. I was there to give a talk at a special session to honor volcanologist Bill Rose, who was retiring. One afternoon, someone came into the main meeting area and announced that the trip to the Estwing hammer factory would be leaving in five minutes. What? Estwing hammers are made in Rockford, Illinois? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Turns out they did.
Take a look at the baseplate of any leather handled Estwing and you’ll see for yourself.
We jumped on the bus and minutes later found ourselves inside the Estwing factory, where we watched hammers being made from steel rod, which were inductively heated, violently stamped into shape, and sent through numerous finishing steps. Of particular interest was the installation of the leather handles, which are just leather discs stacked by hand, then formed on a lathe. The tour guide was nice enough to let us take a baseplate (above) as a souvenir. It turns out that Estwing has a long history with geologists. At the factory, we saw photos of Apollo 11 astronauts brandishing Estwing hammers on the moon. That makes a heck of an advertisement, if you ask me.
So, that’s why Estwings are not JUST hammers and if you borrow one of mine, please give it back.