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A hammer is a tool meant to deliver an impact to an object. The most common uses for hammers are to drive nails, fit parts, forge metal and break apart objects. Hammers are often designed for a specific purpose, and vary in their shape and structure. The term hammer is also used for some devices that are designed to deliver blows, e.g., the caplock mechanism of firearms.
The hammer is a basic tool of many professions. The usual features are a handle and a head, with most of the weight in the head. The basic design is hand-operated, but there are also many mechanically operated models, such as steam hammers, for heavier uses.
The use of simple tools dates to about 2,400,000 BCE when various shaped stones were used to strike wood, bone, or other stones to break them apart and shape them. Stones attached to sticks with strips of leather or animal sinew were being used as hammers by about 30,000 BCE during the middle of the Paleolithic Stone Age.
The essential part of a hammer is the head, a compact solid mass that is able to deliver the blow to the intended target without itself deforming. The opposite side may have a ball, as in the ball-peen hammer and the cow hammer. Some upholstery hammers have a magnetized appendage, to pick up tacks. In the hatchet the hammer head is secondary to the cutting edge of the tool.
As the impact between steel hammer heads and the objects being hit can, and does, create sparks, which in some industries such as underground coal mining with methane gas, or in other hazardous environments containing flammable gases and vapours, can be dangerous and risk igniting the gases. In these environments, a variety of non-sparking metal tools are used, being principally, aluminium or beryllium copper-headed hammers.
In recent years the handles have been made of durable plastic or rubber.
Popular hand-powered variations include:
Mechanically powered hammers often look quite different from the hand tools, but nevertheless most of them work on the same principle. They include:
In the swing that precedes each blow, a certain amount of kinetic energy gets stored in the hammer's head, equal to the length D of the swing times the force f produced by the muscles of the arm and by gravity. When the hammer strikes, the head gets stopped by an opposite force coming from the target; which is equal and opposite to the force applied by the head to the target. If the target is a hard and heavy object, or if it is resting on some sort of anvil, the head can travel only a very short distance d before stopping. Since the stopping force F times that distance must be equal to the head's kinetic energy, it follows that F will be much greater than the original driving force f — roughly, by a factor D/d. In this way, great strength is not needed to produce a force strong enough to bend steel, or crack the hardest stone.
The amount of energy delivered to the target by the hammer-blow is equivalent to one half the mass of the head times the square of the head's speed at the time of impact (). While the energy delivered to the target increases linearly with mass, it increases quadratically with the speed (see the effect of the handle, below). High tech titanium heads are lighter and allow for longer handles, thus increasing velocity and delivering more energy with less arm fatigue than that of a steel head hammer of the same weight. As hammers must be used in many circumstances, where the position of the person using them cannot be taken for granted, trade-offs are made for the sake of practicality. In areas where one has plenty of room, a long handle with a heavy head (like a sledge hammer) can deliver the maximum amount of energy to the target. It is not practical to use such a large hammer for all tasks, however, and thus the overall design has been modified repeatedly to achieve the optimum utility in a wide variety of situations.
The handle of the hammer helps in several ways. It keeps the user's hands away from the point of impact. It provides a broad area that is better-suited for gripping by the hand. Most importantly, it allows the user to maximize the speed of the head on each blow. The primary constraint on additional handle length is the lack of space in which to swing the hammer. This is why sledge hammers, largely used in open spaces, can have handles that are much longer than a standard carpenter's hammer. The second most important constraint is more subtle. Even without considering the effects of fatigue, the longer the handle, the harder it is to guide the head of the hammer to its target at full speed. Most designs are a compromise between practicality and energy efficiency. Too long a handle: the hammer is inefficient because it delivers force to the wrong place, off-target. Too short a handle: the hammer is inefficient because it doesn't deliver enough force, requiring more blows to complete a given task. Recently,[when?] modifications have also been made with respect to the effect of the hammer on the user. A titanium head has about 3% recoil and can result in greater efficiency and less fatigue when compared to a steel head with up to 30% recoil. Handles made of shock-absorbing materials or varying angles attempt to make it easier for the user to continue to wield this age-old device, even as nail guns and other powered drivers encroach on its traditional field of use.
Gravity will exert a force on the hammer head. If hammering downwards gravity will increase the acceleration during the hammer stroke and increase the energy delivered with each blow. If hammering upwards gravity will reduce the acceleration during the hammer stroke and therefore reduce the energy delivered with each blow. Some hammering methods[specify] rely entirely on gravity for acceleration on the down stroke.
The hammer, being one of the most used tools by Homo sapiens, has been used very much in symbols and arms. In the Middle Ages it was used often in blacksmith guild logos, as well as in many family symbols. The hammer and pick is used as a symbol of mining. A well known symbol with a hammer in it is the Hammer and Sickle, which was the symbol of the former Soviet Union and is very interlinked with Communism/Socialism. The hammer in this symbol represents the industrial working class (and the sickle the agricultural working class). The hammer is used in some coat of arms in (former) socialist countries like East Germany.
In Norse Mythology, Thor, the god of thunder and lightning, wields a hammer named Mjölnir. Many artifacts of decorative hammers have been found, leading modern practitioners of this religion to often wear reproductions as a sign of their faith.
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