Brent Bailey figures he has made more than 16,800 hammers at his forge in Orland, Calif., along with lots of other woodworking and blacksmithing tools. When he was in his 30s, he asked one of the hands at his father’s ranch to show him how to use an old Lincoln welder and a torch in one of the outbuildings. After a half-hour lesson, Bailey, now 45 years old, was on his way to a new career.
His claw hammers are tools of beauty and utility. Many customers, he says, focus on the beauty and never use them for their intended tasks. When he has asked customers for feedback, “lots of guys have told me that they’ve never even hammered the first nail,” he says. “They get them and put them on the mantle as a display piece.”
It takes Bailey about 2 1/2 hours to make a claw hammer, and that includes the time it takes to shape the hickory handle. After heating an ingot of steel in a coal-fired forge, he punches out the handle’s eye, then forms the head with a plain or checkered face. The claws, straight or curved, are formed with a chisel. Heat-treating comes next. The process involves heating the steel until it turns a bright orange, then dousing it in water or oil. Finally, the hammer head is dressed and polished.
Bailey can make a finish hammer head in any weight up to 2 1/2 pounds. His framing hammer weighs in at 2 3/4 pounds. It features a teardrop-shaped face that reportedly concentrates the hammer blow, and an extra-thick claw with a beveled grind at the tips for use as an adze. All his hammers come with a lifetime warranty, excluding the handle. He also makes a variety of big hammers, forging hammers, farrier tools, wood chisels, and drifts, and he welcomes custom orders (brentbaileyforge.com, 530.865.4176).
A Brent Bailey finish or framing hammer costs $145. Sledges up to 25 pounds run $235; the Piggie—a 7-pound straight pein made for driving goes for $175. With every hammer ordered, he includes an American-flag key fob complete with all 50 stars, formed using a special punch. He also sends along a hand-forged bottle opener. So even if you decide just to display your new hammer on your mantle, you’ll probably figure out a good use for the bottle opener after work.