PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson
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September 10, 2019

On Labor Day weekend I heard about a nearby garage sale whose advertisement promoted “vintage tools.” Naturally, my interest was piqued. I made the quick drive to attend the sale. As promised, I found an abundance of vintage tools scattered across table displays. I saw axes, wrenches and other, more obscure tools (a hand-driven post-hole auger, anyone?). Yet I gravitated toward a stonemason’s hammer.

This stonemason’s hammer was roughly the size of a regular claw hammer (albeit with a longer head), but in place of the claw, it possessed a flat chisel 3 ½ inches long. The chisel looked a little dull—it could probably use a bit of sharpening—but the wooden handle appeared to be in good condition. The weight of the tool felt good in my hand. Because it cost only $1, I bought it, brought it home and decided to worry about sharpening it another time.

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Being only somewhat familiar with the tools of a stonemason’s trade, I initially pondered using the hammer as a small mattock for chopping roots and clearing fields of small trees. Actually, I might still use it this way. But after doing a bit of research, I came to recognize the appeal of using the stonemason’s hammer as originally intended.

In short, the tool is a chisel in the shape of a hammer. It’s designing for tasks such as chipping rocks, cutting bricks and concrete blocks, and shaping stone. Because I frequently use old bricks for practical as well as decorative purposes on my farm, I have much use for a tool designed to cut bricks. Yet I’m just as excited about having a stonemason’s hammer to work with stone.

I’ve always had an interest in learning to build rock walls. There’s no shortage of stone on my farm, but much of it is unevenly shaped fieldstone and shale that’s difficult to stack into a formal wall.

The good news? Shale is a soft rock comprising thin layers that readily split if encouraged. In theory, it shouldn’t be hard to use a stonemason’s hammer to chip off sections of these shale rocks (while wearing safety goggles, of course) and give them flat faces perfect for stacking. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even have some luck splitting fieldstone too.

I plan some extensive, decorative landscaping to enhance a new orchard I’m planting, so I’m excited to try my stonemason’s hammer in these projects. I want to see whether I can build a formal, tight-fitting rock wall to serve as a centerpiece attraction. If I’m encouraged by the initial results, I might even research other stonemason’s tools and expand this new hobby.

In short, I’m glad someone pointed me in the direction of the garage sale with vintage tools. I came away with a new tool I normally wouldn’t have thought to purchase, yet one that I suspect will come in handy for a multitude of future farming projects. Not bad for spending $1!

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