Gerhard the Great, Woodworking King of Namibia

Wow…  A huge thank you to my good friend Gerhard Marx.  He has been hinting for some time now that he was working on making a tool that he wanted to send me, but being very cryptic on the details.  He previously mentioned something about a metal worker he had commissioned to do part of the project, and that he would be making the wooden parts of the tool.  Beyond this, I had no idea what it might be.

Earlier in the year, I sent a package to Gerhard via the U.S. Postal Service.  It took over two months to reach him in Namibia.  Gerhard emailed me saying that he had sent a package to me on November 30 so we figured it would be late January or early February before it reached me. However, two days ago a package from Gerhart arrived.  Windoek to Washington in under two weeks, nice!

I opened the package and found this in inside:

A gift that I received from my friend Gerhard Marx.

A gift that I received from my friend Gerhard Marx.

This is a seriously cool hammer.  There was nothing else in the box, explaining how it was made, or if it has some specific intended use.  So, this blog post is mostly going to be my assumptions about what it’s made of and it’s intended purpose.  I’m guessing, so I might get some of this wrong.

I’m also assuming that Gerhard will have a blog post forthcoming explaining all about it. Hint, hint.

The wooden handle has a nice sweep to it, and feels really good in the hand.  The head of the hammer looks small.  In fact, at first glance it looks disproportionately small, that is until you pick the hammer up.  This thing is heavy!

There's a nice sweep to the handle.

There’s a nice sweep to the handle.

A typical (standard) hammer weighs 16 ounces.  This one weighs 18 ¼.  It really is deceptive, it looks as though the head is too small for the hammer, but it’s just perfect.  I’ve found that if you choke up a little bit on the handle, the balance is fantastic.  There is so much mass in the head of the hammer that it really packs a punch.

I believe that the handle is made of Assegai (I seem to recall that the white flecks are a common feature).

I believe that the handle is made of Assegai (I seem to recall that the white flecks are a common feature).

I think that the handle of the hammer is made from Assegai (Curtisia dentata).  I’m certainly not the expert in African hardwoods that Gerhard is, but I seem to recall from reading on his site that the white flecks in the wood are indicative of this species.  I believe that this is the same kind of wood that the Zulus used for making the shafts of their spears.

When it comes to the head of the hammer, I’m less certain.  I would assume that it is steel, but it seems much heavier.  Perhaps Gerhard got a hold of some depleted uranium somewhere.  Just kidding!  I know he had commissioned a local metalworker to help him with this part of the project, but I would love to know what the hammer head is made out of.  It has a great hand-worked look to it. Certainly more craftsman-made than commercial.

I'm not sure what the head is made of, but it sure is heavy.

I’m not sure what the head is made of, but it sure is heavy.

The head is secured to the handle with two metal wedges.

The head is secured to the handle with two metal wedges.

Based upon the direction that the handle curves, the front face of the hammer head is perfectly flat.  The rear face has a slight dome do it. I tried to capture this in the photos below.

One face of the head is very slightly domed.

One face of the head is very slightly domed.

The other face is perfectly flat.

The other face is perfectly flat.

I tried to guess Gerhard’s reasons for designing it this way.  I tried gripping the hammer backwards and using it with the domed face down.  The sweep of the handle keeps your knuckles well clear of the work surface, and the domed head would probably be good for setting nails  without denting your workpiece.  The front (flat) face of the hammer head, works great for striking Japanese chisels.

Beautiful tight grain and white flecking.

Beautiful tight grain and white flecking.

Japanese chisels are designed to be struck with a metal hammer.  These Japanese hammers are called Genno.  Click the link to read more about them.  I think Gerhard’s hammer is going to do this job superbly.

I think that this is going to make a great chiseling hammer for use with my Japanese chisels.

I think that this is going to make a great chiseling hammer for use with my Japanese chisels.

I gave the hammer test drive in some scrap douglas fir.

I gave the hammer test drive in some scrap douglas fir.

So what to call it?  Gerhard’s Genno?  The Marx Mallet?  The Windhoek Whacker? The Namibian Nightstick?  Feel free to comment below with your suggestions.  I think Gerhard should weigh in here with his.

You can read Gerhard’s amazing blog by going to www.jenesaisquoiwoodworking.com.

 

Gerhard,

Thank you very much for your generosity.  I truly appreciate your kindness.  I love this tool and I’ll keep it forever.

 

All the best,

Jonathan

 

Gerhard has since posted about how the hammer was made.  It is an excellent post with loads of amazing photos.  Check it out here:

The Jenesaisquoi Persuader

 

About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don’t build enough – I need help!

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9 Responses to Gerhard the Great, Woodworking King of Namibia

  1. One of my favorite authors, Wilber Smith, writes stories set in 1800’s or earlier 1900’s Africa. He’s written several that include Zulu (or other) warriors using a spear called an “assegai”. So you’re probably right about that being the wood used for spears. However I have no knowledge of what that wood looks like.

    How about the “jenesaisquoi persuader”?

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Matt,

      Great to heat from you. Wilbur Smith is my favorite author and I’ve read every one of his books. My Dad was a big fan and gave me my first Wilbur Smith book when I was about 15. I’ve been hooked ever since. I love all of the main series books, but If you are looking for a fantastic “one-off” book, Elephant Song is my favorite. You may have already read it.

      Gerhard and I have had a few conversations about Wilbur Smith, and how reading the books at a relatively young age has given me the lifelong wish to see southern Africa. Someday I’ll get there.

      I like your “jenesaisquoi persuader” suggestion. I also just thought of the “Springbok Smasher”. Hmmm, I’ll keep at it.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

  2. Hi Jonathan
    Yes, as we discussed, that is the same tool I got also 🙂 I too, have no clue what it is for, used or name….????

    Very slick tool indeed. I’m sure one face is domed on purpose but why??

    Until we heard from Gerhard, I shall refer to it as per Matt suggestion The Jenesaisquoi persuader 🙂

    Bob, wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Bob,

      Sorry for the late response, don’t know how I missed this yesterday. I’m glad to hear that your’s arrived so quickly too.

      I can’t wait to hear from Gerhard on the topic.

      Merry Christmas to you also.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

  3. Eric Commarato says:

    That’s a beautiful barrel hammer Johathan. I just bought a similar one from Hida Tools out in Berkley. Very nice!

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey Eric,

      Thanks, Gerhard sure did a good job on it! I just checked out Hida Tools and I don’t know how I missed them until now.

      I saw your shop on a recent episode of Highland Woodworker. Very cool.

      I hope you are doing well. Merry Christmas,

      Jonathan

  4. Pingback: The Jenesaisquoi Persuader | Je ne sais quoi Woodworking

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