Vaughan & Bushnell: Nailing the Hammer Market

Vaughan & Bushnell: Nailing the Hammer Market

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein … a hammer is a hammer is a hammer. Well… not exactly. Hammers today are as complex and varied as any modern tool. Just take a look at Vaughan and Bushnell’s extensive assortment of tools all designed to drive nails or shape construction materials.

According to Frank Burgmeier, Vaughan’s public relations representative, the company’s new catalog features 19 different categories of hammers. From its traditional wooden-handled claw hammer to its latest titanium models with interchangeable heads, the company understands hammers and what customers want. The company started in 1869 and is still operated by the fourth generation of the Vaughan family. And they know hammers.

“Howard A. Vaughan Jr., the current president, talks about his grandfather delivering hammers from the back of a wagon to Sears Roebuck in Chicago,” noted Frank. “They are Sears’ oldest vendor!”

With or without a helpful kick from Mrs. O’Leary’s apocryphal cow, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 also burned down the company plant. They relocated first to Peoria and finally to their current headquarters in Hebron, Illinois. According to Frank, they are considered the world’s largest manufacturer of quality hammers today.

“Vaughan is very conscientious about the heat treatment of the hammer.” Frank explained, “There are different stresses at the point of impact on the hammer head, where the handle fits into the head itself, and at the claw itself. We use triple zone heating to temper each area differently.”

For traditional wooden handles, Vaughan relies on its own plant in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, which, despite its name, is in the middle of the best hickory forest in the country. Of course they also make handles from fiberglass and steel. In fact, for the Steel Eagle hammer, they originated a shock block system using a rubber and wood wedge to absorb most of the shock.

All Vaughan hammers are USA made, with extra attention paid to detail and quality to successfully compete with the imports. And that’s why Vaughan was one of the first hammer manufacturers in the world to get ISO9000 certification recognizing its commitment to quality in all aspects of manufacturing, dealing with vendors, distribution, and everything else down the line. Vaughan hammers are sold throughout North America and internationally.

Innovation is just as crucial to keeping ahead of the competition. In the 1920s, Vaughan was the first to come up with the radius on their curved claw hammer that would adapt to cradling a 2 x 4. And just last year, they introduced their Ti-Tech® Titanium line of hammers … but they didn’t rush into it.

“Vaughan had the makings for a titanium hammer for the past ten years,” Frank explained, “but they wouldn’t go on the market until they came up with interchangeable and replaceable forged steel caps … one with a milled face and one with a smooth face … that would stand up over time and still maintain the lightness of titanium. A lot of carpenters like it because they can use it for coarse framing one minute and then switch over to a finish hammer cap.”

We asked Frank Burgmeier to give us some tips on hammers:

Use the right hammer. Never use a regular claw hammer to strike metal or hit hard nails (e.g., masonry nails). A Ball peen hammer can be used to strike nails, but not other way around.

For shock absorption, wood is the best. And it remains popular with professionals … even if it doesn’t always hold up under constant hammering. They like the feel, and they’ll just replace the wooden handle.

When buying a hammer, pick it up and feel it. See if it feels right and feels balanced. It’s important to imagine how it will perform over a period of time.

Study the hammer. Look at how the handle fits into the hammer head. Look for a good shiny finish … it indicates an extra step and shows the manufacturer is confident in the quality of his forging (since any imperfection would be highlighted by a shiny finish).

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