My Old Roofing Hammer

Dateline: 22 May 2015

The weather has turned cooler here, which means it is an opportune time to shingle my roof. I tore off the old shingles (28 years old) and put tar paper on a few weeks ago.

This is only my first section of roof to do. There are three more sections after this one is finished. Total area to cover is 13 square (1,300 square feet). It will be a year-long project, as I have the time and energy to get it done. It might take two years.

You can tell I am something of an old timer by the fact that I'm hand-nailing the shingles. Most roofers now use a pneumatic nailer to get the job done quick. I've used pneumatic roofing guns in the past, but I'm not interested in getting the job done quick. Those days are behind me. The fact is, I happen to like nailing shingles by hand.

The hammer in the picture is one I bought back in 1979. The first contractor I worked for used such a hammer to hand-nail asphalt shingles. I got a lot of experience using it, and now I can't imagine not using it.

I've worked with several other people doing roofing over the years and none of them used such a hammer. 

The beauty of the roofing hammer is that, if used properly, it ensures perfectly straight rows of shingles. Start with a straight row, laid to a chalk line, and use the hammer to gauge the exposure of every shingle and row from there. 

I'm pretty certain the hammer was made for roofing with wood shingles (aka, "shakes"). The hatchet end would have been sharpened and used to split and shape shakes as needed. But the adjustable exposure-gauge works just as well with the modern Asphalt shingles I'm now using. In fact, the hammer has a maximum exposure setting of 5-5/8" which is exactly what the manufacturer of my shingles recommends.

When I (and my partner, Steve) had a home remodeling business, it was named, Bestbuilt Construction ("A company committed to excellence"). As I was working on my roof yesterday I thought to myself that if I were to go into the roofing business now, I'd have to name it Old Turtle Roofing. And the tagline might be, "Slow but sure."


SharonR said...

I for one would prefer, "slow but sure". In fact, Husband is just that way in his woodworking, and vehicle mechanics. He works fast really, but thorough, so he *seems* to take longer than other workers. He has never done a complete roof, just to mend, and once, I heard him complain that some professional roofers didn't take off the clear strip. In fact, most don't I've noticed since then. It should be removed for the heat to seal the shingles to the next row. What is your opinion? It may be totally unnecessary.

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting Herrick! I am surprised, and then again, not surprised. Not many people know what a roofing hammer is, and when they see one, they don't know what all of the sections of it are for. Not sure if yours has this or not (can't tell from the picture) but a lot of them also have a blade attached for cutting asphalt shingles.

I have one, although not as old as yours, and not my original/first.

I worked as a shingler in college. The man I worked under used a roofing hammer and taught me how to use one. Most of the guys working for the company at that time used a regular claw hammer. They didn't need a roofing hammer to gauge the straightness because the shingles by then (late 80s / early 90s) were precision cut and were almost perfectly straight just by butting them up correctly. That's still the case today, which is why these guys can just use the nail guns and crank out a pretty perfect roof (if they're good) in a day.

When I sold my previous house a few years back, I put a new roof on it and did it "old school" with my roofing hammer.

Herrick Kimball said...

There might have been a time, long ago, when it was customary to remove the strip of clear plastic on the back. And I have heard of people doing it. But I've never done it. All shingle manufacturers provide installations instructions for their shingles. I've read the instructions over the years and have never seen it mentioned that the strip should be removed. My understanding is that it is there to keep the shingles from sticking together in the bundles.

If you shingled roofs in college, then you know what hard work is all about, especially if you got involved in stripping off old shingles and re-roofing.

My hammer never had a knife blade on it. It predates that style. I did a Google search and saw that roofing hammers (with the knife blade feature) are still sold. Eswing has a nice looking one. Mine does not have a comfortable grip like the newer hammers appear to have. Nevertheless, me and it have been through a lot together, and it has sentimental value. I suspect you can relate to that if you've had your roofing hammer a long time.

Gorges Smythe said...

Most guys around here use a straight-clawed hammer. The idea is that if you start to slide, you sink the claw into the roof-boards to stop your slide.

Anonymous said...

I know just the kind of hard work you're up against--my dad reroofed our a-frame house (that he and his dad originally built together) when he was 62, working alone, in the Florida summer heat. When he went to get the permit, the guy told him, "you don't want to do this yourself, buddy." Took him about 6 months of steady work, but it's beautifully done! At 65, he's also renovated our bathroom using the slow and steady method (8 months), doing all custom work. We are so grateful that someone around here knows how to do this kind of stuff, and I'm sure your wife is too.
--Ivy Mae

Herrick Kimball said...

Ivy Mae—
I love stories like that. Very inspiring. I hope I can be as productive as your father when I am in my 60's.

Sheila Gilbert said...

I just had to laugh when I read this, because I too have a special hammer. The family knows that "This is MY HAMMER" and to never ever touch it. You see, I have always been the "contractor" in my family, and many years ago, I realized that of all the hammers we had, this one small, but very wonderful hammer, seemed to be the one that "fit me" just right, but it seemed to also constantly disappear! I had 4 very active young children back then, and it wasn't unusual to find it in the yard, in the garden, and in the tree area of our yard too. So one day when I found it again, the wood had split from use, and needless to say, I blew the roof!!! It was one of those very bad times, when Mom got a bit crazy, and had to go inside to cool down. (after going crazy of course) It was then, years ago that I let it be known, that if anyone EVER touches my hammer again, it would not be good, if you get my drift. They never forgot the look, and screaming I did back then, and although we laugh about it now, I'm sure I made my point, because no one ever touched it again. I did repair it, and it's sitting in my kitchen drawer right now!

Yes, I have my own tool box, yes there is a lot in it, but my "Special Hammer" is still with me at all times, and to this day, my children will not even hand it to me, unless I ask them to.
It's a small hammer, but it's been a faithful friend for a very long time.