Co.Design

How Do You Design An Indestructible Sledgehammer?

Here’s how a company upgraded one of the most basic construction tools around.

Among the many members in the great family of tools, the sledgehammer holds a special place. It’s about as elemental as a tool can get--a simple, straightforward distillation of man’s desire to smash the world around him into shape. It helped build the railroads. In fact, it helps build just about everything. But aside from the introduction of fiberglass handles a few decades back--an upgrade from the traditional wood ones--your standard, octagonal-head sledgehammer hasn’t seen many changes throughout nearly a century of existence. The folks at Wilton Tools, however, were sure that there had to be some way to improve the things, and after taking a close look at what we demand of the tools today, they ended up with the B.A.S.H., an "unbreakable" sledgehammer.

When they started developing the Bad Ass Sledge Hammer some four years ago, the team at Wilton identified the main problem with sledgehammers as one of durability. Most of the time, sledgehammers break other things. But after a certain number of overstrikes--times where you miss the mark and end up landing an awkward blow--the hammers are susceptible to breaking themselves. According to an independent study commissioned by Wilton, a wood-handled hammer can withstand around 435 overstrikes. A hammer with a fiberglass handle lasts around 6,800. The B.A.S.H., which was first released in November 2011, can handle 25,000 plus.

The need for durability was born out of product research. "Your only hammers out there were wood and fiberglass handles," says Henry Kao, a product manager for the line. "And those were breaking regardless of who’s using 'em."

The B.A.S.H.'s increased longevity comes from a novel, heavy-duty handle--essentially a series of steel rods encased in a rubber grip. A steel safety plate on the top of the hammer keeps the business end of things--the head--securely in place. The company’s so confident in the design, they’ve announced that they’ll give anyone who breaks it within two years of normal use $1,000 in cash.

But there are a number of other, smaller considerations that mark the B.A.S.H. as a more thoughtfully designed slegehammer. For one thing, it’s got a bright, lime-green head. You don’t want to get in the way of one of these things, so visibility is important. It’s also got a tapered, ridged neck for absorbing vibrations and offering a nice tight grip. The bottom sports a steel-reinforced lanyard hole--a requirement on many worksites. And the top of the head is flat, allowing workers to stand the sledgehammer up straight in between uses.

Other sledgehammers might have one or two of these features, but a cursory scan of the category makes it clear that no one has sweated the details to quite this extent. "Your typical octagonal-shaped sledgehammer heads have been around for a century, and no one had really come in and reinvigorated that category," Kao says.

The first B.A.S.H. was so successful that the Tennessee-based company had to double its production to keep up with demand. And the central innovation--the "unbreakable," steel-core handle--was something that they were easily able to bring to a variety of other hammers. Currently, the sledgehammer is available with head weights ranging from 2.5 to 20 pounds, with handle lengths from 1 to 3 feet. They’ve subsequently introduced smaller, 14-inch hammers with standard ball pein and cross pein heads. And Kao says the company’s three-year road map is already charted with many more variations on the successful design.

"This year you’ll see a lot branching out of construction," he says. "It’s so easy now. You just look at the products and say, 'What are people breaking?' … And then you go from there."

Learn more about the B.A.S.H., and see where you can buy one, on the product’s site.

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3 Comments

  • Rome

    Call me old school, but I love tangible product design that has nothing to do with accessing the internet.

  • Adriano Farina

    "hasn’t seen many changes throughout nearly a century of existence"
    I'm quite sure sledgehammers have existed for more than that.

  • Derrick Klabouch

    I would have loved this when a ran a demolition business. Thankfully the old one worked just fine most of the time.