Chadds Ford Historical Society

Revisiting History

Neither Thor’s Hammer, Nor Gimli’s Axe

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It’s a hammer! It’s an axe! No, it’s a roofer’s hatchet!

My first day at Chadds Ford Historical Society, I am elbows deep in a box of archaeological materials, digging for artifacts to display. If you caught that pun, I tip my shovel to you. I pull out what appears to be your basic axe head, the wooden handle unsurprisingly absent – wood does not preserve as well as metal. It’s a hefty chunk of iron that likely would not disintegrate as soon as you looked at it, unlike a number of the other metallic objects from the collection. The decision is made. The two hundred years-old axe head would meet the public the next day.
As destiny would have it, among the crowds there is a gentleman who has had previous experience as a roofer. He looks upon our table of artifacts, one thing leads to another, and we discover the (not so) secret identity of this historic tool. Roof carpenters, both past and present, use this multi-functional instrument to fix and install roof shingles.
The sharp edge splits and shapes the roofing material, likely white pine or other wooden variations.
The blunt end that looks like a hammer: it’s a hammer. Surprise! This section drives in nails.
And that notch on the bottom of the axe head? An accidental chip caused by overuse or aged corrosion, right? We rarely pull mint, intact items from the ground, so it’s not unexpected. Wonder of wonders, it’s part of the design of the hatchet. Intentional. Functional. How so? Here’s a hint: if there is a hammer to drive in nails….
The notch pulls out nails. Mind blowing.
So there you have it. A veritable hybrid tool. Like a Swiss Army Knife. Or a keychain bottle-opener.
What objects do you use that serve multiple functions?

Article by Marjorie Haines, one of our Guide Specialists, with background in archaeology

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