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What are Rock Hammers?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated May 21, 2024
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Because geologists search for fossils and artifacts in a variety of landscapes, they often need quality tools to pick away dirt, clay, rock, and other substances. Rock hammers are such tools. Also known as geologist hammers, rock picks or prospector's picks, rock hammers are tools with a flat head on one side--perfect for delivering a hard blow to solid surfaces--and a pick on the other side, which can be used for picking away at softer materials or debris that has been loosened from the flat head side. Geologists determine which side to use based on the type of rock they will be working with.

Rock hammers come in a variety of sizes and weights, and their quality is generally determined by the weight and construction. Rock hammers are typically forged from solid hardened steel, and the weight of the head determines the balance and effectiveness of the entire hammer. Professional geologists typically prefer heavier rock hammers so that they may use the tool consistently without quickly breaking it. Heavier rock hammers also allow the geologist to break and pick harder rock substances. Lighter rock hammers are perfectly fine for children or amateur geologists, and they can be less cost-prohibitive than heavier, professional models.

Rock hammers may also come with a chisel head, which is good for clearing debris or brush away from rocks and fossils. With any of the variety of rock hammers, a steady hand and careful processes are essential to successful geological exploration. You must be extremely careful with rock hammers, not only for your own safety and the safety of others, but also for the safety of the artifact being explored. Because rock hammers are heavy, powerful tools, the potential for damage to an exposed fossil or artifact is quite high; professional geologists will spend much time with their rock hammers to get acquainted with the weight and balance of the tool, thereby reducing the risk of damaging their work or injuring themselves and others.

Be sure to wear eye protection when using rock hammers. Because they are made of hardened steel, rock hammers will send off rock chips when they strike rocks, and the hard chips can strike the user's eyes without protection. Never hit a rock hammer with another hammer like a chisel; chisels are made of softer metals and are made specifically for such a task, whereas rock hammers are made of less pliable materials that are likely to shoot off dangerous rock chips.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a rock hammer, and what is it used for?

A rock hammer is a tool specifically designed for geological purposes. It's used by geologists and paleontologists to break and split rocks during fieldwork. The hammer typically has a flat head for breaking rocks and a pick or chisel end for prying and chipping, making it an essential tool for sample collection and excavation.

Are there different types of rock hammers, and how do they vary?

Yes, there are primarily two types of rock hammers: the point-tip (or rock pick) and the chisel-tip. The point-tip hammer has a pointed end and is used for cracking open rocks and prying out fossils. The chisel-tip hammer has a chisel end for splitting rocks along natural fissures. The choice depends on the specific tasks required in the field.

How do I choose the right rock hammer for my needs?

Choosing the right rock hammer depends on the type of rock you'll be working with and the purpose of your work. For hard rocks, a heavy, durable hammer with a pointed tip is ideal. For softer sedimentary rocks, a lighter hammer with a chisel tip might be more appropriate. Consider the weight and handle length for ergonomic comfort during extended use.

What safety precautions should I take when using a rock hammer?

When using a rock hammer, safety is paramount. Always wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying rock chips. Gloves can help prevent blisters and improve grip. Ensure that bystanders are at a safe distance, and be aware of your surroundings to avoid injury from falling rocks or debris. Regularly inspect your hammer for damage to prevent accidents.

Can rock hammers be used for purposes other than geology?

While rock hammers are designed for geological tasks, they can be versatile tools. They may be used in construction for breaking concrete or in landscaping to split stones. However, it's important to note that using a rock hammer for non-geological purposes might wear it down more quickly or damage it if not used as intended.

How do I maintain my rock hammer to ensure its longevity?

Maintaining your rock hammer involves regular cleaning to remove dirt and debris, which can cause corrosion. Oil the steel parts to prevent rust, and sharpen the chisel or point as needed to keep it effective. Store your hammer in a dry place to avoid moisture damage. Proper care will extend the life of your hammer significantly.

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Discussion Comments

By Oceana — On Dec 30, 2011

Does anyone know if you need a special type of goggles for using a rock hammer? I got one for Christmas, and I'm ready to try it out. All I have on hand are a cheap pair of wraparound shades.

I'm sure that these would be better than nothing. I just wonder if the rock chips would be strong enough to break through the shades. That would be terrible!

My dad has some goggles that he wears while welding. I wonder if maybe I need something like this instead.

I know that my rock hammer will definitely be sending pieces of rock flying up at me. I just want to make sure that I have adequate protection before going on an excavation trip.

By StarJo — On Dec 29, 2011

I love searching for crystals and precious stones within beds of rock. I have a rock hammer with a pick to make it easier.

Often, I will find big, beautiful clusters of amethyst or quartz embedded tightly in a big piece of rock. I use the flat side of the hammer to bust the surrounding material up, and I use the pick to delicately flick it away from the crystals.

I am amassing a good collection of beautiful crystals. This is all because of my rock hammer. Without it, I would have had to bring home the unattractive chunk of rock along with the precious material.

By cloudel — On Dec 29, 2011

@wavy58 – It's always fun to go excavating with a rock hammer. Like your friends, I use the chisel kind, because my main focus is digging out artifacts.

I have found many different arrowheads that have been fossilized. I often have to pull somewhat soft rock away from the arrowheads, and the rock hammer is so helpful for this task.

I remember back before I got a hammer. I was out in the woods with nothing but a stick, and this made the process so tedious. I couldn't get much of the debris removed, so I decided to invest in a rock hammer.

I'm glad that I did. I realized that excavating artifacts was something I wanted to make a lifetime hobby, so I needed the proper tool to make it more enjoyable.

By wavy58 — On Dec 28, 2011

I live in the South, and I have a couple of friends who like to go hunting for fossils. They use chisel edge rock hammers, because these are the best kind for digging in soft shale and limestone, which we have plenty of around here.

They often go to dried up stream beds or areas that have been excavated for constructing highways. They use their rock hammers to split the rock apart and find fossils inside of it.

They have brought home many fossilized trilobites and seashells. Though some of the fossils remain embedded in the chunks of rock they bring home, they have been able to free up others with their hammers. They have given me a few petrified seashells that look like the seashells of today.

By truman12 — On Dec 28, 2011

My grandfather worked in a quarry and he has told me lots of stories about what back breaking labor he had to do. Apparently most of his time was spent using massive old stone tools to break bigger rocks into smaller rocks. Apparently the hammer he used was about the size of a sledge hammer but with a bigger head.

Later in his career they transitioned to hydraulic rock hammers because they worked better and took less of a human toll. But for a long time it was nothing but my grandfather's back and his rock hammer smashing stuff up all day long.

By Ivan83 — On Dec 27, 2011

I have a job through the state of Wisconsin excavating potential sites for new highway construction. Myself and several archaeologists and anthropologists are called in to examine any new site for potentially relevant artifacts.

We end up using rock hammers just about every day. Our examinations are not as thorough as they could be, if that was the case new roads would never get built, but we take a pretty close look and end up breaking up a lot of rocks and hard soil. I actually have a tool belt that contains all of the most useful excavating tools and a rock hammer is always a part of it.

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