Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Geological Creed: "My Rock Hammer is My Friend"

Estwing E30 Pointed-Tip Rock Pick

We tend to associate certain tools with familiar professions.  For medical professionals, it's a stethoscope; for lawyers it's a briefcase. Ever seen a coach without a stopwatch and clipboard, or an engineer without a pocket protector? Well, I'm a geologist: I carry a rock hammer.

Estwing E30 Pointed-Tip Rock Pick with leather handle
The hammer that lives at my house is a favorite of my fellow geologists. It’s the 22-ounce Estwing pointed-tip rock pick, clad in t classic leather handle (they call it the E30). This is my second with this design. My first, I bought before Estwing sold a hammer with a rubber handle. It’s probably still at the base of a limestone cliff in southeastern Arizona. If it weren’t I'd probably still have that first hammer almost fifty years after I paid about $12 for it. They're that dependable...

Estwing’s hammers, made in Rockford, Illinois, are acknowledged as the top of the line for among geologists. The different rock picks come in weights ranging from 13 to 22 ounces, and are available with blue or orange shock-absorbing rubber handles or the original laminated leather handle. The rubber-handled models can be bought with either pointed or chisel-end pick; the leather-handled model is available only with a pointed tip.

All Estwing rock hammers are drop-forged from a single piece of steel and built with a full tang , meaning that the shaft runs the full length of the handle. Head and shaft are both polished, and the exposed section of the shaft has an oval cross-section that shifts the center of mass higher without a reduction in tensile strength. Every model of rock pick has a lifetime guarantee against failure. The geologist’s choice of leather or rubber handle is partially aesthetics and partially tradition: leather-handled picks have used since the 1920s, and many feel they look "nicer" when a hammer is used for photographic scale.

     Not many adult geologists use the 13- or 14-ounce hammer for field work; these smaller hammers are intended for younger rockhounds and fossil collectors or for paleontologists. Most field geologists use the larger 22-ounce. After choosing a size, the scientist must decide on pick style: traditional pointed-tip picks work well for levering rocks from the ground, and is preferred by hard-rock geologists. Soft-rock geologists usually choose a chisel-end hammer, whose broad tip is goof for splitting layers of sedimentary rock.

My version is a 22-ounce model with the laminated leather grip and pointed pick; the traditional  design. It's just over 12 inches in length, and weighs the claimed 22 ounces (616 grams).

Like all Estwing rock hammers, this one has neither welds nor joints that can break or loosen. The grip’s made of leather ovals some 1/8” thick, stacked on the tang. The entire stack is riveted in place. It has the signature pattern of black and white stripes near the top and bottom of the grip, made from dyed leather. The manufacturing process smooths the leather stack and then seals the grip with lacquer. This creates a grip marked by subtle color alterations due to variations in the leather, which gives the handle its well-known striped appearance. These handles can stand up to abuse for many years: they slide around the bed of a field truck, get banged on outcrops and dropped in streams, and are occasionally dropped from cliffs. After all that abuse, the handle still looks good, providing both shock absorption and a sure grip. Over perhaps forty years in the field, I remember seeing only one of those handles that had failed - a leather disk broke and slipped out, leaving the rest of the stack loose.

My pick has also had many a use over over the years:

  • whacking outcrops and hand samples to expose fresh surfaces
  • photographic scale
  • digging in loose soil to grub up "float."
  • prying apart loosely-consolidated sedimentary rock
  • flipping rocks lying on the desert floor to make certain there's not a scorpion or snake hiding under them
  • probing out soft sediment from harder layers

Of course, mine has also been put to the occasional "non-standard" uses:
  • poking holes in cans when I've misplaced the can opener
  • fishing six-packs  from the icy mountain streams
  • serving as a paperweight for geological maps spread on the hood of my field vehicle
…and many other uses. Unless you lose your E30 (mea culpa), this tool will give stellar service for a lifetime. Simply put, that Estwing E30 rock hammer is the gold standard for geologists everywhere.
copyright © 2017-2018 scmrak

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