Harbor Freight Deadblow Hammer

Every project deserves a new tool. It’s part of the guy credo. That tool can be a 20-ton sheet metal press or a new carpenter’s pencil. It doesn’t matter, it’s all about the tool. Given that the definition of cruising is ‘fixing your boat underway’, what’s the most essential tool in the toolkit? Well, before we answer that, let’s back up a step.

The perfect boat hosts drinks for 6 in the cockpit, dinner for 4 in the cabin and room for 2 to sleep. That means, like in every other aspect of life, there is space on Aleta that is under occupied and now filled with ‘stuff’, including my tools. In our case it’s the quarterberth that we have renamed ‘the garage’.

Fins, sails, weatherboards, drills, crimps, fishing rods, gaffs, luggage and ditch bags are all stuffed into the garage. It drives Carol crazy! But short of remounting our Monitor Windvane, which would prevent the use of our davits, the spare sails have to live someplace. Besides, at any one point I’ll need access to my wrenches, screwdrivers, socket sets, wire, tape and well, all of that stuff.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had a chance to learn the following: how to change the engine oil and filter, troubleshoot and repair a faulty LED light on the propane circuit, test the battery monitor wiring harness for continuity (it wasn’t continuous), replace a fan, fix the water pump, repair the dinghy, and remount the life raft. The last three jobs… Wait for it! We’re getting there! …we fixed with the guy’s time-tested method of, if it ain’t working – whack it with a big hammer!

While it lacks the finesse of a multi-meter, or even the pleasurable finality of heat-shrink-wrapping an electrical connection, the humble lump hammer definitely has a place in anyone’s arsenal of repair equipment. Take our water pump, please. It stopped working. Just stopped. No brrrrr as it came up to pressure, no spitting water, nothing. Without water pressure we have to use a foot pump. That’s not bad, especially if you’re rationing water; you literally feel every ounce, but it means that we can’t get hot water out of the tank.

So, I broke out the multi-meter – a tool near the top of the fix-it intellectual hierarchy. Lots of buttons and settings to examine Ohms, Volts, Amps, continuity, all down to the itty-bitty micro level. So cool! But while it proved the electrics were okay, the pump still didn’t pump. Time to climb down the family tree and try something simpler. If we’d had another pump I would have swapped it out. Trouble is our spare water pump is in my sister’s basement in Baltimore – duh-oh! Given that, it was time to get all Neanderthal on its ass. Now we are way, waaay down the repair man’s evolutionary ladder and well into limbic territory.

Whack It!

Here’s the logic: pump doesn’t work, no spare, there’s nothing to lose by whacking it with a big hammer, right? WHACK! Brrrrr! The water pump winds up and we have pressure. Piltdown Man stands erect and throws a bone into the air. It falls back to earth as a satellite. Cue the Blue Danube Waltz happy dance.

My advice? Go buy a big orange deadblow hammer from Harbor Freight. You’ll appreciate its simplicity. Its raw pent up energy. Its ability to release your inner Cro-Magnon and its unparalleled ability to unstick mechanically sticky parts. They’re awesome!



  1. Mike, in Obstetrics much is said about the use of forceps (an ancient tradition, a pair found in the ashes of Pompeii) or Ventouse (A newer tradition using vacuum applied to the fetal head to assist in correcting fetal orientation for delivery) of which both are valuable and useful tools. When the baby fails to deliver the Midwife/Obstetrician immediately blames the tool as being ‘A Useless waste of time’. On further investigation it is usually found that the tool isn’t at fault and hadn’t been applied correctly so ‘ it isn’t the tool at fault only the fool on the end of the tool that is!’. I would venture that it is better to use gentle persuasion when things don’t go well rather than a large hammer (I THINK THE MOTHER MIGHT COMPAIN!)

  2. I believe the tool in question is referred to by English-speaking navies around the world as a “speaking tube” in fond memory of the pre-telephone days aboard steel ships. So if you need to speak to a recalcitrant water pump — you can be heard!


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