In our series about lost and forgotten tools, today we will see our Dutch Dive Hammer. A unique and very rare tool with a fascinating history.
This precision instrument is specially made for divers, to use in underwater applications. A key feature of the Dutch Dive Hammer is its cork head. This helps the hammer to stay afloat even under the roughest sea conditions. They also have a relatively short handle, to fit into the small compartments of a ship.
The first Dive Hammers are found in the 17th century, usually aboard the ships of the United East Indian Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie; or VOC). An invention of shipwright Mijndert Kurckentreckher, who worked on the famous Flying Dutchman. One of the problems was that when he had to work on the underside of the ship during its journey to the West Indies, his hammer would sink and get lost. After he lost his 8th hammer this way, he got an idea: why not use a rope to keep the hammer from sinking. He tied his hammer to the neck of his apprentice and went out to work. When he lost both the hammer and the boy he was in big trouble; the VOC had a quotum for 10 lost hammers, when he lost one more he would get sacked.
During an evening of heavy drinking Mijndert got a better idea. Why not to make the head of the hammer out of cork. It will help to keep the hammer afloat. Besides that the head of the hammer would also stop damaging the heads of the nails he drove into the hull.
Mijndert’s invention was a huge success, soon other ships of the Company were supplied with these cork hammers. Ideal for driving away the dullness of long winter nights, when te ship was stuck in the ice at the Cape of Good Hope, when three Stooghe brothers used them for their slapstick acts. Modern versions, made of light plastic are still used by the crew of U-boats today.
Today these hammers are quite rare, and I was very lucky to find one in the local second hand store. Unfortunately it was all rusted, but with a little TLC it is good to go for another hundred years of nonsense…