Tribute to the Lam-Hammer
Here’s the tragic tale of a fine tool that never got the respect it deserved.
For my money, there’s never been a better tool for installing tongue-and-groove flooring against a wall than the Lam-Hammer. Invented by Jeff Van Horne, the Lam-Hammer is a modified slide hammer, which is a tool often used in automotive applications to pull and remove ball-bearing inserts.
When installing the last few rows of T&G flooring, there is generally no room to use a hammer and tapping block to close the board joints, so installers often use a hammer and pull bar. The problem with a cheap S-shaped pull bar is that over time, all the hammer strikes to the tab can bend the tab outward so it no longer catches the hammer blows, which renders the pull bar useless. The undersides of the pull bars are also notorious for marking up the new floor boards. Furthermore, with shorter pull bars, the proximity of the tab to the wall can make it difficult to swing the hammer.
The Lam-Hammer is easy to use and solves all those problems. To use the Lam-Hammer, first hook the head over the outer edge of the floor board to be installed. Hold the tool with two hands, placing one hand on the sliding handle and the other at the end on the solid handle. Slide the weighted handle of the hammer toward its head on the fixed handle then quickly pull it back toward your body, where it impacts the strike plate at the other end. The impact pulls the hooked end, which in turn pulls the T&G joint tightly closed.
It’s awesome! Sadly, you might never get a chance to try it out.
This wonderful tool has been discontinued, and the flooring installers who were savvy enough to procure one while they were available tend to guard them with a close eye.
The problem? Business as usual… The fate of the Lam-Hammer boiled down to the age-old struggle between the inventor’s commitment to quality and the industry’s demand for cheaper tools that guaranteed more sales. After speaking to Jeff Van Horne personally, it seems the tool never got the sales necessary to justify the cost of continuing to manufacture it. This is because he couldn’t land a distribution deal through flooring suppliers or the "big box" stores (Home Depot, Lowes, Wal-Mart, etc.).
Insofar as the big box stores go, acquiring distribution is a common issue in the tool industry, because those outlets have strict requirements for price points on the items they sell. In a nutshell, it works like this: To meet the lower price points, manufacturers often have to make compromises to the manufacture of said products (i.e. lower the quality) or risk losing the distribution deal.
Mr. Van Horne refused to lower the quality of his Made in the USA Lam-Hammer. To manufacture the tool at a price which would ensure it wider distribution, he would have to source the tool from China where he feared its production and quality of the materials would result in a lesser tool. He stood his ground and refused to make those concessions. After all, the nature of the tool subjects it to heavy and repeated impact, and a poorly made version simply wouldn’t hold up to the wear and tear.
However, since Mr. Van Horne didn’t get that coveted widespread distribution, the Lam-Hammer didn’t get the notice it deserved and thus it didn’t receive the sales it needed to survive.
And, that is the sad tale of the Lam-Hammer, a fine tool that I’m proud to own and will never sell. You tool-hounds out there might check eBay; maybe you’ll get lucky.
By the way, the last time I spoke to Jeff Van Horne, the patent for the Lam-Hammer is for sale and interested parties (serious inquiries only) might want to give him a call at 1-888-687-2421.
- M. Weber