“One of the most popular pages of the monthly publication of a tool collectors’ club is its Whatsis Column. Antique gadgets that stump the experts are frequently turning up. In the era of hand-made tools, it was logical that one-of-a-kind implements were created—the man who custom-made his own tools could allow himself the luxury of making tools to meet his needs.
“Then, too, there were devices that had many uses. Ladders were used as tobacco driers; the bars of a ladder-back chair held candleholders; meat hooks doubled as grappling hooks that retrieved things from the bottoms of wells. If you think it strange that a hook was so necessary to a household, remember that the well was used many times a day, that foods needing refrigeration were often lowered into it.
“Items lost beneath the water could not, of course, be seen, so they could be retrieved only by groping. The well hook was used as much as any other implement of the old-time household. After all, who wanted to drink water from a well filled with old pails?
“Today we think a hammer is a hammer—the same thing that lays a roof, cracks a nut! But the early craftsman (like a good golfer) knew that how you hit and what you hit with could make a difference in the job being done. See, in the drawing below, how the flail separates the grain while the pestle grinds it; yet both tools hit.
“The ‘flinting pick’ did the job of making gun flints; the ‘bricklayer’s hammer’ and ‘axe’ and ‘raker’ did work that is still admired after two centuries. The ‘printing mallett’ stamped designs on painted floor cloths (popular before linoleum). The ‘flood gate hammer’ didn’t smash the gate; its massive weight just moved it. The ‘zax’ cut roofing slate and made nail holes in it. The ‘trunnel hammer’ knocked trunnels in without smashing them. And so on. Each ‘hammer’ hit a special kind of blow to do the specialty the craftsman needed done.”
Source: “A Museum of Early American Tools” by Eric Sloane, 2002, Courier Dover Publications