“We have a saying here that even the simplest things can be made better or smarter,” says Steve Stokes, a design engineer at Fiskars. The Finnish company, which dates from 1649, was a pioneer of user-friendly design and is best known for its ergonomic scissors and small tools. Its latest products take that high-performance approach to two unexpected products: gardening blades and hammers.
It’s Hammer Time
The engineers at Fiskars aim to identify problems that people encounter in their daily lives and come up with a design-oriented solution. Striking tools—hammers, clubs, picks, and mauls—were one category that Stokes’s team thought was overdue for an overhaul. The repetitive stress from using these tools had negative effects. According to Fiskars, 62% of tradespeople have experienced vibration related injuries.
“People have been trying to make a better hammer since the caveman era,” he says. “With tools, finding the problems is the easy part. If you talk to a guy that’s swinging a hammer for 20 years, he’ll say his hands hurt. Why is that? Manufacturers will claim they have anti-vibration technology, but there’s little in the form of technology and little proof. The best thing people have done is to make the grip soft. Our approach was to take a deeper dive into how we could protect the user more effectively from this real source of danger.”
Stokes and his team spent two-and-a-half years researching and developing the line. It involved outfitting hammers with accelerometers to graph the speed and force someone applies with each swing. They also recorded images of the swings to better understand the natural motion a person uses. Then they created a robotic pendulum arm to reduce the variables in the study as they further researched how vibrations travel through a hammer. This all informed what Fiskars calls the IsoCore Shock Control System.
The engineering “secret” is an elastomeric sleeve that separates the head from the handle. “You don’t notice this when you’re handling the hammer, but when you swing it, the sleeve absorbs vibrations,” Stokes says. The clawhammers—what you probably have around your house—are made from steel. They feature a distinctive profile that’s a little different than you’d expect. Part of the head is hollowed out and so is the spot beneath it. This helps the design perform better and look different while doing so. Fiskars claims that the clawhammers—which come in 13.5″ and 15.5″ lengths and 16-, 20-, and 22-ounce weights—transfer four times less shock than traditional wood handles.
“We wanted to do something that’s visually iconic—that was one reason,” Stokes says. “Creating an I-beam makes it very strong in all directions and maintains balance while looking different.” The longer tools feature reinforced fiberglass handles, which are robust and strong for their relative weight and transfer two times less vibration than comparable, conventional tools.
The handles on all of the new striking tools are cushy, thermoplastic rubber punctuated with dimples of various sizes to help with grip. “We’re really focused here on ergonomics and shaping the tools in a way that feels good in your hand so you don’t get blisters and pain points,” Stokes says.
Stokes was overjoyed with the response: the testers didn’t want to give the hammers up.
Because Fiskars is an internationally distributed brand, Stokes and his team had to engineer the tools to meet the strictest strength standards around the world. The chief complaints that arose during the user interviews were durability first and vibration second. To that end, the tools have a lifetime warranty. “If the hammer breaks they can’t make money,” Stokes says.
After testing the first run of production products, Stokes was overjoyed with the response: the testers didn’t want to give the hammers up, which was just as well since their approval was what he was after. “It starts and ends with them,” he says.
New Tang Clan (AKA Designing A Better Machete)
Like it did with the hammers, Fiskars assessed how it could make clearing tools better—a tall order since this is the first time the brand has entered the category. They sought to create a simple, light, and versatile blade that could accomplish a wealth of gardening tasks like trimming long grass, hacking through vegetation, chopping roots, and clearing branches.
While the hammers were all about lessening vibration, the clearing tools—billhooks, hatchets, machetes, and the machete axe—center around creating more force and power with each swing. Jake Maki, a principal designer at Fiskars, spearheaded this line. Because this was a first extension into a broader clearing tools family for Fiskars, he and his team looked for ways to immediately signal the tools’ innovation to customers. “They’re provocative from a visual standpoint—people want to pick them up,” Maki says.
The blades are made from strong carbon steel with non-stick coating to prevent rust. In the research phase Maki and his team found that customers will try to bend the blade to determine the quality. The more it bends, the flimsier it seems, and the perceived quality is lower. “They were all surprised how burly our tools felt,” Maki says.
The engineers punched holes close to the top of the blade. In addition to being decorative, they lighten the tool and push the center of gravity closer to the handle. “It feels like an extension of the body—it’s nimble,” Maki says.
While the blade took a lot of thought, the handle was more intensive. First off, each of the cutting tools has a full tang meaning that the blades are one solid piece of metal that extends through the handle. This makes it stronger and less prone to breaking. Maki and his team kept ergonomics in mind with the handle, but also thought about how the details could help people use the tool more effectively. The bottom of the handle has a slight hook shape to it, which offers more power per stroke. Up top, the handle is shaped for dexterity, making detailed cutting easier.
“It wasn’t just about coming up with a bunch of features and putting it on an existing object,” Maki says. “It was rethinking from tip to tail.”
Of the line, the machete axe looks the most foreboding, but it still serves a purpose. The force generated by the tool is enough to hack through branches up to four inches thick. “People laughed when they saw the initial sketches because they were like, is this an anime sword? What are you drawing?” Maki says. “We did some testing and the shape of the machete axe was incredibly effective.”
As Brooklyn apartment dweller, I don’t have a backyard that requires hacking back vegetation nor do I need a hammer outside of hanging the occasional frame but after hearing about Fiskars’s design process, I turned from a skeptic to believing that my life is incomplete without a machete axe. Sign me up.
The IsoCore Striking Tools are available in December 2015 and the Clearing Tools hit the market early 2016.