Hammer & Hardie — Do you need them?

Lawrence Payne
4 min readJun 7, 2019


(For my Youtube playlist (@romanmosaics) on using the hammer & hardie click here)

In mosaic work if you were asked what tools are represented the most it would have to be either nippers or the hammer and hardie. Here I’m going to look at the argument for and against getting a set yourself.

Mainly these tools are about cutting stone, there is a stone carving dated to 4th century AD that appears to show these tools in use. Go and train in Italy today and chances are that is what you’ll be taught to use. The hardie is a thick chisel piece that is set upside down in a block of wood. The marble is then held on the hardie and the hammer is bought down on it to send a fracture through the stone to split it. It’s the weight of the hammer that does the cutting so they can be quite heavy, up to 1kg/2.2lbs although now lighter ones are available.

Drawing of a relief taken from a Roman tomb, Ostia, 4th century CE.

The steel hammers are used for cutting stone, you can cut smalti with them but you need to keep the blades very sharp otherwise you can end up wasting too much of the glass. For smalti you have hammers with carbide tips. These keep their edge better but to sharpen those you need to know what you’re doing. Nowadays a much more popular option is to buy a combination hammer, one side is steel the other side has a carbide tip so you have one hammer for both types of material.

These tools are expensive and sometimes difficult to get hold of, but you should only ever have to get one set and these should last you your whole career.

Are these tools easy to use?

Easy to use? Yes, any learning is easy provided you start correctly. Like any tool you just need to take the time to learn. I always recommend that people start by sitting on the floor so they get the correct, supported position. Also you can, if you have a smart phone, get someone to video you from the side so you can check how you are doing. There are a number of videos on Youtube that I’ve put on there about how to cut (link here) and there are other people’s too. Look at these, keep it simple and practise!

Here’s another way to look at how to choose!

Can you injure yourself?

Using these properly means you avoid the sort of wrist problems you can get from the overuse of tile nippers. Even if I’m cutting 4mm thick rods into individual tesserae I use my hammer and hardie as it’s a lot easier on my wrist. Unlike cutting with nippers there is a lot less chance of small shards flying off when cutting.

Using them for stone

Once you have a set then you can go into any tile shop, buy a few marble tiles and take them home and cut them into tesserae. You’ll never run out of material to use as you’ll always have the tools to cut it with. The drawback is the marble you end up with can have some sharp edges. Marble that has been cut into rods (typically 10mm — 20mm width) are a lot easier but you need to budget for the additional cost of getting rods. A good tip if you’re using a lot of marble is to cut everything you need then hire a cement mixer for a day and chuck it all in with a bit of kiln dried sand for about 4 hours and this will smooth them off nicely.

Sharpening carbide edges preferably needs to be done by a specialist but the steel edges are fine to do yourself. Again there are plenty of resources out there to learn how to do that.

Balance the extra cost of using pre cut tesserae against the reduced cost of buying from a tile merchant but then having to take the time to cut it all. if you can get rods then it will save you a lot of time.

So, if you use stone and you are likely to use it for any length of time then yes, it is worth investing in a set. Just look at it carefully first so you don’t end up with an expensive set of ornaments!

If you have any questions then please do get in touch with me, click here.

Lawrence Payne



Lawrence Payne

I help people create authentic copies of Roman mosaics even if they do not have any background in art or crafts.