How Jackhammers Work

Protect Yourself
Jackhammers can kick up a lot of fine particulate, so wearing a face mask and wetting the work area are good ideas.
Jackhammers can kick up a lot of fine particulate, so wearing a face mask and wetting the work area are good ideas.

Jackhammers often create clouds of dust, and sometimes that dust can be dangerous. For example, breaking up concrete pavement can release crystalline silica, which is known to cause lung cancer. To keep dust levels down, workers can attach a hose that sprays a mist of several ounces of water per minute, wetting the work area for a safer breathing environment.

Shrapnel is not unusual, so it's a really good idea to wear long, tough pants and long-sleeved shirts. Steel-toed boots are also recommended. And because jackhammers are heavy, some have optional lift-assist technology that pushes the tool upwards out of the ground, making it much easier to move around in the work area.

Although jackhammers make quick work of many substrates, they aren't the right tool for every demolition job. On some sites, buried gas or electrical lines might lurk beneath the surface, just waiting for a jackhammer's hefty bite to suddenly make the local emergency room a lot more exciting.

It's easy to point out the dangers of jackhammers. They are powerful machines with potential for serious destruction. But, of course, destruction is the whole point. Without their fantastic pounding power, we'd be stuck with horribly inefficient pickaxes and shovels and sledgehammers. And no matter how strong you might be, you definitely do not want to break up an old highway by hand.

Author's Note: How Jackhammers Work

Once upon a time, I had a job that required me to remove floor tiles. If you've never tried to scrape rock-hard tile from a concrete floor, let me assure you that you never want to try. Using a simple hand scraper, you slide the flat metal head as hard as you can until it slams into the edge of a tile. If you're lucky, the tile explodes into pieces. If you're not so fortunate, you repeat this process relentlessly until your hands are numb or you break down in tears (or both). Unbeknownst to me, there is a type of jackhammer that automates this process and would have made my life much easier. Unfortunately, my boss was too cheap to provide one.

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  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. "Noise." (Oct. 14, 2014)
  • Detroit Historical Society. "King, Charles Brady." (Oct. 14, 2014)
  • The Family Handyman. "Concrete Demolition Tools and Tips." (Oct. 14, 2014)
  • Hyde, Justin. "March 6: Charles King Drives the First Automobile in Detroit on this Date in 1896." (Oct. 14, 2014)
  • King Motor Car Club of America. "Charles King Brady." (Oct. 14, 2014)
  • Montabert Corporate Page. "Hydraulic Rock Breakers." (Oct. 14, 2014)
  • OnGuard Safety Training. "Jack Hammer." 2010. (Oct. 14, 2014)
  • OSHA Fact Sheet. "What is Crystalline Silica?" 2002. (Oct. 14, 2014)
  • Priester, Michael, Thomas Hentschel and Bernd Benthin. "Tools for Mining." GATE. 1993. (Oct. 14, 2014)
  • Raghavan, Vijaya. "Analysis of Performance of Jack Hammer to Determine the Penetration Rate on Different Rocks." The International Journal of Engineering and Science. Aug. 5, 2014. (Oct. 14, 2014)
  • Safety Services Company. "Construction Safety: Using, Handling and Maintaining Jackhammers." (Oct. 14, 2014)

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