The item was swiped when kit worth more than ?2,000 was stolen from the new vets at Sidmouth Garden Centre, but police discovered most of the haul hidden under a hedge nearby,?writes Stephen Sumner.
To Nigel Membury?s dismay, his beloved and ?irreplaceable? hammer was the only item that did not come back.
?It?s like my best mate?s gone, in a way,? said the 57-year-old, who had had the hammer since he started out in the trade as a 15-year-old apprentice.
?The grip grows into your hand, it becomes like an extension of you,? added Nigel. ?I think any workman would feel the same way.?
He has bought a new Estwing hammer ? the same brand ? but said it just is not the same.
?I don?t think I?m going to have enough time on this planet to mould another one to my hand,? he told the?Herald.
Nigel has been working for Sidmouth Garden Centre owner Ian Barlow for 25 years and is currently working on the new vets ? which has been built in just 13 weeks after seven years of planning.
Nigel offered a ?50 reward on Facebook, but was amazed by his boss?s response, saying: ?I knew he liked me but I didn?t know he liked me that much!?
Ian said: ?I?m offering a reward of ?1,000 to anyone who comes up with the hammer and gives information leading to an arrest. The thieves don?t realise the effect ? they probably would?ve only got a few hundred quid for the tools, but it?s the workmen?s ?livelihood.?
The business owner said he thinks it was ?probably kids? who broke in, as adults would have taken a vehicle rather than try to carry the heavy equipment away.
He praised the rapid police response, which saw sniffer dogs and crime scene investigators arrive on site within an hour.
The perpetrators gained access to a door to the vets that was not properly secured between 5pm and 9pm on Monday.
Anyone with information can call police on 101, quoting log number 114.