Classic Finishers
Photo: John Lawton

What You'll Learn

  1. Uses
  2. Options
  3. Where to Find It
In its single steel head, the claw hammer marries two opposing purposes: the ability to drive a nail into wood and, when necessary, to lever it out. The Romans were the first to hit upon this felicitous combination, and a couple of millennia later it remains an indispensible tool.

As you might expect with something this old, there are many variations on the claw hammer, but they all fall into one of two groups: finish or framing. Most homeowners can get along quite well with a trusty finish hammer, distinguished by its smooth face, light head (less than 20 ounces), short handle (less than 16 inches), and curved claw for easy nail removal. For the more muscular work of nailing lumber, a framing (aka, rip) hammer is the way to go. It has a handle up to 18 inches long, a straight claw for prying apart pieces of wood, a head weighing 20 ounces or more, and a milled face to grip nailheads.

Within these two categories, the best hammer is the one that feels right to you. Just ask Tom Silva, TOH general contractor. He's tried them all, yet he always goes back to the one he grew up with: a hickory–handled 16–ouncer with a steel head.

Despite the competition from cordless screwdrivers and pneumatic nail guns, hammers retain a firm grip on our imagination. Just pick one up and feel that empowering, I–can–build–anything thrill of your inner 10–year–old, off to put up a tree house. Then go pound some nails.

For most tasks around the house, a finish hammer is what you need. Unlike head–heavy framing hammers, finish hammers are balanced to tap a slender nail without overstriking or bending it. The 16–ounce Estwing, right, has a handle sheathed in lacquered leather strips. Its diminutive 6–ounce cousin has a hickory "beaver–tail" handle that fits snugly in your palm when tapping in brads or finish nails. $33,; $10.50,

Never strike the head of a hammer with another hammer. The collision can cause tiny shards of razor-sharp steel to split off and come flying at you.

35 Feet Per Second
How fast a pro can swing a hammer
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