Classic Finishers
More in Hand Tools

Claw Hammers

Here's a look at what's new with the world's oldest tool

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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.

CLASSIC FINISHERS
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, estwing.com; $10.50, leevalley.com

Tip
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

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.

CLASSIC FINISHERS
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, estwing.com; $10.50, leevalley.com

Tip
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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1. Anti-Vibe

 

1. Anti-Vibe

ANTI-VIBE hammer from stanleytools.com;LONG NOSE hammer from sharkcorp.com; The Striker's hammer
Photo by John Lawton
1. Anti-Vibe 2. Long Nose 3. Nail Starter (See"options")

A "tuning fork" in the handle of this 20-ounce model dissipates impact shocks and vibrations, which can harm joints, muscles, and nerves even if you're not hammering all day long. The rubber grip has a diamond-patterned texture and a "deer's-foot" flare at the end to ensure it won't slip out of a sweaty palm. 14–inch handle, $33; stanleytools.com

2. Long Nose
Slim and lightweight, Japanese finish hammers have a nimbleness well suited to delicate finish work. Their elongated necks keep knuckles clear of the work, and sharply pointed, steeply sloped claws extract embedded nails in one pull. Striking plates on the sides (cheeks) of this 14–ounce head can drive nails in tight quarters. 15-inch handle, $30; sharkcorp.com

3. Nail Starter
The Striker's exquisitely sculpted 21–ounce head is permanently fastened to its fiberglass handle with epoxy resin, which resists nearly 5,000 pounds of pullout force (wood handles can withstand about 200 pounds); that means you can pound nails in and crank them out again with abandon. The groove in the head is a magnetic nail holder for one–handed nail starting. 15–inch handle, $30; strikertools.com

4. Two-Faced
Titanium isn't cheap, but if you're pounding a houseful of nails, you'll appreciate that it's about 45 percent lighter and 10 times better at damping vibration than the high–carbon steel most hammer heads are made of. The 15-ounce TiBone II features interchangeable steel faces: one milled and one smooth. 18–inch handle, $250; stilettotools.com

5. Weight Forward
A 21–ounce steel head bolted to a lightweight fiberglass handle moves this tool's balance point significantly closer to the business end for greater nail–striking power. The square face, for nailing in tight corners, has recessed mill marks that wear more evenly than a waffle–iron texture. 16–inch handle, $33; estwing.com

6. Pulls Both Ways
This 20—ounce hammer has a sideways nail–puller—the V-shaped notch in the head—for maximum leverage, an overstrike plate to protect the hickory handle, and a magnetic nail holder for one–handed starting. All in all, a full–featured, beautifully balanced tool for a reasonable price. 16–inch handle, $68; douglastool.com
 

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Where to Find it

 

Where to Find it

Two-faced
Photo by John Lawton
4. Two-Faced

Classic Finisher:
Estwing E16C; Estwing
Rockford, IL
www.estwing.com

6–oz. Pocket Hammer
Lee Valley & Veritas
Ogdensburg, NY
800-871-8158
www.leevalley.com

AntiVibe:
Stanley Tools Group
New Britain, CT
800-262-2161
www.stanleytools.com

Long Nose:
model #20–2110
Shark Corporation
Wilmington, CA
310-513-1113
www.sharkcorp.com

Nail Starter:
Striker, US Tape
Patchogue, NY
800-472-8273
www.ustape.com

Two–Faced:
model# TB15S,
Stiletto
800-987-1849
www.stilettotools.com

Weight Forward:
Estwing WF21LM

Pulls Both Ways:
model# DFR20S
Douglas Tool Inc.
Santa Cruz, CA
831-420-0456
www.douglastool.com

Thanks to–The Hammer Source,
Naperville, II
877-496-2537
www.hammersource.com

 
 

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