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All About Hammers

This Old House general contractor Tom Silva shows host Kevin O’Connor everything someone would need to know about the different types of hammers and how to choose one for the job.

With an array of hammers laid out in front of them, Tom Silva walks Kevin O’Connor through the different types of hammers, what they’re typically used for, and their strengths and weaknesses. Tom even explains how to choose the best handle, when to use a smooth face over a waffled face, and a nifty built-in feature for one-handed nail setting.

Handle Materials Matter

There are three main types of hammer handles: wood, steel, and fiberglass. Wood is typically the least expensive and does a decent job of absorbing shock. Steel is heavy and extremely durable but requires a thick rubber grip to minimize shock. Fiberglass absorbs shock extremely well, but it’s more expensive than wood and not as durable as steel. That said, much of choosing a hammer handle is personal preference and feel.

There Are Lots of Types of Heads

As one of the most useful tools, there are many different types of hammers on the market. While typically the same basic design, they’re adapted to different trades. Some of these hammers might feature specific claws, cutting edges, rounded striking surfaces, and other adaptations that make them better suited for one line of work than another.

Straight vs. Curved Claws

General-purpose and carpentry hammers feature claws opposite of the striking face, and they come in curved or straight variations. Curved claws are best for removing nails as they offer the most prying leverage. However, straight claws are useful for chipping away at wood, driving nails in tight spaces, or even separating boards that are nailed together.

Handle Length

Regarding leverage and striking force, handle length is worth consideration. The longer the handle, the more leverage that the user can exert on the fastener, whether removing or driving a nail. Long-handled hammers are popular for framers, as they need to drive and remove large nails. However, the longer handles are hard to control, so shorter handles are typically best for finish work.

Smooth vs. Waffled Faces

One of the most significant differences between types of hammers can be their faces. Some might feature smooth striking surfaces, while others feature a serrated or waffled pattern. The smooth face is less likely to damage finished surfaces, where waffled-faced hammers can get a better grip on nails, specifically when the hammer might be slightly out of line.

Use Good Technique

When striking a nail, it’s important to use good technique. Get a firm grip on the handle by wrapping the fingers and thumb around the handle toward its base. Align the shoulder, hammer, and nail, and swing with the entire arm.

Don’t hold the hammer too close to the head or lay a finger or the thumb on top of the handle. This will often lead to bent nails, damaged surfaces, or even injury.

For finish applications, drive the nail until the head is slightly above the work surface and then drive it below with a nail set.


Resources

Tom Silva shows Kevin O’Connor many different types of hammers and explains what they are used for. He tells Kevin his personal favorite is the straight claw hammer as it can be used for both framing and trim work. Kevin demonstrates the framing hammer’s magnetic nail holder, and Tom and Kevin demonstrate strike and removal techniques on a 2x4 and nail setting on a trim board.