Choosing a framing hammer used to be easy until manufacturers started using fiberglass rather than the traditional wooden handles. Suddenly, there is a debate on which handle is better. If you are not familiar with the pros and cons and aren't sure which one to buy, here are some important issues to consider.
A hammer’s handle must withstand the shock and vibration from constant pounding and be reliable under all weather conditions. Wood, such as hickory or elm, is strong and durable, but is vulnerable to the drying effects of humidity. Fiberglass is touted to be stronger, but some observe that it gets brittle and breaks down under ultraviolet exposure. That’s bad news if you like to keep your hammer in the back of your pick-up, or leave it lying around in the yard.
Fiberglass handles are glued to the hammer head. In contrast, wooden handles are kept snugly in place with wedges. Wood shrinks and loosens its hold on the head, which can then fly off as you swing. Fiberglass handles, on the other hand, are known to break and splinter while in use. That could pose some risks, especially if you’re working without safety goggles.
The smooth surface of a wooden handle could get slippery in wet conditions. Fiberglass handles are waterproof and come with rubber-like grips that enhance handling and prevent slips. Some people appreciate the wooden handle’s ability to let the hand slide as they swing because it allows them to have greater control and leverage.
Wood handles can be nicked when hit hard or by pointed metal surfaces and need to be maintained periodically. When broken, it can be replaced cheaply and easily. It can even be carved to fit the grip of the owner. Fiberglass handles do not shrink and are tough against nicks and cuts. But they cannot be modified and are very difficult to replace.
Both wood and fiberglass hammer handles claim to absorb shock and vibration well. Many experienced carpenters speak of a more efficient “energy transfer” when they work using hammers with wooden handles. There are also those who swear that fiberglass is more effective in cushioning the impact of each strike on the wrists and elbows.
A Matter of Taste
Natural or synthetic? There is something about wood’s natural properties that enable it to endure for long periods and keep its loyal followers satisfied. The introduction of new technology such as fiberglass hammer handles has enlivened the industry and provided more choices for everyone. Choosing which handle to use is not a matter of which one is right and which is wrong. Rather, it’s what meets your personal taste. When you hold both in each hand -- when you swing them, strike a nail with them -- you will feel their differences and will be able to decide which one is right for you.