A Primer on Hammers

You probably think there's not much to know about hammers. Sure they've evolved a bit since cavemen started using a hand held rock to bang a stick into the ground, but a hammer is a hammer, right? Well, the answer is no. Hammers have definitely evolved over time and there are now hammers designed to make almost any job easier. Here's a quick primer on hammers, and a partial list of hammers designed for specific applications.

Hammers in general

Hammers can be made from many different materials. Handles are traditionally made of wood, but they can also be plastic, fiberglass, metal or combinations of each. Handles made from good solid hardwood will last for a lifetime if properly cared for (i.e. don't leave it out in the rain or direct sun). On the other hand, steel or fiberglass handles don't need any attention at all, and that certainly makes them attractive. However, a metal hammer is probably not a good tool to use when working around wiring and a fiberglass handle can snap if the handle gets struck against something by accident.

Traditionally hammerheads are made from metal formed into various shapes to accommodate different applications. However, heads are can also be made from materials such as heavy duty plastic or wood which are better suited for certain applications for example, carving wood.

The right hammer for you depends on a combination of what job you're trying to do and how you and the hammer fit together. Handheld hammers will range in weight from 10 to 12 ounces all the way up to 10 or 12 pounds (sledgehammer), but the majority are in the 16 to 32 ounce range. A hammer that's too heavy will quickly tire out your hand and arm and you'll probably end up damaging the work. Alternatively, a hammer that's too light will mean you need to strike a number of extra blows to finish your job.

The best way to choose a hammer is for you to pick it up and swing it a few times, or better yet actually use it (you might even be able to borrow a friend's hammer). The hammer should feel balanced in your hand so you feel you're in control of the hammer and not the other way around.

Common Hammers and Their Applications

1. Nail Hammer with Curved Claw - This is the one we are most familiar with. It's used for general carpentry work, driving and pulling nails. Usually weighs in the area of 16 to 20 ounces and can have a wood, fiberglass or a metal handle. Lighter weight nail hammers that are easier for people with less arm strength to handle are becoming more commonly available as more and more women take on home construction and remodeling jobs.

2. Framing hammer with a straight claw- longer and heavier than a nail hammer. Weighs up to 25 ounces and is used for heavier construction work such as framing and ripping. The extra weight and longer handle give extra power to drive nails quickly. The straight claw is useful in demolition work.

3. Shingling hammer - About the same size as a framing hammer, but often has a cross hatched face to prevent slipping on railheads and a hatchet shaped back for cutting wooden shingles.

4. Ball Peen hammer - has a round ball shape on one end of the head, hence its name. Used for shaping, riveting, bending and center punching metal. It can range in size from very light (4 ounces) all the way up to 30 or 32 ounces. Available with wood or fiberglass handles.

5. Tack hammer - generally lightweight and usually comes with a wooden handle. Opposite the flat nailing surface tack hammer has a tapered end that is usually magnetized to hold tacks and fasteners used in furniture upholstering.

6. Carpenters mallet - 12 to 16 ounces and commonly have wooden handles. The head itself is often made from wood that is sometimes wrapped in steel. The wooden face means it is less likely to damage the project being worked on so it's commonly used for application in furniture assembly such as setting dowels.

7. Rubber mallet (or dead blow mallet) 12 to 30 ounces. Generally a molded plastic assembly with heavy lead shot inside the mallet which makes it bounce resistant. The non-marring face makes this tool useful for assembling wooden pieces.

All of the hammers listed above are only a partial list of the many types and styles of hammers you can get. Each different hammer is designed to make a specific application easier. So if you're facing a job that requires a lot of hammering, take a little time to check out different styles of hammers - before you start banging away with your old claw hammer. You just might find there's a hammer available that will make your job easier.