How to Use a Hammer

hands using hammer to drive nail into board

The hammer is one of the most common tools found around the home, but just like a bicycle, learning to use one properly is not always second nature. Although there aren’t any powered saw blades to worry about, the hammer can do damage if you don't take the time to understand it. While you may think it’s straightforward, this article will go over how to use a hammer effectively and safely.

Types of Hammers

No, not all hammers are made the same! There are various applications and types for different jobs, so the one you found lying around the home may not suffice. The standard claw hammer is the most popular since it’s used for the simple task of hammering and pulling out nails.

Framing hammers are similar to the standard version, but much longer, heavier, and usually with a waffled head, used for pounding in framing nails. A drywall hammer has a handy ratchet on the back for chopping through walls. Weight-forward hammers are also good for framing and drywall, as the curved head absorbs impact, and its edges can be used to file down gypsum board. Ball and peen hammers are used for working with metal. And the list goes on.

How to Choose a Hammer

Having a standard claw hammer for everyday jobs around the house is what most people need, but you can also get specialty hammers if you are doing a specific kind of project. Even the standard hammer will come in a variety of options, including size and weight. If you’ve had any injuries or don’t have a lot of upper arm strength, consider a lighter hammer that you can swing easily while still getting the job done.

While larger, heavier hammers are usually stronger and can handle tougher jobs, being able to wield the tool comfortably and effectively is more important. Handles will come in wood, steel, or graphite, and possibly have a rubber or slip-free coating. Choose one that feels right for you.

specialty hammer driving in a nail

Basic Form

Once you’ve decided what kind of hammer to get, or that the one you have at home will work just fine, it’s time to focus on form. Using your dominant hand, make sure to get a good grip in the middle of the bottom part of the handle.

Don’t “choke up” like you might with a baseball bat, but instead swing from the correct part of the handle. Make sure your hands aren’t slippery and that the hammer is free of any moisture or dirt, as well. The hammer should be propelled mostly by your shoulder and elbow, and the hand and wrist should be strong yet flexible.

Hammering a Nail

Hold the nail just below the head with your other hand, and position the point directly on the substrate being hammered into. Take a few small practice-taps onto the nail head to get a feel for it and get the nail started. Release your other hand to safety once it feels like the nail is in place.

Then, bring the hammer back 6-12 inches (making sure to stay clear of your head) and bring it down in a fluid motion propelled mostly by the elbow, with a slight flick of the wrist. The motion should be enough impact to drive in the nail, at least further than it was, but don't worry if it takes a few whacks. You may miss or hit it on an angle, which will send the nail askew. It may be better to take it out and start over if it’s been bent.

claw hammer pulling out a nail

Using the Claw

The claw part of a standard hammer is useful when you want to extract nails. If the head has popped out or wasn’t driven in properly, flip the hammer over and put the claw around the nail head. Grip the handle from the opposite side, and with subtle force, use the rounded head to pry up the nail, back and forth, like a lever. If you don’t want to cause any blemishes or damage to the substrate, place a piece of wood or shim under the hammer head while prying, as it will absorb the pressure and prevent dents.


Always wear safety goggles while using a hammer since things can fly back up towards the face, including the claw when brought back or if it slips while prying. Use protective gloves, especially the hand holding the nail, as this can help with any accidental impact or injury from slips and mis-hits. Make sure you are clear of other people and objects so that you can swing without restriction.

Using a hammer isn’t complicated, but as with any tool, it demands respect. Take the time to learn about which hammer style is right for you, and how to use it properly. A few bent or broken nails are a lot easier to replace than a bent or broken finger.