Which Hammer Should I Buy?

Many people outside the trades believe there is simply one type of hammer used by carpenters. When they picture a hammer in their head they think of the 16 oz curved claw hammer. Certainly many of them know about sledgehammers and mallets, but a hammer is a hammer right? However, few people outside those that swing a hammer for a living understand that choosing a hammer is a decision that merits deliberation. You have to weigh a variety of competing factors, not the least of which is cost. In this article we will try to explain how to buy a hammer.

Different hammers excel at different tasks. Some hammers are designed to perform a variety of tasks well, others are purpose built for a particular trade or task. Most people who are new to building things will buy a general purpose hammer. The classic choice is the curved claw 16 oz Estwing hammer. Although an excellent hammer, it excels at nothing. It is too small for large nails or demolition. It may be an okay match for finish nails but those are rarely hammered in anymore. In most cases it is the wrong choice to buy.

Claw Hammer
The 16oz. Estwing hammer, the gold standard.

So what hammer should you buy? First ask what task you want to do. Let’s suppose you are a homeowner, diy-er, or other person with vague and broad needs for a hammer. What hammer should you buy? I would hold off until you have a precise need for a hammer. Hammers can be bought from a home improvement store and you will need something other than a hammer to do whatever project you are working on. Need a hammer to fix patio furniture? Probably need nails or glue too, buy the hammer in the same trip. A hammer that is a good match for the job will save enough time that it is worth buying multiple specialty hammers over a single general purpose hammer.

CF1HC  23 oz Milled Face California Framing Hammer With Curved Handle 10304
Vaughan 23oz. Cali Framer, a popular choice for the professional framer

What hammers do I recommend for most people? For specialists they will buy the hammer particular to their line of work. Electricians, drywallers, and roofers each have their own particular hammers. There are hammers that suit a variety of people well. Framing hammers are the best hammers for pounding in nails. We routinely use them in the crate business to hammer in small quantities of nails or to hammer in nails that are proud of the surface. A 16 or 20 oz straight claw hammer is a good general hammer to have. It is good for smaller nails and hammering things into place.

If you look at either of the two hammers recommended, the 20 oz straight claw and the framing hammers, you will find a variety of models and price points. Hammers can range from under $10 to well over $100. Which hammer should you buy? It depends entirely on how often you use a hammer. If you will use that hammer once a month or less, and for a short period of time, it doesn’t really matter which particular brand or quality you choose. People that use a hammer more frequently should buy a nice hickory handled hammer, these are very comfortable to use as the wood handle absorbs the shock of impact. Wood handled hammers, however, are prone to breaking. I have had multiple hammers where the head broke off from the handle. This can be very dangerous. For people that use hammers all the time, you need to get a solid hammer. These are hammers made from a single piece of metal. Good ones have a vibration absorbing design that makes them feel almost as good as the hickory handle.

Stiletto Titanium framing hammer, the cream of the crop!

For people that swing a hammer all day a high performance hammer is worth thinking about. These include steel and titanium hammers. They offer higher performance for a given weight, and are typically lighter. This makes for a more comfortable hammering experience. They are expensive and this raises another question. What is the chance of losing that hammer either by accident or due to theft. It is a bad mistake to have the nicest hammer on a jobsite, or for that matter the nicest tool of any type. It can make you a target for theft. There is a significant benefit to your comfort and speed when using a high performance hammer. The high prices of these titanium and steel hammers often acts as a sufficient deterrent to many buyers. However, they are common on many jobsites where people use hammers all day.

In general you should think about what hammer you want to buy. This is especially true for people in the trades that will use their hammer everyday. Like many tools, people that use them everyday learn to value particular quirks of one model or another. Brand loyalty and appreciation for niche features are trademarks of many people who use these tools everyday.