Hammer time

Whether you are building or repairing something or just simply hanging one picture frame, everyone should know how to use a hammer in the proper, efficient way. This might seem like the MOST obvious thing in the world, but it is one of the most common things I find I need to teach my design clients. Based on that, I thought a little DIY know-how might be a handy post. Let’s get started…

Get out your hammer. Any old hammer, whatever kind you have, get it out of wherever you keep your jumble of tools. Mine live in a tool box at the bottom of a closet. Here’s the one we’re using for this post:

Pick up your hammer. How are you holding it? If you are holding it like this:

then this is the problem we are about to fix for you forever. Keep your hand on the middle of the hammer handle, for now, just where you have it. Draw the hammer back by bending your wrist upward, as if you are just about to hit a nail. Just like this:

Now swing the hammer forward to hit a (imaginary) nail in a wall. Do it few times. Watch your wrist. At the end of each movement your wrist is straight, almost tight feeling, in line with the rest of your arm, right? Okay. When you make the motion to hammer, this is the arch of motion from the hammer head:

When the hammer head reaches (roughly) the point in the arch shown by the second arrow:

the weight of the hammer head takes over the forward momentum from your wrist muscles. You should be able to feel the hammer handle kinda shift forward in your hand as the hammer head takes over the weight. Practice a few times to notice that weight shift. That weight you feel shifting is the real force that drives the nail into the wood/wall/etc. and it is called “torque” and is pronounced: TOR-k.

Torque is defined as, “the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, fulcrum, or pivot .” (Thanks, Wikipedia!) In our application, the “pivot” is your wrist, and the weight shift you feel is the “force”. Fascinating, I know, but hang in there for my point: Torque is your friend. No, really. It will actually do the hammering for you. Let me show you. We are going to use hammer correctly now. Pick up your hammer again, but this time hold the handle properly, by its end. Like this:

Okay, we’re gonna swing the hammer again but with a few changes. First, move back a little from your computer. (No computers should be injured in the reading of my posts.) Next, you’re going to draw the hammer back again, but keep your wrist loose this time. Very loose! Let the weight of the hammer head drop it back toward your forearm. Like this:

Now, when we swing the hammer, use wrist muscles to start the swing, but don’t try to stop the swing with your wrist muscles. Just let torque work. Ready….swing!

Do it a few more times. See how much bigger the arch of motion from the hammer head is:

That larger arch brings more power to your swing. Your wrist went further, too. Didn’t it? Try it a few more times. See how your wrist is more relaxed at the end of these hammer swings? That is because the torque is doing the real work, the heavy weight lifting work. And the weight shift has happened much earlier in the arch of this swing. See:

Can you feel the difference? If the answer is yes, congratulations! You may still need a little aim experience, but you can now hammer like you mean it!

It will now only take you half the quantity of your previous hammer swings to hammer anything. Maybe even less. And your wrist won’t get tired. And you can say to others, “What are you doing with your hammer?! Let me show you…” And you can pretend you’re one of these guys:

Image courtesy of This Old House

Next time you’re watching good home improvement show or find yourself near a construction site, watch how the real pros do it. An experienced contractor will start their hammer swing with their elbow bent and the hammer head almost back at their shoulder. That is some torque at work!

Was this an eye-opener for you? How will you use your new technique? Would you like more DIY tips like these? What do you need help with?

Posted on March 28, 2011, in DIY, Toolbox. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. It took me a long tome to learn this but when I finally did, it made using a hammer so much easier. When you watch the pros let the hammer do the work like this, two or three swings sinks a nail easily. Good tip!

  2. You’re right. I never noticed that I choke up on the hammer a little bit because it gives me a better sense of control of where the business end lands. I guess I need more practice. Thanks for the lesson.

  3. I didn’t know I could do this—I am retired and have to do it all! I am thrilled that now I can move some pictures around. I need to make things new around here. Can you talk about pliers sometime?

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