If I had a hammer…

Today’s Toolbox post tackles one of the most important tools we can have in our home toolbox: a hammer.

It can be very intimidating to pick out a hammer in a hardware store. There are so many choices…

To make sense of all of the choices, we’re first going to look at how a hammer works.

What You Need

There are 3 things you need in a good hammer. They are:

  1. a smooth striking area
  2. a good claw
  3. a sturdy handle.

Let’s look at these individually so we understand what they are:

The striking surface is the round area on the head of the hammer that hits the nail directly. Some hammers, for other specific jobs, have textured or differently shaped striking surfaced. For basic home repairs, we want a smooth, clean and round hammer head so that it connects firmly with a nail.

The claw is on the opposite side of the hammer head from the striking area and is used for removing a nail. To remove a nail, you turn the hammer upside down and simply slide the split of the  claw under the nail…

…and then, gently rock the handle back and forth, away from and towards the wall, as the claw lifts the nail out.

Finally, a good hammer must have a good a sturdy handle. It can be wood or metal, with or without a rubber grip, but it must fit nicely in your hand. This is essential to using a hammer well and getting the most from the torque.

To understand “torque”, let’s take a minute and read a past post that explains how to use the hammer properly. You don’t buy a car without knowing how to drive. For exactly the same reasons, you should know how to use a hammer before you buy one:

How to swing a hammer properly

All done reading? Then let’s go to the store and pick out a hammer!

Buying A Hammer

When you are at the hardware store looking at a selection of hammers, you will now notice how the shape of the hammer can tell you how it is used. For example:

This is a tack hammer. It is used for putting short tacks down into things, such as carpet. Tacks are short and have big nail heads on them, so the hammer head has been re-shaped to give the most effective delivery of the torque to the tack. The claw (on the top right of the hammer head picture above) has also been re-shaped to fit the unique shape of the tacks themselves.

This is a drywall hammer, used to nail the drywall to the wood studs before the seams/joints of the drywall are covered over with heavy paste known as joint compound.

This is a roofing hammer. The striking surface is textured and the claw has once again been re-shaped to allow it to reach up under roof shingles.

While you are browsing hammers, you may also find a large selection of “ball peen” hammers.

Instead of a claw, these hammers have a ball head that looks like this:

I have one of these hammers in my toolbox from my grandfather’s workshop. This is an older type of hammer, from a time when nails were manufactured differently and walls were constructed using different materials. Some people still prefer these hammers for specific tasks, but I always find a hammer claw far more useful to have on hand. (See that lovely “Craftsman” logo burned into the wood handle? You can read why it’s important right here.)

This next hammer doesn’t look like much of a hammer at all:

It’s a rubber mallet. It can been used for any project where you want some striking force, but worry about damaging the surface of whatever you’re striking. For example, an installer might use a rubber mallet to tap a new countertop into place right up against a wall, without risking a dent/crack in a wood/stone surface.

Here’s closer to what we’re looking for:

This hammer has a nice claw and a nice striking surface. Plus, the handle is made of bamboo, which is a renewable resource…

Stop right there.

Do not get sucked in by the marketing. I’m all for Greener Living, but a tool needs to do its job properly or we shouldn’t waste our money buying it. This tool does not meet the three criteria we discussed above. Swing the hammer around to see what I mean.

That short, light bamboo handle makes the handle MUCH lighter than the hammer head, which effects how the torque works. And you are now smart enough to know how important the torque is. (See how your tool knowledge is power?)

The handle also absorbs a lot of the shock of the striking action. A light wood, like bamboo, could split easily after just a little use. This is a great way to have a hammer head drop off onto your foot. If you choose a wood handled hammer, it should be made of a hard wood and it should balance nicely in your hand when you swing it.

Let’s move on…

This is what we are looking for! Good striking area, a balanced and weighty handle, a good claw and the grip feels secure in our hands. The only dilemma is which size to buy…

This hammer comes in a 12 inch size and a 16 inch size. Since we know that the handle of the hammer is what does the real work of the job, I would recommend the 16 inch hammer. That should cover you for just about any DIY, decor or home maintenance project. As in all things for our home, we should choose the smartest, most practical and budget-savvy tools. A good hammer can last you a lifetime.

Now you know:

  • The essential elements of hammer
  • How to use a hammer
  • How to buy a hammer

So tell me, what are you going to use this knowledge for? Are you planning to hang some pictures? Do you have a little DIY project you’ve been wanting to try? Share your ideas and plans in a comment! There are more Toolbox posts in the works, but you can also leave me an idea for tools you want to learn more about…just leave a comment!

Posted on August 16, 2011, in Toolbox. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the hammer info. I understand now why my husband points me to differnet hammers for different jobs. I’m looking forward to future toolbox posts.

  2. I have a lighter, thinner hammer that came with a toolbox set that I got for Christmas when I got my own apartment. It’s cute and it fits in the box. I can use it to hand pictures, but I don’t really do anything heavy duty.

    I did look up your “Hammer Time” post and it helped me to get a little more “torque” out of my little hammer.

    If I do get a new hammer (or a new toolbox) I will definitely look at a bigger hammer. I like the 12″ metal one with the rubber grip. I don’t know if I’ll be hammering in nails, I prefer using screws when I can, but it will definitely be easier to use the claw to get nails out of things. My little hammer isn’t very good for that.

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