Toolsday: If I Had A Hammer

I know. I said you should just buy a regular ‘ol hammer.

But there are in fact a few hammers (and things like hammers) you could own besides a regular ol’ claw hammer.

First of course is in fact the regular ol’ claw hammer. If you already have one it’s probably a fine hammer. If you have one that for any reason you don’t like, or if you don’t have one, buy one. Don’t agonize too much about it. Just buy one: a perfectly serviceable hammer can be had for under $10; a really great hammer for under $30. There are a few things that could affect the quality of a hammer, but of those the only real things you can see about a hammer is how comfortable the handle is and how well the head is attached to the handle. If it’s loose, or looks to you like it will easily become loose, pick a different hammer. If it feels too heavy, pick a different hammer. If it feels too light, pick a different hammer. You want one heavy enough to actually pound nails into wood with, but light enough that you don’t feel like you’re trying to wield Mjölnir just to hang a picture.

A rubber mallet is also useful more often than you’d think. Get one heavy enough to give you some real assistance when you thump things with it, but not so heavy that you’re going to be tired after just a few blows. For me, that’s 2lbs.

Don’t buy a sledgehammer until you need one. And when you do need one look at mauls and decide if you should maybe get a maul instead: will it do your sledge hammering task? If so, get a maul; it doubles the number of things you can do with the tool.

I also have a little 3lb drilling hammer (basically a tiny sledge hammer on a short handle). I find it useful when something that isn’t a nail needs a little more “persuasion” than the claw hammer can provide. But you shouldn’t get one unless you find yourself wanting to hit things harder than the hammer you have: I originally bought it to help me knock the wheel off my car when it was stuck there by rust after I’d taken the lug nuts off. A claw hammer would have worked for that, but since I was buying a tool just for this use, I bought it a little more specialized to that use: no claw (because I don’t need to be pulling nails while driving) and heavier (to make it easier to tap the back of the wheel with some force while reaching under the car). I use it for other things occasionally, but it lives in my car next to the jack.

Ball-Peen, Cross-Peen, Setting hammer, Mason’s hammer, and on and on: you don’t need one of these. If you do need one of these, you’ll know it. None of them are for everyday home use.

Know where and how to hold the hammer’s handle. You can start with your hand quite close to the head; this gives you more control and less force. Good for starting nails without whacking your hand. Once the nail is started and standing on its own, you can move your hand further away from the head; this will give you more force (the power of the lever again) for a really strong whack, but at the expense of control: Holding the hammer down further you’re more likely to hit the wall next to your nail instead of the nail. So it’s good to not have your other hand there.


A guy in his early 50s, living more or less alone in a 90-year-old house, trying to keep it all together.

Posted in Tools
2 comments on “Toolsday: If I Had A Hammer
  1. Sam Paris says:

    Don’t buy a rubber mallet, buy a dead blow hammer. More ummph per thwack.

    • Erik says:

      I have owned both.
      While it’s true what you say, for cheaper versions of both I have found the faces of dead blow hammers sadly lacking. The rubber in an inexpensive rubber mallet is much more able to take the sustained thwacking on things than the plastic faces of the dead blow hammers I have owned. Those plastic faces have just not stood up to much abuse.
      Perhaps my experience would be different with a better-made dead blow.

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