If you are getting into framing, you’re going to want to buy a dedicated framing hammer.” - Jordan Smith
For the home builder, a classic claw style hammer is likely enough to do the job, but anyone getting into professional framing needs a framing hammer. They are more heavy duty than general construction hammers and have a few key features that make framing jobs much easier.
There are dozens of different hammer types for nearly every profession in the building trades, but a framing hammer is designed specifically to make framing jobs easier. Compared to a trim or finish carpentry hammer, a framing hammer will have a longer handle, more swing, and a heavier weight for driving nails in more easily.
Framing hammers also feature a milled face for strong metal-to-metal grip on nail heads. Some will have magnetic nail start, or other special features like a side nail puller or tooth for board straightening. These special features will depend on personal preference but make sure that whatever framing hammer you buy has the essentials like a heavy head, milled face, and sturdy handle.
A milled face, also called a waffle head, has a pattern milled into the hammer face designed to bite into nails and hold a metal-on-metal grip without slipping. That pattern will leave behind marks on the wood (unlike the smooth face of a finish carpentry hammer). A safe and powerful swing is top priority with framing hammers since the wood will not be exposed once the job is complete. Therefore, it’s important that the strike face grips, and it’s perfectly acceptable to see the waffle pattern left behind.
Some framing hammers also have a magnetic edge on the hammer head that allows you to hold in place and start a nail with one swing, then come back to drive it in. This is especially important when you are driving nails overhead because it allows you to keep one hand on the ladder.
The materials of hammer handles vary to adapt to the type of building job, amount of use, and the purchaser’s budget. In general, a wooden handle will be more affordable but won’t last as long, while a titanium or steel handle will be more expensive but last indefinitely.
The eye of the framing hammer (where the head and handle connect) is going to take a lot of hits. If you feel the head loosen from the handle, it’s time to replace the handle. Luckily, they are easy to replace and most manufacturers sell replacement handles. You can also add an overstrike guard to almost any handle type to help protect the eye and handle. Another optional handle add-on is a shock absorption grip which will lessen how you feel the impact of the blow and many framers prefer for extra comfort.
All framing hammers will feature some type of claw for pulling out nails. A curved claw is standard for ripping out nails, while straight claws (also known as rip hammers) provide more leverage for pulling apart wood. Other specialized features for pulling out nails, like a side nail puller or special straightening tool, are purely up to builder preference.
“Estwing makes one that has a stud straightener barb on the back side which some people think is really cool, other people think it’s a gimmick. Do your research, figure out one you like. Get a good, professional-grade hammer, but don’t go crazy on the buy.”
The framing hammer is an essential tool for anyone working primarily in carpentry, but there are also essentials for masonry, metalwork, and more. Learn more about hammers and other construction tools—and how to use them safely—in MT Copeland’s online Hand Tools class, taught by professional builder and craftsman Jordan Smith.
“The best of the best.”
The Martinez M1 is the best of the best. This is the hammer of choice if you swing a large framing hammer as part of your daily work. The titanium design makes a lighter hammer that swings faster, resulting in faster driven nails with less stress for the user. While $255 might seem steep for a hammer, the M1 features replaceable heads and grips for around $55 and $30 respectively, allowing the hammer to be rebuilt for a lifetime of service. Designed and manufactured in the USA by Mark Martinez, the light weight and efficiency of the M1 definitely justifies the cost for daily use.
“A simple, durable, and field-proven hammer, the Vaughan California Framer is my choice for an inexpensive framing hammer.”
The Vaughn California Framer is a classic. It is a heavy steel framing hammer with a sturdy and comfortable handle—one of the best quality hammers you can get for your money. It features a magnetic nail starter, a smooth swept claw, and solid hickory handle. Although heavier and with fewer features than the Martinez M1, the cost and performance of the California Framer make it a great value.
The Estwing HammerTooth has a unique feature that allows the hammer to work in conjunction with powered nailers. The one-piece, forged steel hammer incorporates a "shark tooth" on the back of the handle behind the claw which can grip 2X lumber, useful when framing bowed or twisted lumber. The framer can use the hammer to grip and manipulate the board while they drive a nail with a powered nailer.
Get Jordan’s complete class on choosing and using essential construction tools in MT Copeland’s Hand Tools online course.
MT Copeland offers video-based online classes that give you a foundation in construction fundamentals with real-world applications. Classes include professionally produced videos taught by practicing craftspeople, and supplementary downloads like quizzes, blueprints, and other materials to help you master the skills.
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