So many hand tools have been replaced by power tools in the construction industry, but hammers have remained an essential hand tool in every builder’s toolbelt. There is a vast range of hammer types specific to different types of work like framing, masonry, finish carpentry, electrical, and demo work.
Often, the type of materials that you will be working with will dictate what type of hammer you should buy, but everyone who works in construction should also own a classic claw hammer—simple, multipurpose, and handy for a variety of different building and demolition tasks.
“Anything in the construction industry is going to be powered, right? We just don't have time to be making saw cuts with [a hand saw]. This has definitely been replaced by power tools. However, the hammer hasn't—we still use hammers every single day. It's probably the most reached-for tool in your tool belt.” -Jordan Smith
“Don't get the cheapest thing you can find because it's just not going to last, but also, don't go crazy and get the most expensive thing you can find, just because it’s expensive. Look at getting honest, good tools.” - Jordan Smith
When you’re shopping for a hammer, you’re looking for value and the best type of hammer for your work. Especially while you are beginning to figure out the best type of hammer for you, get a solid, reliable tool in the medium spending range. That way you aren’t overspending on a high end hammer that, after you’ve used it for a while, may not have the feel that you prefer. Try working with a midrange tool for a few months and take note of what features do and don’t work for you so that you know what to purchase next time.
The head type, handle type, and head weight will vary depending on the job and materials that the hammer was designed for, but the general anatomy of a hammer is pretty universal.
A hammer is one of the most essential tools you’ll need on a construction site. Learn more about this and other important construction tools—and how to use them safely—in MT Copeland’s online class, taught by professional builder and craftsman Jordan Smith.
The materials of hammer handles vary to adapt to the type of building job, amount of use, and the purchaser’s budget. In general, wood handles will be more affordable but won’t last as long, while metal will be more expensive but last indefinitely. The handle length will vary too—longer will give you more swing and therefore more power, while shorter will give you more control over smaller movements and detail work.
Wood handled hammers tend to be more affordable than metal handles, but eventually the head will loosen from the handle and you’ll need to replace it. Luckily, they are easy to replace and most manufacturers sell replacement handles. If the manufacturer does not sell replacement handles, do not buy that hammer.
A metal handle, like steel or titanium, is a buy-it-once type of hammer that won’t need replacing but they are more expensive than hammers with wooden handles. Many will come with a rubber or leather wrap for grip and to absorb shock. Some metal hammers are forged in one piece so you will never replace the handle. Others have removable heads so that you can change out the head for different jobs.
Fiberglass handles are lightweight and less expensive than metal, but won’t last as long and tend to splinter. While fine for DIY at home, Jordan doesn’t recommend this handle type for professional builders because it can’t withstand heavy use as well as wood or metal handles.
Although the exact shape of the face of each type of hammer will vary, it’s important to know the difference between a milled face or hammer face, especially if you are doing carpentry work. 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.
It’s great for driving in nails, framing, and nailing in overhead where extra grip onto the nailhead makes it safer to work. However, the milled face will leave a pattern on the wood surface, so it is not appropriate for finish work.
On the other hand, a smooth face is important for finish work such as any carpentry where the wood will be showing (think: cabinetry, trim, and flooring). If the hammer face strikes the wood it will not leave any markings on the wood. It will not grip as firmly to the nail head but it is easier to place for smaller, lighter movements and hammering.
There are dozens of different hammer types for nearly every profession in the building trades. Each is designed to work with a specific material like wood, metal, brick, or drywall and to deliver a specific movement. The claw hammer will always remain a classic and essential tool for any general contractor, but there are also essentials for carpentry, masonry, metalwork, and more. Whatever hammer type you buy, Jordan recommends you use it for 6 months to figure out what features you really need, then spend the money to get what you want.
Learn professional builder and craftsman Jordan Smith’s recommendations for the best hammer for framing—and other essential construction tools—in MT Copeland’s online course on Hand Tools.
Other Types of Specialty Hammers
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