The more fix-it projects tackled, the more crowded a tool box becomes. Be that as it may, there’s no rival or replacement for a good hammer, which is still—and forever will be—a handy person’s must-have. Aside from the screwdriver, a hammer is likely the most frequently reached-for tool, whether it’s for driving nails in or pulling them out.
It pays to know what to look for in a quality tool. The right hammer feels good in the hand and makes jobs easier. The wrong hammer can be hard on the wrist and palm, put fingers at higher risk of a smash, or even break during heavy use. Below, read our tips for choosing the best hammer for your needs, and see our roundup of top-favorite picks.
- BEST OVERALL: Estwing Rip Claw 16-Ounce Hammer
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: CRAFTSMAN Hammer, Fiberglass, 16 oz.
- BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: Stanley Stht0-5130 20Oz Fiberglass Curved Claw Hammer
- BEST FOR LIGHT DUTY: Stalwart 75-HT3000 16 oz Natural Hardwood Claw
- BEST FIBERGLASS: Amazon Basics Fiberglass Handle Claw Hammer – 20 oz.
- BEST GRIP: Irwin Fiberglass General Purpose Claw Hammer, 16 oz
What to Consider When Choosing a Hammer
The best hammer is safe, does not cause undue fatigue, and helps with multiple DIY jobs. When choosing the best hammer for a job, look at the face, claw, length, and weight. Although professional-level hammers might be more durable, heavy, or longer than typical hammers, most tasks around the home require a more basic hammer. It helps to choose a hammer that is comfortable in hand and won’t lead to undue fatigue.
Most hammers have a forged steel head (although titanium is available on pricier models) with either a smooth face or a waffled or milled face. A smooth face is less likely to cause damage if you miss your swing. A textured face, while better able to “grab” the nail, will destroy a finished surface, making these types of hammers most suitable for framing applications. For most DIYers, the best hammer is one with a smooth face; those who do a fair amount of carpentry or major construction will probably prefer the extra grip of the milled face.
As the name implies, a claw hammer has a cleaved blade opposite the face, which is used for pulling nails and prying lumber apart. There are two basic types of claw hammers—curved claw and rip claw.
- Curved claw hammers feature rounded forks that curve back toward the handle of the hammer. They’re slightly shorter from the face to the end of the claw than a rip claw hammer, making them easier to wield in tight situations like stud bays and cabinets.
- Rip claw hammers’ claws are fairly straight, which makes them well suited to heavy-duty jobs like framing and demolition—“ripping” off headers that were temporarily nailed in place while framing, spiking boards to lift them off a plywood deck, tearing up flooring, or forcefully separating nailed surfaces in other projects. They can also remove nails, but they require a bit more room than a curved claw.
A hammer should feel comfortable in hand, provide a good enough grip to keep it from flying out of the user’s grasp, absorb shock so wrists don’t give out, and not shatter with the impact of a strong blow. While both steel and fiberglass handles are sturdy enough to absorb the force of hammering, the materials have their differences.
- Fiberglass is lighter than steel and also better at absorbing the vibration and shock that otherwise would travel through the hand and into the arm.
- Steel handles tend to be more durable and capable of delivering a mightier blow. For framing and other major construction projects, consider choosing a hammer that’s solid steel from head to toe (or handle). Hammers made of one piece of forged steel are quite heavy and super strong.
- Wooden handles are common on both inexpensive and very high-end hammers, so they don’t indicate value. These handles come from hardwoods (typically ash or hickory, which are also used for baseball bats). They absorb vibrations and shock to the hands, but they can also be more susceptible to splitting or breaking than steel or fiberglass.
A good grip provides better control of the hammer, especially if the user’s hand is sweaty. Better control lessens the likelihood of smashing a thumbnail instead of an actual nail. Steel and fiberglass hammers all have some sort of grip; wood-handled hammers often don’t have a grip as they’re typically naturally grippy (though some carpenters do roughen the handles with sandpaper).
On most hammers, the grip is a rubbery synthetic that provides cushioning while absorbing shock from the blows. Leather is another option, although it’s more expensive. There are old-school hammers from decades ago with hard, shiny leather handles that are well preserved from the oils of the tradesperson’s hands, making leather just as reliable as a synthetic material.
Weight is one of the most crucial factors to consider when choosing a hammer. Too heavy, and there is a risk of muscle fatigue as well as injuring the wrist. Too light, and there won’t be enough oomph to drive the nail home.
For average DIYers who do odd jobs around the home, a hammer weighing between 16 and 20 ounces is often the best bet. Go toward the lower end of that range for simple household tasks and toward the higher end if tackling framing or other larger projects. Hammers weighing as much as 32 ounces exist, but these are typically for framing-specific jobs and not necessary (most framers won’t even need them).
The longer the hammer, the longer the potential swing, which builds up more momentum for a harder blow. Therefore, a carpenter may use an 18-inch hammer for framing and a shorter 16-inch hammer for finish work. DIYers should follow suit.
A good general-use handle length is around 16 inches. While it might seem that short-handled hammers are less intimidating, they’re actually a gimmick and quite dangerous. Missing a nail with a short-handled hammer puts the user’s hand in danger of striking the nail, which can result in a nasty little injury. Also, the user will have to put a lot more force into removing a nail with one of these hammers than with a standard hammer, risking strained muscles and slips. Steer clear of these gimmicks.
Even hammers can have their bells and whistles. Consider:
- Some hammers feature designs that minimize vibration and shock to the wrist, hand, and lower arm. Don’t take this as a simple luxury; unconditioned hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders can ache after just a few hammer strikes without this feature.
- A nail starter is a small groove and magnet that holds a nail in place on the hammer’s head, making it easy to start driving the nail into the board or wall without putting fingers in harm’s way.
- Hatchet-style handles are a current trend. Instead of the traditional straight handle with a slight flare at the bottom, hatchet-style handles are slightly curved for a more natural grip and have a bit of a point at the base known as the “knob.”
Our Top Picks
Just in case all that background information on the best hammers didn’t nail down a definitive answer on which is the best hammer, we performed hands-on testing to narrow it down. The following products passed all our tests, but some did not (like the Mr. Pen 8-ounce hammer, which performed more like a gimmick than a hammer). Be sure to keep the top considerations in mind when comparing these hammers.
For the record, all of the following hammers feature smooth faces and 16-inch handles (except for one) and are for general all-around use.
Whether the job includes hanging a picture, nailing fence boards into place, building a doghouse for Rover, or building an addition, the Estwing Rip Claw 16-Ounce Hammer is up to the job. It comes in solid forged steel with a shock-absorbing grip and a smooth face that won’t shred trimwork during an errant blow.
The Estwing’s head and straight handle are one piece, making them ultra-strong and durable without an obvious weak spot like hammers with wood or fiberglass handles have. Although the handle is metal, Estwing covers it with a soft rubber grip for absorbing shock and minimizing fatigue.
The Estwing was our favorite hammer in the group, and it was a true joy to use. It’s well-balanced, absorbs shock well, and is incredibly durable. It drove nails without issue and removed them with similar ease. The only downside is that rip claws stick out farther than curved claws, making them awkward in tight places like cabinets and stud bays.
- Weight: 16 ounces
- Claw: Rip
- Material: Forged steel, rubber grip
- Durable forged steel
- Comfortable grip
- Grip includes shock absorption
- Rip claw can be clumsy in tight spots
Those searching for a trusty hammer that will drive a nail or two without driving up the bill should check out Craftsman’s 16-ounce hammer. This hammer features a forged steel head, a fiberglass handle, and a rubber over-molded grip for comfort and durability.
In testing, we found that the Craftsman performed every task well, including driving and removing nails. It also absorbed shock well, and the red design makes it hard to lose on a job site. The only concern we found during testing is the hatchet-style handle features an exaggerated curve before flaring out at the knob. It made the grip feel smaller and probably isn’t necessary for a 16-ounce hammer, though some might prefer it.
- Weight: 16 ounces
- Claw: Curved
- Material: Forged steel, fiberglass handle with textured rubber grip
- Affordable price point
- Comfortable rubber grip
- Felt well balanced for the price
- Significant curve in handle might not be necessary
When it comes to projects like building and framing, a heavier hammer like this model from Stanley is almost a necessity. The Stht0-5130 hammer is a 20-ounce model that packs a lot of punch. It features an all-steel head, a fiberglass handle, and a rubber over-molded grip.
We found that the Stanley drove nails significantly better than most other hammers, primarily due to its heavier weight. The fiberglass handle and rubber grip also absorbed shock well while striking heavy framing nails as well. Also, the straight handle (with a flared knob on the end) is slightly longer (closer to 17 inches) than a standard 16-ounce hammer, giving this one a bit more leverage. The only concern anyone should have is it might be too heavy for some users.
- Weight: 20 ounces
- Claw: Curve
- Material: Forged steel head, fiberglass handle with rubber grip
- Heavy weight for heavier-duty projects
- Fiberglass and padded grip absorb shock
- Longer handle for improved leverage
- Might be too heavy for novice hammer wielders
Anyone throwing together a first-time tool kit should give this hammer from Stalwart some consideration. This hammer features a hardwood handle for a traditional approach to shock absorption (which it does well). It also features curved claws for working in tighter spaces.
The wooden handle is epoxied to the head, which means it’s possible to remove it and replace the handle if need be, but this is not the easiest rehandling option. While epoxy isn’t as durable as wedging the handle in place, it does a good job of keeping the two pieces together.
The Stalwart surprised us. We thought it was going to be a substandard tool, but it’s actually a good-quality hammer. The straight handle absorbed all the shock while driving nails, and the claws did a solid job of removing those nails. Our main concern is the epoxied handle, which will make handle swaps difficult.
- Weight: 16 ounces
- Claw: Curved
- Material: Forged steel head, wood handle
- Wood handle absorbs shocks
- Excellent for first-time hammer buyers
- Can be rehandled
- Handle is epoxied to the head instead of wedged
Fiberglass handles have the distinct ability to absorb shocks while still being strong enough to remove stubborn nails, and this model from Amazon Basics is no exception. It features a forged steel head, a fiberglass handle, and a rubber grip.
We were downright surprised by this hammer from Amazon Basics. We expected it to be low-quality, but it’s a fairly heavy-duty tool (especially at the 20-ounce mark). While that might be too heavy for some users, it’s a good all-around weight for a general-purpose hammer. Also, the straight handle’s simple design was comfortable in hand with its simple flared knob and a rubber grip.
- Weight: 20 ounces
- Claw: Curved
- Material: Forged steel, fiberglass, and rubber
- Handle shape is comfortable without being overly contoured
- 20 ounces is enough weight for heavy jobs
- Good shock absorption
- Could be too heavy for weaker wrists and hands
Those searching for a hammer from a trusted name should give this fiberglass hammer from Irwin some serious thought. This model features an all-forged steel height that weighs 16 ounces and a fiberglass handle with a rubber over-mold for shock absorption.
Irwin’s known for the smaller, DIY-centric tools, and this hammer didn’t disappoint during testing. This model’s rubber grip was one of the most comfortable during the test. Also, the hatchet-style handle curves, but not so significantly that it’s not comfortable. Also, keep in mind that this hammer has rip claws, which can be difficult to use in tight places.
- Weight: 16 ounces
- Claw: Rip
- Material: Forged steel head, fiberglass handle, rubber grip
- Rubber grip was the most comfortable of the test
- Good shock absorption
- Handle curves just enough
- Rip claw can be difficult to use in tight spots
Anyone looking for a good all-around hammer that has the potential to outlast its owner should check out the Estwing Rip Claw 16-Ounce Hammer for its forged steel design. However, if it’s about saving money, the CRAFTSMAN Hammer offers quite a bit of value for its meager price tag.
How We Tested the Best Hammers
Testing hammers isn’t rocket science or even an exact science. We simply banged a few nails and then pulled them out. Nearly any hammer can do that; the small nuances of each hammer were what we needed to home in on.
First, we drove a 16D galvanized framing nail into framing lumber and then drove an 8D sinker framing nail right after. While swinging, we took note of which hammers felt the most balanced (and therefore easiest to control) as well as which caused more feelings of shock. Then, while removing the nails, we lightly struck the handle of the hammer in an open palm a few times to see how well it absorbed the shock while also removing the nail.
In the end, we used these nuances to rank these hammers (or toss them away). The result is a well-curated list of hammers that any DIYer would be happy to use.
The list of the best hammers might’ve hit the nail on the head, but there could still be some questions left unanswered. This section will try to nail them down, as it’s a collection of some of the most frequently asked questions about hammers. Be sure to check for an answer to any of your most prying questions listed below.
Q. What is the best brand of hammer?
Carpenters and tradespeople can be oddly specific about their hammers, but Estwing is one of the most well-regarded and used hammer brands. The Rockford, Illinois, company has been manufacturing hand tools for almost 100 years.
Q. What hammer weight is the best?
In general, the best all-around hammer weight is 16 ounces. It can do a bit of framing as well as a bit of light work. However, for light-duty work, hammers as light as 10 or 12 ounces will do the trick. Heavy-duty framing hammers weigh 22 to 24 ounces, and framing hatchets weigh nearly 30 ounces.
Q. Are heavier hammers better?
Heavier hammers are not necessarily better. A 16-ounce hammer in the hands of someone who knows how to wield it is far better than a 20-ounce hammer swung by someone without the same degree of skill.