Buyer’s Guide: Hammers

Follow these top tips and recommendations to identify the best hammer for your project needs—and don't miss our top-favorite picks!

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The Best Hammer, According to DIYers

Photo: istockphoto.com

The more you tackle fix-it projects yourself, the more crowded your toolbox becomes. But at the end of the day, there’s no rival or replacement for a good hammer, which is still—and will forever be—the handy person’s must-have. Aside from the screwdriver, it’s likely your most frequently reached-for tool, whether you’re driving nails in or pulling them out. So it pays to know what to look for in a quality tool. The right hammer feel good in the hand and makes jobs easier. The wrong hammer can be hard on your wrist and palm, put your fingers at higher risk of a smash, or even break during heavy use. Below, read our top tips for choosing the best hammer for your needs, and see our roundup of top-favorite picks.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Estwing Rip Claw 16-Ounce Hammer 
  2. BEST VALUE: Irwin Tools Fiberglass General Purpose Claw Hammer 
  3. BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: Stanley FatMax Xtreme AntiVibe Smooth Framing Hammer

About Face

Most hammers have a forged steel head (although you’ll see titanium 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, is more prone making a mark if you hit the wall instead of your target. 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.

Claw Clarity

As the name implies, a claw hammer has a cleaved blade opposite the face, which is used for pulling nails. There are two basic types of claw hammers—curved claw and rip claw.

  • Curved claw hammers tend to be a little lighter and shorter than rip claw hammers, making them great for small jobs around the house, such as hanging pictures, minor repairs, and simple carpentry projects.
  • Rip claw hammers tend to be heavier, longer, and their claws are fairly straight, which makes them well suited to demolition work—“ripping” apart boards that are nailed together, tearing up flooring, or forcefully separating nailed surfaces in other projects. You can also remove nails with the rip claw, but not quite as easily as with a curved claw.

Handle Hints

Your hammer should feel comfortable in your hand, provide good enough grip to keep it from flying out of your grasp, absorb shock so your 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 hit your hands.
  • Steel handles tend to be more durable and capable of delivering a mightier blow. If you’re tackling framing and other major construction projects, consider choosing a hammer that’s solid steel from head to toe. Hammers made of one piece of forged steel are quite heavy and super strong.
  • Wooden handles are common on inexpensive hammers, but although they do absorb vibrations and shock to your hands, they are also far likelier to split or break than steel or fiberglass. That being the case, wood-handled hammers are best suited for lighter-duty tasks, such as knocking nails into drywall to hang pictures.

The Best Hammers, According to DIYers

Get a Grip

A good grip gives you better control of your hammer, especially if your hand is sweaty, making you less likely to smash your thumb instead of hitting the nail. Steel and fiberglass hammers all have some sort of grip; wood-handled hammers often don’t have a grip.

On most hammers, the grip is a rubbery synthetic that provides cushioning while absorbing shock from the blows. Leather is another option, although you’ll pay more for it, and it’s likely to stain or darken over time.

Watch Your Weight

Weight is one of the most crucial factors when choosing a hammer. Too heavy and you risk muscle fatigue as well as injuring your wrist. Too light and you won’t have enough oomph to really hammer 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 towards the lower end of that range for simple household tasks and towards the higher end if tackling framing or other larger projects. Hammers weighing as much as 32 ounces exist, but these are made for professional construction workers.

Length Logic

The longer the hammer, the longer the potential swing, which builds up more momentum for a harder blow—so a construction pro may want to wield an 18-inch hammer on the job site. Most DIYers should find a hammer between 12 and 16 inches long sufficient for tasks such as fencing or cabinet repairs. Remember: the longer the hammer, the more it will weigh and the harder it can be to control.

Fine Point Features

Even hammers can have their bells and whistles. Consider:

  • Some hammers are designed to minimize vibration and shock to your wrist, hand, and lower arm. While this is a plus if you use your hammer for extended sessions, it’s probably not necessary for occasional small jobs around the house.
  • A nail starter is a small groove and magnet to hold a nail in place on the hammer’s head, making it easy to start driving the nail into the board or wall without putting your fingers in harm’s way.
  • Hatchet-styled handles are a current trend. Instead of the traditional straight handle with a slight flare at the bottom, hatchet-styled handles are slightly curved for a more natural grip, and have a bit of a point at the base, rather than an overall flare.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall

The Best Hammer Option Estwing Rip Claw 16-Ounce Hammer
Photo: amazon.com

Whether you’re hanging a picture, nailing fence boards, or building a doghouse, the Estwing Rip Claw 16-Ounce Hammer is a fine option to consider. It’s made of solid forged steel with a shock-absorbing grip and a smooth face. In addition, the hammer boasts a comfortable grip and excellent balance. If 16 ounces is too much or too little, know that the hammer is also made in 12-ounce and 20-ounce weights.

Best Value

The Best Hammer Option Irwin Tools 16-Ounce Fiberglass General Purpose Claw Hammer
Photo: amazon.com

The Irwin Tools 16-Ounce Fiberglass General Purpose Claw Hammer has a hatchet-style, fiberglass handle with a comfortable grip designed to absorb vibration and shock, while also reducing fatigue. With forged-steel construction, a smooth face, and a rip claw, this is a great hammer for projects both big and small.

Best for Heavy Duty

The Best Hammer Option Stanley FatMax Xtreme Antivibe Smooth Framing Hammer
Photo: amazon.com

Unless you’re a professional contractor, you don’t need the brawniest, costliest framing hammer on the market. This well-priced model can deliver all the wallop most of us would need, thanks to its 22-ounce head and 17-inch, forged steel construction. What makes it a standout favorite? The torsion control and “AntiVibe” features of the Stanley Fatmax Xtreme go a long way to minimize the shock of impact and the associated physical strain.