Many tools in a tradesperson's toolbox are designed to “take a beating"; hammers by definition belong in this category and is an essential tool in any toolbox.
The history of the hammer dates back to ancient times when the Romans also invented the forged iron nail. The Romans invented the claw hammer as a dual-purpose tool for pounding and pulling nails.
A simple tool by design, a hammer consists of the head and handle. The following article shares essential information that will explain the different types of hammers, the components of a hammer to keep in mind when selecting a tool, the proper use of a hammer, tips for driving a nail, and hammer safety precautions.
Soft Face hammer - a type of hammer to use when non-marring is important, such as cabinetry and other fine woodworking jobs. Soft face hammers feature replaceable tips made of nylon, rubber or plastic, and other soft compounds. You can buy a kit of replacement tips that includes ends of different harnesses, suitable for a wide variety of applications.
Claw hammers - this type of hammer features a claw at one end for pulling nails, and a striking face at the other end to drive nails typically into wood. The forged bevel allows the claw to slip under the nail for easy removal. Some models feature a dual bevel, the second bevel providing a secure grip of nails of various sizes.
The edge of the striking face is also beveled to avoid chipping during off-centre strikes. The striking face is smooth and slightly domed for correct off-center strikes and to avoid marring of the work surface.
Claw hammers are usually lightweight, with head weights ranging between 10 to 16 oz, tailoring them to the size of nail to be driven or project being completed.
Ball pein hammers - also known as machinist hammers, are used in metalworking to mould sheets of metal in various shapes and directions. The head features one flat face for driving nails and one hemispherical end for metalworking.
The head weight ranges from 4 to 48 oz, depending on the application. The flat end is used for setting rivets, driving punches, chisels and nails, and the ball end is used for shaping metal.
Framing hammer - this hammer has some distinctive features that set it apart from the similar looking claw hammer, that make it suitable for the demands of framing.
A framing hammer provides more force than accuracy. The head is heavier than the typical claw hammer, averaging 20 to 25 oz and the handle is longer, helping to drive nails with fewer strikes.
The head also features a grove and/or magnet for nail setting, which allows users to drive nails with one hand. The claw end of a framing hammer is straighter than claw hammers, ideal for prying wood boards apart. The striking face is waffled, helping to prevent accidentally bending of nails.
Sledge Hammers - is much heavier and bulkier than your typical hammer, and not often used outside demolition and construction applications. Typical uses include concrete stake driving, slab removals, and various demolition jobs.
Due to the long handle and heavy head, overstrikes are commonplace. Repeated overstrikes can pose a workplace danger as strikes to the handle and head can lead to injuries. Always wear protective gear and allow for adequate clearance when swinging a sledgehammer.
Rubber mallet - in the event damage to the work piece is a concern, the use of a hammerhead made of moulded rubber helps – making it a must have tool in any shop.
Rubber mallets are lighter and more versatile than claw and ball pein hammers and typically have a large round striking faces. Rubber mallets are used in outdoor projects such as installation, interlocking, since the head does not cause damage to the interlocking piece, and light tapping sets them in place.
Speciality Hammers - these hammers are uniquely designed to tackle specialised jobs. Speciality hammers include drywall hammer (for cutting and installing drywall), mason’s hammer (designed to cut and set bricks), upholster or tack hammer (designed for driving tacks in upholstery work).
Components of a Hammer
The quality of the material used for the head and handle components, and the proper head-to-handle weight distribution, make the difference between a quality striking tool and one that can pose a user safety risk.
When selecting the right hammer for any given application it is important to consider the following information regarding the two components of a hammer:
The handle is the component which connects the user to the tool. It greatly influences user comfort, while also playing a key role in the tool's overall function, durability and strength.
The most popular materials used are wood and fibreglass.
Wood is the traditional material used in handle construction. When you think of a hammer, you commonly picture a steel head and wooden handle. Wood has two significant advantages over fibreglass.
First, wood is able to absorb shock very well, which makes it more comfortable to operate. Second, professionals agree that hammers with wooden handles are better balanced than fibreglass ones allowing for smoother swings. On the downside wood will eventually rot, warp, break, shrink and become loose, especially if not maintained properly.
Fibreglass handles have become the new innovation in hammer construction, to the point where some manufacturers have stopped offering wooden handled hammers. The main benefit of fibreglass handles is durability; the handle will not shrink, rot or warp, and is almost impossible to break.
The main disadvantage of this type of handle is the shock absorbing capabilities, which cannot compete with its wooden counterpart. Although many manufacturers have implemented anti-vibration technologies for better shock absorption, wooden handles are still considered superior in this regard.
Regardless of the handle style, a quality hammer is properly balanced, with proper weight distribution between the head and the handle to allow smooth, effortless, and repetitive swings with very little effort.
Handles are typically connected to the head in one of three ways; chemically, mechanically, or a single unified piece. In a chemically bonded hammer the handle and head are fastened solely with the use of resins such as epoxy. Mechanical bonding means a physical component such as fastener or wedge are used to fasten the two components. A single piece hammer does not have bond but is rather made from a single piece of metal, where the handle and head are seamlessly unified.
In some rare exceptions, particularly in sledgehammers, manufacturers may use a double method of chemical and mechanical bonding to achieve a superior and unique connection.
The length and shape of the handle have an important role in the function of a striking tool. The longer the handle the larger the force generated for strikes. However, the longer the handle the less control the user has.
Handles can also feature grips of various materials, sizes, and shapes,all designed to increase comfort, improve grip, or dampen vibration.
The head is the component exposed to impact; hence its importance in the durability and overall quality of the hammer.
To withstand many years of repetitive use, the quality of material used to make the head is essential. Most hammerheads are made of steel, which provides the required durability and impact resistance.
Speciality hammers are made of various materials, such as plastic (soft face hammers), titanium (weight reduction), stainless steel (to avoid object contamination) or brass (to avoid sparks), depending on the hammer style and application.
For heads made of metal, achieving the correct hardness through a process called heat treatment is also very important; a head that is too hard will be brittle and chip easily. A head that is too soft will deform and dent easily.
Hammers of the same type are offered in a variety of head weights (usually expressed in grams, pounds or ounces). For example, a ball pein hammer can range in head weight from 4 to 48 oz. Lighter hammers are used for tasks that require more precision, control and finesse, while heavier heads are employed when more force is required.
Head functionality, although not always obvious to the untrained eye, are designed to accomplish much more than the basic task of driving a hammer into an object. Additional functionalities include the ability to hold or pull nails, shape metals, or pry wood boards apart.
Proper Use of a Hammer
Given its simple design and widespread use, the untrained user might think that using a hammer means pounding at the piece until the work is done. This “beginner technique” often leads to a tired arm, unnecessary damage, and serious injury.
Professionals are able to select and use the correct hammer for the task, and using it repetitively without tiring their arm.
The following procedure should lead to a quality “hammering” job:
- Get a good and secure grip on the handle. For jobs that require more force, grip near the end of the handle; for tasks that require more control and precision, grip the handle closer to the hammerhead.
- Ensure the hammer face is always parallel to the surface being hit.
- Swing from your elbow for power, and from your wrist for control.
- Let the weight of the hammer do all the work; with the properly selected hammer there is no need to apply your own force to perform the task.
- Focus on the piece being hammered, not the tool.
- Use smooth, repetitive blows; avoid glancing or sideways blows that can damage the piece being driven in or the surface being hit.
How to Drive a Nail
When drilling nails into some hardwoods, it’s good practice to drill a pilot hole before you start hammering the nail. This method makes hammering easier and prevents wood from splitting.
Grip the hammer in the middle of the handle, and hold the nail near the top between the thumb and forefinger of the hand not holding the hammer. If the nail is too small, use a piece of cardboard to hold it, while you hold the cardboard.
Tapping the nail lightly until it has sunk enough to stand on its own.
Using the centre of the hammer face, drive the nail in with smooth blows. Let the weight of the hammer do the work. The striking face should always be parallel with the surface being hit.
Hammer Safety Precautions
A hammer can become a very dangerous tool if not used properly. Follow the tips below to avoid injury to yourself and people around you:
- Use the right hammer for the job. Take the time to understand the different features of each model, head weight, or ask for professional advice related to your application.
- Select a hammer with a striking face diameter approximately 12 mm (0.5 inches) larger than the face of the object being struck (e.g., nail, chisels, punches, wedges, etc.).
- Always wear protection equipment (safety glasses, gloves, or face shield) when using a hammer.
- Always keep the striking face parallel to the surface being struck. Avoid glancing or side blows.
- Never use a hammer with a damaged head, as it can damage the piece being worked on and cause injury.
- Never use a hammer with a loose or broken handle. The head might detach from the handle causing injury.