A Guide to Hammers

You'll be in the swing with these handy hammers.
Drive nails, tacks, and brads with a lightweight nail hammer like this 12-oz. model. Grip the handle near the end for a powerful swing, and lay your thumb along the top for better control.

Nail Hammer

Woodworkers accustomed to putting pieces together with screws and glue might not think of a hammer as an essential tool. But even if you don't drive 16d nails, here are two hammers and a mallet that will earn their keep in your shop.

While most carpenters rely on a 16- or even 20-oz. nail hammer, a lighter one, say 12 or 13 oz., often serves cabinetmakers and furnituremakers best. One like the 12-oz. claw hammer fills the bill for general woodworking use.

If you drive a lot of small brads or escutcheon pins, try a Warrington pattern hammer as your nail hammer. Instead of the usual nail-pulling claws, this one has a straight cross peen. The narrow face makes starting small nails easy.

We like a hardwood handle--particularly hickory or northern ash--for a nail hammer. Wood absorbs shock for more comfortable use, and it's replaceable.

  • Driving nails, brads, and tacks.
  • Setting nails with a nailset.
  • Tapping a centerpunch to mark drill centers on wood.
  • Striking woodworking chisels, cold chisels, or star drills.
  • Driving masonry nails. (A heavier hammer is better.)
  • Pounding metal against an anvil.

Dead-blow Hammer and Wooden Mallet

The dead-blow hammer's hollow head, filled with steel shot, delivers a solid blow without rebounding. Some dead-blow hammers feature replaceable steel or plastic faces. For woodworking, however, we prefer a 14-oz. urethane-encapsulated type, shown below.

WD317089.jpg

The resilient covering, coupled with the no-bounce hit, minimizes surface marring when you use this hammer against wood. There's no better tool for tapping joints together or knocking them apart. You usually won't have to take mighty swings with this hammer, which also prevents damage to project parts.

  • Assembling/disassembling joints.
  • Aligning parts.
  • Setting dowels or splines.
  • Adjusting/tuning tools.
  • Striking chisels.
  • Driving nails or other fasteners.
  • Hitting sharp objects that could damage the covering.

If you own woodworking chisels, you need a wooden mallet like the one shown. It's the tool best suited to driving chisels.

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The mallet's large, flat, angled faces ensure that you’ll hit the chisel squarely every time. Hitting the end of a chisel with a nail hammer's small face calls for unerring aim and concentration-which means you end up watching the top of the chisel handle when you should be paying attention to the sharp end. (A steel hammer head can clobber up a wooden chisel handle pretty badly, too.)

  • Striking woodworking chisels--the tool's main purpose.
  • Assembling or disassembling joints.
  • Aligning parts.
  • Striking anything metal or sharp.

Commonsense Hints For Hammering

Hammering is practically instinctive. Nonetheless, observing a few rules will make it safer and easier.

  • Always wear eye protection. Any number of things can start flying around when you're wielding a hammer, many of them sharp. And most of them will fly right toward your eyes.
  • Strike only on the face or peen of the hammer. Never hit with the side of one.
  • For greatest power, grip the handle near the end, placing your thumb along the top of the handle. Take a long swing, using your arm, not just your wrist.
  • For more control on delicate jobs, choke up toward the hammerhead, and take a shorter swing. Here you can swing from your wrist.
  • Don't use a hammer with a damaged handle, loose head, or chipped face. Beware of old hammers, too. Some may have cast-iron heads, which can shatter. Virtually all hammers manufactured today feature forged, heat-treated heads.
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