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Get to Know Your Hammer

Over three million years ago—before fire, before the wheel—man invented the humble hammer.  In 2012, archeologists on an excavation project in Kenya’s Rift Valley uncovered a large deposit of differently shaped stones, obviously altered by hand, with plenty of evidence pointing to tools by design rather than rock collection. These nascent hammers had no handle, and are thought to have been tools to break up other stones.

Then, around 30,000 B.C., an advancement in hammer engineering—the addition of a wood handle, tied to a stone with animal hide. Of course, we’ve come a long way in the intervening millennia, trading those roughly hewn prototypes for fiberglass and stainless steel. Below, we explore the tool’s types and functions, and provide a guide for choosing a hammer that’s right for you and your project. It’s hammer time.

Anatomy of a Hammer

An elegant ode to form follows function, the hammer is ergonomically designed so every part of the tool is intuitive and easy to use.  

Head

The hammer head’s design is determined by the hammer’s use; every specialty hammer has a differently shaped and sized head. Precision work requires a sculpted head while demolition only requires surface area and bulk. 


Face

The flat part of the head, for striking. The shape and size of a hammer face determines its use; a large, wide face, like on a sledgehammer, is perfect for driving stakes or demolition, while the smaller, thinner face of a tack hammer is meant for precision, used in wood-working or upholstery.


Handle

Most often made of wood, stainless steel, or fiberglass. 


Grip

An addition to most fiberglass and stainless steel handles. Grips are a safety feature that allow for more control and cut down on vibration from the hammer head to your hand.


Neck

If your hammer is built for brute strength, it won’t have much of a neck. If it’s meant for precision, the neck will be longer to allow for more delicate control. 


Claw

Also called the peen. Not every hammer has a claw (i.e. the sledgehammer with two faces). The claw is meant to pull nails up.

Starting lineup: Rubber Mallet, Claw Hammer, Ball Peen Hammer, Shingling Hammer, Tack Hammer, Sledge Hammer. (Left to right.)

6 Common Hammer Types

Our non-exhaustive list of the most common hammers you’ll come across on your DIY journey.  

Claw hammer

The Platonic ideal of a hammer; an essential in any toolbox. The claw hammer is a  hard-wearing, multi-purpose tool that’s ready for everyday projects. With a simple face on one end of the head and claw on the other. 


Framing hammer

A modified claw hammer with a waffled head, heavy, long handle, and a curved claw. Meant specifically for framing out houses. The rough head gives extra traction for nailing. 


Shingling hammer

A specialized tool for roofing, the shingling hammer offers features like magnetized faces (so you can pick up stray nails without your hands) and a serrated face for grip. Try to choose a lightweight shingle hammer for safety and remember to always wear goggles!


Sledgehammer

Its wide face, short neck, and long handle make it a common choice for demolition but is also good for driving stakes and even blacksmithing. 


Tack Hammer

Small, lightweight, and perfect for upholstery (driving tacks). One end of the face is magnetic to hold a metal tack in place before driving with the non-magnetized end.


Rubber Mallet

While it may resemble a sledgehammer in shape and face size, a rubber mallet is lightweight and gentle enough to deliver soft blows to plasterboard, upholstery, and wood-workin projects. 


Ball Peen Hammer

With a rounded peen (claw), perfect for closing metal fastenings, rounding out edges, punching, and riveting.

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