Hammering Techniques – Basics of Buying and Using Hammers

The best hammer to have is a 16-ounce curved-claw hammer. For pulling out nails, a curved-claw hammer offers more leverage than a straight claw, and requires less strength. Hammers come in three sizes: 13-ounce, 16-ounce and 20-ounce. The 13-ounce is a finish hammer and can be too light for some jobs; the 16-ounce is an all-purpose hammer; and the 20-ounce is for driving 16d nails all day when you are framing a house.

If you are going to buy a hammer, try this trick when you are in a hardware store. Turn the hammer upside down to see if it balances at about a 45-degree angle. This test works only for curved-claw hammers with handles of wood, fiberglass, or hollow metal. It’s basically a test to see where the weight is in the hammer. Hammers with their weight in the head are easier to wield. If the weight is more in the head, the hammer will stand more vertically. If it’s more in the handle, the hammer will be hard to balance. The hammers with solid metal handles are so heavy in the handle that they topple right over.

To be able to hammer effortlessly, you must have a powerful stroke; and to hit the nail almost every time, you need some technique. The secret is keeping your arm relaxed. A lot of power is lost in stiff-arm hammering.

Hold the hammer in a relaxed grip. Raise your whole arm until the upper arm is parallel to the ground. Start the downward stroke with a little effort, but then let gravity do the work while you guide the hammer to the nail. When the hammer head is about 6 to 8 inches above the nail, snap your wrist for extra power. It’s important that your arm be relaxed, or the wrist snap won’t amount to anything.

The hammer face should be parallel to the nail head upon impact. If it isn’t, the nail will bend. So if the nail keeps bending, it’s not because it is made of inferior steel or because you are hopeless. It’s because you’re not hitting the nail squarely. Skinny nails such as finish and box nails tend to bend easily. Smaller nails, like 4d to 10d, don’t require as big an arm stroke. For these, raise the hammer head to the level of your shoulder. The wrist snap is even more important here since you aren’t raising your arm as high and gravity isn’t working for you as much.