The 10 Best Hammers
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in April of 2016. Long before power tools and lithium-ion batteries, hammers were used to build everything from furniture to houses. This classic carpenter's accomplice also comes in handy for installing nails on which to hang decorations, demolishing existing structures for remodeling jobs, and splitting lumber in tandem with a chisel. Most of them also come with claws for easy fastener removal, too. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 20, 2021:
For the most part, rankings on this list tended to still be in good standing, but nonetheless, we still found a few places to improve on things. We started off this round of updates by removing the Martinez Tools M1, which has enjoyed a spot at the top of this list over the past couple years, thanks to its tank-like, contractor-ready build. Despite its enormous price, we were still fans of this model, and likely would’ve considered allowing it to continue its reign on this list if it hadn’t been suffering from some availability issues.
Luckily, we were able to replace the M1 with the Stiletto TiBone III — another premium model from an alternate company. Again, this is quite a costly contraption, considering that it’s “just a hand tool,” but for professionals who will spend much of their working life with their right hand wrapped around its grip, the extra investment may well be worth it. The TiBone III sets itself apart from much of its competition with replaceable hammer heads and a one-piece, lightweight titanium body.
We also removed the stubby Maxcraft 60626 and flamboyantly styled Original Pink Box PB12HM, due to a combination of availability issues and questions surrounding their suitability for these rankings. We still believe that there’s a place on the market (and in the tool bags of casual users) for both of these options, but judged that they would appeal to a limited portion of our audience, and therefore thought that their spots would be better off granted to better-built models.
With that in mind, we added the Ideal Industries 35-210 and Estwing E3-16C to our list. The first option is an electrician’s hammer that’s specially designed for sparkies who need to bang nails into small device boxes and pull staples without damaging the wires they support. The second option is a solid-all-around choice that’s built well enough for professionals, but still priced well enough for many average consumers. The high quality of both of these options earned them spots close to the top of our list.
We tried to keep this list focused on versatile models that can be used for a number of tasks, but if you know specifically what you want this tool for, then you might be interested in some of our specialized lists. We’ve got rankings for everything from blacksmith hammers to tinner hammers.
January 13, 2020:
During this round of updates, we found that our previous selections for the category had, for the most part, aged quite well. The only exception was the Craftsman 16-Ounce, which was eliminated due to concerns with its availability. In its place, we introduced the Vaughan Rage, a multi-function demolition tool that caught our eye with its clever design.
A few considerations to hammer out before making a purchase decision:
Weight: This consideration’s a bit of a balancing act that will require you to really assess what your plans are for this tool. While lighter options – like the eight-ounce Maxcraft Stubby – help facilitate finesse, and keep user fatigue at bay, heavier options – like the 2.5-pound Vaughan Rage – sink nails faster and demolish unwanted obstacles with relative ease. Your ideal weight will depend on your intended usage.
Size: Again, your wants, as far as this factor goes, will all depend on your plans. If the full extent of your plans for this hammer is to bang in a few finishing nails for picture frames or maybe set up some Ikea furniture, then you might do just fine with our little friend the Maxcraft Stubby. But if you’re planning on undertaking any serious construction with this tool, you’re going to want something longer, that will create a larger arc and thereby let you come down with more momentum. Framers, who arguably depend on their hammers more than any other trade, tend to use larger models (aptly referred to as framing hammers) like the Martinez Tools M1.
Warranty: Unlike power tools and hand tools with more moving parts, there’s no real reason for a well-maintained hammer to break down, ever. So, why not consider investing in an offering with a guarantee that supports that? Options like the Original Pink Box, Irwin Tools General and Stanley FatMax are all backed by lifetime warranties.
Lee Valley Multi-Tool This seven-inch option certainly isn't going to be your first choice to frame a house with, but it can offer some very basic hammering utility. On top of that, its flip side features a hatchet head instead of a hammer claw, and its included pliers can grip 1/4- to 3/4-inch nuts. It also includes basic implements that you'd expect from a multitool – like a knife and screwdrivers – and it's offered at a surprisingly affordable price. leevalley.com
Martinez Tools This company specializes in hammers, but they also offer pry bars and nail pullers for demolition purposes. If none of their standard options do it for you, you can order a custom 14- or 16-inch titanium hammer through their website. martineztools.com
The Almighty Hammer
So, the hammer deserves your respect, but why should you care about the quality of your hammer?
If you strip away all of the peripheral conceptions that we hold when we hear the word hammer, like a certain rapper in parachute pants, a famous baking soda brand, or a rich, young Hollywood actor, you’re left with an instrument the simplicity of which is downright deceiving. The hammer as we know it is one of the most elegant tools in human history. It’s capable, when combined with a fastener such as a nail, of securing two materials together in such a way that they might never be pulled apart. If you do need to pull them apart, some hammers even provide you with the ability to undo that fastening. In this sense, the hammer is almost a Zen tool, as it represents a kind of dualism, was the ability to do two opposite actions with the same device.
All of that might sound a little high-falutin for what is essentially a piece of metal designed for applying brute force to another piece of metal, but that reductionist view of a hammer robs it of its integrity. Just think about the ways in which the hammer has transformed our society. It’s given us the ability to create larger, more stable structures to keep ourselves and our families safe from some of the harshest environments in the world. It’s taken what used to be the painstaking process of lashing together locks or boards of wood, or cementing bricks into place, and replaced it with the simple, effective practice of nailing stuff together.
So, the hammer deserves your respect, but why should you care about the quality of your hammer? Nowadays, any old factory in China can pump out a decent metal hammer with a rubber handle that will get the job done around the house for small tasks. If you don’t use it very often, it might even last you a good amount of time before its head flies off mid-swing and hits somebody else in the room. You don’t want that.
A good hammer, like the ones on our list, has a few particular attributes that set it apart from the run-of-the-mill models so many people mistakenly rely on. Perhaps most of all, a good hammer is well balanced. If you pick up a hammer, and it’s too heavy on the front end or to heavy on the back end, you’re going to sacrifice control in your swing. This puts you at risk of injury to whichever hand you use to hold your nail. One missed swing could severely damage the bones in those fingers. It could also put a hole through your drywall or your plaster, which could be very difficult or very expensive to repair.
The Different Kinds Of Hammers
There are a lot of different kinds of hammers on the market, each of which is designed with a particular kind of task in mind. It's important that you use the right kind of hammer for the right job, or you risk damaging your work piece and possibly yourself. At the very least, you should familiarize yourself with the most commonly used hammer varieties that you're bound to need around the house.
This is particularly useful on jobs where accuracy is important or in the hands of a less experienced carpenter who may be prone to mistakes.
The most popular variety of hammer, and the one that comes to mind when most people think of the tool, is the claw hammer. This device has a heavy end with a strong, flat hammering surface designed to contact flat-headed nails. Opposite its hammering surface, the claw hammer features tapered metal fingers that give the model its name. When you position the head of a driven nail between its two claws, this kind of hammer allows you to easily remove a nail from a wall or work piece. This is particularly useful on jobs where accuracy is important or in the hands of a less experienced carpenter who may be prone to mistakes.
The ball peen hammer has a face similar to that of the claw hammer, but the claw is notably absent. In its place is a heavy rounded striking surface designed for reshaping metal and closing rivets. Because of the similarities to the claw hammer on its primary hammering face, a ball-peen hammer often finds just as much use as a claw hammer, especially in the hands of a capable professional. If you know you're going to need to remove a nail or two throughout your process, however, you may need to invest in a pry bar to compliment a ball peen unit.
Another popular hammer type is the rubber mallet. Sometimes also referred to as a rubber hammer, this device allows you to more gently pound work pieces together. Its softer surface prevents the kind of damage that a heavy metal striking face would cause, making it ideal for situations in which two pieces of soft wood are being joined by dowels or similar fastening devices. It's especially useful when assembling things like Ikea furniture.
A Brief History Of The Hammer
The earliest evidence of human beings using the force of a swung stone to alter and shape other materials dates back over 3 million years ago. While that stone in and of itself couldn't necessarily be called a hammer, its function was much the same.
In the Iron Age, advances in metallurgy allowed talented blacksmiths to cast hammerheads that could be fitted to wooden handles.
During the Paleolithic Stone Age, in roughly 30000 B.C.E., we see evidence of tools fashioned by lashing stones to a sticks with pieces of leather. These were undoubtedly the first hammers to not only perform the task of hammering, but to also resemble our modern tools in form. These would remain the most common form of the tool for the better part of our history.
In the Iron Age, advances in metallurgy allowed talented blacksmiths to cast hammerheads that could be fitted to wooden handles. Some examples of hammers from the same time were metal throughout their bodies, but this often presented an imbalance in the swing and a tool that, overall, was heavier than it needed to be.
Today's hammers run the gamut from inexpensive hunks of metal poorly fastened to plastic handles to full tang stainless steel behemoths that are indestructible and impeccably balanced. Exactly which quality level you require will have more to do with your needs and projects than anything else, but a well-made tool well cared for should last you a lifetime.