The 10 Best Hammers
The Almighty Hammer
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 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 dollar store 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.
Sometimes also referred to as a rubber hammer, this device allows you to more gently pound work pieces together.
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.