One of the things that often bugs me is how there’s a lack of transparency when it comes to product marketing. Often marketing claims will hype-up a product with compelling features, figures, and comparisons. Sometimes the marketing makes sense, other times I struggle to find the basis for certain claims.
I find the marketing language behind titanium and “titanium-like” hammers to be particularly hazy and poorly supported.
Dewalt’s MIG-Welded Hammer
I never really liked the way Dewalt marketed their 15oz MIG-welded hammer. The feel of titanium at a fraction of the cost! The power of a 28oz framing hammer. Oh yea? How does that work?
Kinetic energy = 1/2 x mass x velocity ^2. So even though we lightened the weight of the hammer, users can swing it faster to deliver greater energy. Our 15 oz hammer swings like a 28 oz hammer! Weight of titanium, strength of steel!
That sounds good and authoritative, but the reality probably isn’t that simple.
First, it seems to me that it would make much more sense to consider the hammer’s strike momentum rather than energy. Yes, the velocity component leads to higher kinetic energy, but with higher speeds and faster impacts there will also be different energy losses. It’s more appropriate to talk transfer of momentum at impact than energy.
With linear momentum, mass and velocity are directly related (P=mv), instead of how mass and velocity squared are proportional when discussing kinetic energy. This means that if you lower the mass of the hammer head, you have to do a lot more other stuff to the overall design in order to increase the swing velocity enough to appreciably improve strike momentum.
For what it’s worth, Dewalt’s 15oz welded hammer really is a pleasure to use. I haven’t determined whether the hammer really does deliver the same striking performance as a 28-oz hammer, but I really hope Stanley and Dewalt engineers used test measurements and not just use quick kinetic energy calculations.
So where does the “titanium feel” come from?
My feeling is that the increased speed and striking energy is partially due to the lighter head and partially due to the decreased moment of inertia resulting from the longer and lighter handle.
It’s not just about making the hammer lighter, but where they made it lighter. The welded construction allows for weight savings and balancing that wouldn’t be possible using a forging process.
Still, I give the hammer a big thumbs up for its superb performance.
After the Dewalt hammer was released, I tried looking into what the titanium feel was all about. I spoke with a Stiletto engineer and references on their website offered clues to help me dig deeper.
Stiletto claims that their titanium hammers offer ten times less recoil shock than steel. However, the literature that supports that titanium offers better dampening behavior than steel explicitly says: on average, Titanium provides approximately 10 times greater damping than high carbon steels. I asked Stiletto about the discrepancy and nobody ever got back to me.
Yes, titanium does a far better job at dampening vibrations than steel. Yes, titanium recoils far less than steel. In addition to wasting energy and effort, recoil can be harmful to tradesmen over time as it increases the risk of wrist, elbow, and shoulder injuries.
But saying that titanium hammers deliver ten times less recoil shock than steel is different from saying it offers approximately 10 times better dampening than high carbon steel on average.
This chart, compiled by M. F. Ashby, shows the dampening behavior for different materials. It is also referenced in a Stiletto document that supports their claims titanium hammers dampen vibrations better than steel hammers do (PDF).
The loss coefficient is a measure of dampening performance, with the chart showing a range of 10^-4 to 10^-3 for titanium and 10^-5 to 10^-4 for high carbon steels. These material groupings are at the lower right side of the chart, and I’m sorry that you have to squint to read it.
Basically what this says is that the best-dampening high carbon steels perform nearly as well as the worst-dampening titanium alloys.
On average, titanium dampens vibrations ten times better than high carbon steels, since the chart shows high and low points for titanium alloys to be an order of magnitude higher than those for high carbon steel alloys.
But this doesn’t take into account that some hammer manufacturers have spent many years optimizing hammer head metallurgy and handle designs. Presumably, well-made hammers are designed around better performing high carbon steels and handles that further improve dampening performance.
It very well could be that Stiletto’s titanium hammer offers ten times better dampening performance than ordinary steel-head hammers. Maybe the real-world difference in some cases is a factor of fifty. If you take the best titanium alloy and worst steel alloy, in terms of dampening potential, you might theoretically see a 100-times difference in damping performance. But the difference could also be 5-times, or even less.
How much better a titanium hammer dampens vibrations compared to steel hammers depends on several things:
- Hammer head material
- Handle material
- Hammer design
So that’s why I’m not happy about how Stiletto markets their hammers. Their claims could be 100% true and accurate, but looking at the source material Stiletto themselves provide, where is the “on average” disclaimer on their sales and marketing messages?
In terms of real-world performance, Stiletto hammers are quite popular with tradesmen, at least those that can budget for the pricey tools. They do offer excellent vibration dampening, and the lighter weight of titanium translates to easier swings with less impact on the body.
I believed the Stiletto engineer when he said that their hammers have been shown to successfully ease, reduce, or treat tradesmen’s arm injuries, at least those thought to be caused by frequent heavy framing hammer use.
I’m not arguing about the Stiletto’s real-world performance, I just don’t agree with their blanket marketing claims that categorize all steel-made hammers as ten times worse. Maybe there is data that supports this, but I haven’t seen it.
Vaughan S2 18oz Hammer
I caught the Vaughan S2 hammer on sale at Sears under Craftsman branding, and ordered one for testing and review. When it arrived I noticed that sales tag boasted how the hammer feels like titanium but strikes like heavier steel hammers. Oh boy.
In an email to Vaughan, I wrote: The 18oz S2 Split Head Hammer is claimed to have the “feel of titanium with strength of steel.” I was hoping that you could elaborate upon this for me.
It’s worth mentioning that I had a very difficult time getting in touch with a human being at Vaughan. Either their web form didn’t work or my emails went ignored.
Their response: Please see attached sell sheet showing features. Thank you!
The attached sell sheet mentioned the hammer has anti-vibration pads, and overstrike plate, nail start, precision balance, and modular head. This does suggest that the S2 has great dampening by means of vibration isolation, and the long balanced handle could allow for faster swings.
Still, I pressed for more: That does not answer my question at all. I am aware of the features of the hammer, and am more interested in an explanation behind “feel of titanium – strength of steel.” Is there a product manager I can perhaps speak to?
Admittedly I could have been more polite, but I was seriously frustrated at how difficult it was to get in touch with someone at Vaughan only to be told to look at the sales sheet.
Their reply: It means it is well balanced and feels lighter than other hammers with the same weight.
Just because a hammer is well balanced and lighter doesn’t mean it has the “feel of titanium.” I sent another email but never heard back from anyone.
I suppose the weight distribution of the S2 could make it feel lighter than when swinging other 18oz hammers. It just seems that “feel of titanium” is thrown around a lot without proper validation or support.
Hey, did you know that the official ToolGuyd hammer “feels like titanium but strikes like steel?” Why is that true? Because I said so, so you must trust me, now give me some money.
The S2 has performed reasonably well the couple of times I used it in the past year. But to be honest, I like my axe-style wood-handled Dewalt 17-ounce hammer a but more.
I Give Up
These are all great hammers, but the marketing behind them is extremely blurry. Maybe this post will help answer some of the questions I’ve been asking for a while.
How is it that the Dewalt welded hammer delivers strikes with the power of framing hammers nearly twice as weighty? “Kinetic Energy!” is not an acceptable answer. I want to see equations and numbers that I can add up myself.
How does Stiletto compare to steel framing hamers in real-world tests? Or is the “10x less recoil!” simply an adaptation of supporting evidence that says titanium – but not necessarily titanium hammers – offers approximately 10x better dampening than high carbon steel on average?
Finally, what is Vaughan using as a basis by which to see their S2 hammer “feels like titanium?”