Andrew is putting together a new DIYer/homeowner tool kit and checked out my 12 essential tools for DIYers and homeowners post, but he hit a roadblock. Which hammer to buy?
That’s a great question, and one that has definitely tormented me in the past.
Hey Stuart, I was wondering if you could help me select a basic hammer to keep around the house. It won’t be used for any specific task, just for general use so a framing hammer seems to be too cumbersome and heavy for this task.
I know in your 12 Essential tools you mentioned a standard 16oz hammer should suffice but the bevy of options are a little daunting and I was hoping you could shed some clarity as well as a few possible recommendations on the subject. Thanks for the awesome website!
First off, I think you’ll want a claw hammer. And yes, I still think 16oz is the way to go, at least to start with. Rip-claw hammers are more useful for demo work, while the puller on claw hammers are more useful for prying nails out of wood and things like that. If you get a rip-claw hammer, be sure you have a separate nail puller handy.
You have a lot of choices in the $20 and under range. Something like the Estwing E3-16C, which sells for about $21, is probably more than you need, but will last a very long time. I’ve got one, and it’s my most-used nail hammer.
Estwing’s rubber-gripped one-piece steel hammers are great choices, not just the 16oz size. I’ve got at least one Estwing ball pein hammer that I bought alongside a Vaughan for comparison purposes. I still haven’t determined which one I prefer more, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Buy Now(Estwing 16oz claw via Amazon)
USA-made wood-handled claw hammers sell for $17 and up, which is why I think the Estwing steel-handled one is a great step-up for only a couple of dollars more.
If you don’t care about USA-made or wood vs. steel handle construction, and don’t need a fancy grip, something like the Stanley-51-616 could be a good choice. It’s 16 oz with a claw, and priced at just $6 on Amazon. It’s a little more expensive elsewhere.
Buy Now(Stanley 16 oz claw via Amazon)
The Stanley hammer is an “add-on” item on Amazon, and so you can only buy it as part of a $25+ order of items sold and shipped directly by Amazon. That’s how they’re able to offer free shipping, even for Prime members.
If you want to pick up a basic USA-made hammers for cheap, check out the Grayvik hammers at Harry Epstein. They’re essentially factory seconds that don’t meet Vaughan cosmetic standards.
A basic Grayvik 16 oz claw hammer is also just $6. Harry Epstein is a great supplier, but keep in mind that they charge shipping, which lessens the deal for single-item orders. And be warned that they have a wide and usually irresistible wallet-emptying selection of tools. You don’t shop at Harry Epstein and buy just 1 item.
Buy Now(Grayvik 16 oz claw via Harry Epstein)
Home Depot is sure to have budget-priced hammers under their Husky brand, and Lowes under their Kobalt brand, especially around the winter holidays and Father’s Day.
Vaughan and Craftsman hammers are good choices too, but don’t seem to be as economical as they used to be. They’re reasonably priced, but the Estwing steel-bodied E3-16C is a better bargain.
When I shop around for a new hammer, I sometimes head out to the local home improvement stores and manhandle all of the different sizes and styles. Sometimes I buy blindly online, other times I need to feel the balance and grip of a hammer firsthand before buying. It takes time and effort to do this, but there are some tools that you should get a feel for before purchasing. Maybe a 16 oz hammer is too light and you’d prefer a 20 oz hammer for general purpose household stuff.
For “just to keep around the house,” there’s nothing wrong with going with a super-cheap hammer. As mentioned in the 12 essential tools for DIYers and homeowners post, I think that a dead blow hammer or rubber mallet are worthy additions as well. Going with a cheaper hammer leaves money left over for other tools.
Estwing’s Deadhead mallet is $12 at Home Depot. That’s about as cheap as rubber mallets go for. I’d rather spend $20 on a cheap claw hammer AND a rubber mallet, than $20 on just a hammer that I might rarely use.
That’s hypothetical, as for my personal use I spent $20 on the hammer and $12 on a Craftsman mallet and then who knows how much on other sizes of mallets, hammers, and dead-blow hammers. But you get my point.
When I was shopping for my first hammer, I drooled over the Estwing, with its steel handle and fancy grip. But I didn’t buy it, I bought something cheaper. That cheaper hammer was good enough for a couple of years until I sprung for the Estwing. Hopefully this adds some context to why I recommend the particular models discussed above.
Hammers like the new Stanley FatMax AntiVibe, and most of the $25-30+ pricier high velocity hammers that have hit the market, are great tools, but they’re often more than what a DIYer or homeowner needs, at least at first. Similarly, if you need a heavier and longer framing hammer, you know you need one. If you don’t know whether you need one or not, then stick with a 16oz claw hammer for your basic nailing needs.
Okay, so I limited my recommendations to just three options.
- Estwing 16 oz claw ($20)
Stanley basic claw ($6)
Grayvik basic claw ($6)
Do you agree with these recommendations? If not, which hammer(s) do you think should be the first a DIYer or new homeowner buys?
Years ago I inherited a rawhide mallet and was surprised at how often I would use it in my shop. I preferred it so much that when I lost it a few years ago I quickly ordered a replacement. I has a firm blow but is non marring and and soft enough to not damage woodworking projects. When used with a chisel it is not as jarring as a wooden or metal mallet. The leather face has a bit of “grip” so items to not slide or deflect.
I bought a two pack of Stanley Fiberglass handled ones at Costco a couple of years back. I think that it was like $9 for both. They have been great for basic household stuff, like hanging pictures.
Is there any issue or virtue of having a fiberglass neck on a hammer? I use mine very little but have never noticed an issue.
I echo Stuey’s recommendation of a rubber mallet. I use mine constantly and are always misplacing it. It may be the most used tool in our house, which seems odd.
FYI – white rubber mallets have the advantage of not leaving black marks when you miss. Deadblow mallets – while more costly – seem to work a bit better in some situations- especially good for assembling furniture.
That’s a great tip. Now I have an excuse to buy two more hammers!
Fiberglass handles won’t ring your hand and arm like a steel handled one will, especially lower priced steel ones. They won’t loosen like a wood handle and don’t break as easily as wood if you make an errant swing. Over time they will eventually develop cracks and are nearly impossible to replace, not to mention I have only seen replacement handles available for the heavier heads (and never for the standard claw and rip heads).
If I were looking to buy a bargain-priced hammer as my sole tool in this category – I’d go to Home Depot – look at what’s on offer in 16 oz. Claw Hammers (pulling claw – not ripping claw) – and see what felt good in my hand – given a few test swings.
Standard claw hammer isn’t a bad thing, but the first hammer I bought so many years ago was a small sledgehammer (3-4 lbs, Husky brand, short handle, you know the type) and I’ve used the heck out of it since then. Even if I’m just pounding nails I’ll usually end up with the sledgehammer in my hand rather than a claw hammer.
Also: it’s just a hammer. Don’t overthink this.
I ended up going with a 22oz Stanley FatMax one piece hammer for all my heavy duty needs. It has a checkered face and is tough enough for anything I’ve done outdoors including building a fence. For lighter duty things, I have a smooth faced 12 oz hammer that I use indoors to put up pictures, etc.
for some reason or another (I think because of child hood memories of dad’s hammer head coming off the wood handle one day) – I opted to spend a few bucks more for one of those fancy metal beam style hammers. this was 15 years ago. big rubber, urethane bottom grip – exposed steel beam – to forged/cast – steel head. standrd 16oz.
having used a few for things from roofing to fence repair – spend the extra dollars, care for it a bit (IE don’t leave it out etc) – and you’ll be thankful you did.
add to that – for the rare use and the cost – grap a cheap rubber mallet and a cheap dead blow. I don’t oft do this but I recommend HF for these.
I use my tack hammer more than any other hammer just around the house. I have an Estwing steel 20oz smooth face rip hammer (not the long framing hammer, just the regular) a 15 oz long handle smooth face Estwing Ultra hammer in black, and a Estwing 21 oz weight forward milled face framing hammer. I got deals on all of them, but I do have a preference for Estwing.
I have a steel handled Estwing ball pein as well, I’m very happy with it. I use that one more than any of my other hammers. Most of my DIY work is on my Jeeps, rather than with wood.
I still prefer the craftsman 38045 with it’s “third claw” for pulling tacks.
Estwing all day long…
Had mine since ’86 still going strong
We had 16 crews – probably 100 hammers – I doubt that there were more than a handful alike. Some of the guys liked all-steel Estwings – some would not touch them. Some carried expensive hammers (titanium or otherwise) from companies like Dalluge, Dead-On, Douglas, and Stiletto (Milwaukee) . Some thought that these were a waste of money. Then there was the debate about checkered faces on framing hammers – I recall a bit more those that disliked them than those that liked them – but the “vote” could swing either way. Handles? – I like my old Stanley 100 Plus hammers – hickory handled – polished octagonal poll and all – but others swore by fiberglass, graphite or the one-piece steel typical of Estwing. Then there’s the issue of weight – When I started working – nearly 50 years ago – a framing crew might be swinging hammers 8 hours per day – so how the hammer impacted you arm was a really big deal, While still important – its maybe a bit less so – with nail-guns taking over much of this work. For a homeowner though – a 8 or 10 oz. tack hammer might do – but it will result in a lot of bent nails if its used to drive something like a 16d common. On the question of weight – how about a 12 to 14 oz. trimmer – a 16 to 18 oz. general purpose hammer (Titanium framers also come in this weight range) – or a 20 to 32 oz. framer.
What I’m trying to say – is that it all depends on what sort of work you do and your personal preferences.
Don’t be afraid of Epsteins.
Get your hammer and a few other items you’ll know you need.
Another basic item you could get from Epsteins is a combination square. For $12 more than you’d pay for an Empire combo square, you can get a top of the line PE (products Engineering) combo square that is a second. Cosmetic imperfections that don’t affect the use. PE squares are almost on par with Starrett combo squares. PE squares start at about $80 new on amazon. Treat it with care and you will pass it on to your children. Here’s the page where you can find it: http://store.harryepstein.com/search?q=products+engineering
I got a nice white rubber mallet from Ollie’s pretty cheap that was a Bostich (Ollies is a closeout store not sure how widespread). I get various weights of deadblows from HF, too. I’m a woodworker so like different weights. From the ridiculous to the sublime: HF to my Daluge titanium hammer (a birthday gift). I asked for it because I had tendonitis and needed to take care of my hands. A friend urged me to try his and it really was better. I would not have it though if I didn’t have that problem. I mainly use that, though it’s a framing hammer. I still use my Estwing E3-16C for some tasks and would also recommend that.
I got a small (short-handled) stanley sledgehammer years ago and it’s surprising how much I use it. Especially in the garden for pounding in metal fence stakes or even wooden ones. I’d never use a regular hammer for that given how well the sledge works.
I have had several hammers over the years, and looking back, should have just gotten an all steel Estwing or similar right away. Wood handles work loose and crack, fiberglass handles are better, but the ones I had with the pressed on rubber grip had the rubber part of the grip start to come loose. My all time favorite hammer would be my Estwing with the stacked leather handle. A bit pricier, but the leather asorbs shock better than the hard rubber, is not at all slick, at least not after break in, and the leather ‘stacks’ of the handle are held in place with a solid piece of steel riveted to the shaft. Just dont leave it out in the weather, and treat the handle with a leather conditioner every now and again.
However, more recently, wen I thought I lost my Estwing, I got a Grayvick from H Epstein, along with a cat’s paw, a couple pru bars/nail pullers and a few other ‘essentials’ to spread out the shipping costs. The Grayvick is almost as nice to use as the Estwing, probably the equal to the rubber handled one, plus it had a magnetic nail starter and sideways high leverage nail puller. I found my Estwing, but will often grab the Grayvick for one-man jobs where the magnetic nail holder can be quite helpful.
I’d say the cheapo ~$5 basic wood handle claw hammer at Sears is a good bet, or step up to the Made-in-the-USA-by-Vaughn Craftsman hammers. I usually see at least a few for nearly half price every week, or at least every so often in the local ad. The lifetime warranty and in-store exchange makes these an easy choice. The Kobalt hammers at Lowe’s and some of the Husky ones at Home Depot seem good for the same reason, but a little more expensive unless you find a sale.
I’d say get something from the store you shop at most or what’s closest to you. Don’t get a Husky hammer if the closest HD is 20 miles away and you have a Sears or a Lowe’s much closer to you. It might even be worth getting a hammer with a lifetime warranty (that the store will honor on the spot) at the local hardware store or farm supply if that’s the closest to you and the big stores are much farther away.
I like USA made stuff for sure, but I have several wood handle claw hammers I have beat the snot out of that are just cheapo no-names, fiberglass claw hammers that were 2 for $5 at Big Lots, and even a 4lb sledge I got in the ACE bargain bin for a few dollars that I’ve used as my BFH for years. Haven’t had a problem with any of them. I still have the Companion-branded cheapo from Sears, haven’t had any problems with it, either.
Get a nice hammer for when you need it, sure, but grab cheapos when you find them to use for odd jobs or just to lessen the wear and tear on your nice hammer – not just from you using it, either.
If you get a nice hammer, be sure to hide it. I’ve found my Stanley Antivibe being used for stuff it was never intended for, like gardening, due to how comfortable it is to hold and how light it is for the head size. It’s now beat up and rusty.
Last time I was in Lowe’s, they had a Vaughn framing hammer and “super bar” pry bar combo pack on sale for around $16
I’ve been buying Nupla for my deadblow hammers lately. I’ve heard good things about Trusty Cook as well. Both are available in other brands, so look around. If a deadblow hammer says “Made in USA” on it, chances are it is either a Nupla or a TC.
Or an Estwing.
As I moved from apartment dweller to townhouse, I’ve slowly been replacing the entry level tools my wife and I brought with us with better options. However, the hammers haven’t made the leap. I’m still using the hammer out of an IKEA “fixa” set which is basically a 16oz claw with a rubberized handle. We have 3 kits between the two of us and those hammers are still working fine.
I’ve already replaced the multi-bit driver with normal #2 / 1/4″ solid screwdrivers and the hex keys have been replaced by hex bits for my ratchet (which makes furniture assembly much easier). The adjustable wrench is on my “to replace” with a Channellock 8WCB. But the hammers … are ok for now! I’d probably get that Estwing as I now give preference to USA made tools and those are nice.
I picked up a two pack of HUSKY fiberglass hammers (claw + ripping) from HD back around Christmas 2014 for $7. The claw hammer has served me well in the few times I’ve used it. Haven’t had a need for the ripping hammer as of yet.
HD still has them on its website for a smidge under $10: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Husky-16-oz-Fiberglass-Claw-Plus-Ripping-Hammer-2-Pack-N-G16SC2HD-HN/204284829
I would have to agree that a 16 oz curved claw hammer would be bedt for general home use. As far as brands go I am a Vaughan supporter but Estwing does make great hammers so you couldn’t go wrong with either brand . Both are American owned/made companies .
the Estwing steel handled hammer is great for very occasional use or if you need a hammer that can hold up to water ( like when you are doing concrete forming). They are absolutely the worst to use for anything repetitive and will destroy your elbow. – I only know this from first hand experience. I built my porch and an Estwing was all I had. My elbow was wrecked for a couple years. I went out and bought a nail gun and a solid wood handled framing hammer.
Here in the Netherlands every building site is littered with 16Oz/450g Stanley Blue Strike hammers. And I can say I’ve seen one of those break only once, and that was when used in conjunction with a 2,5m (about 8 foot) pipe to break loose a girder they couldn’t reach behind with the crowbar.
I’ve been using one since I was fourteen, so about eight years now, and it’s been almost daily use. It hasn’t got even the slightest bend or crack in it, and I can heartily recommend these to anyone. Only thing is I can’t compare then with Estwing, as I’ve never seen anything made by that brand in stores over here.
I’ve used that Estwing 16 for so many years I can’t remember when I bought it – over ten years ago. It’s my go to for dozens of projects. I have a ball pein, 20 oz framer, roofing hammer etc, but the Estwing gets 90% of the action. The grip has held up perfectly.
While going through the tool section at Home Depot I stopped and looked at what they carry. There’s only a few 16 oz claw hammers there. A couple of HDX, a Husky, and an Estwing. Only the HDX models were under $10. My local hardware stores don’t have anything under $10. Looking through the Lowe’s app it appears the situation is the same there. I honestly would have thought that this style of hammer would be by far the most popular and most available, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. There’s plenty of rip hammers in various weights but the 16 oz claw hammers have limited selection. Maybe a good sized Wal-Mart would be the best place for a new homeowner to look for a budget all purpose hammer.
Sometimes stores sell more of what sells better, not necessarily the tools that would be better. Maybe rip claw hammers have more bad-ass appeal to homeowners and DIYers?