Someone messaged me on Instagram, asking about the differences between 12 oz and a 14 oz hammers.
While they were specifically referring to drywall hammers, we’re able to apply a generalization that loosely applies to other types of hammers as well, including claw hammers and framing hammers.
There are a multitude of physical aspects that all come together when swinging a hammer, and many of these are variables that change from hammer to hammer.
Often, heavier hammers are also longer. Generally, a heavier hammer delivers a harder strike, and a lighter hammer is less fatiguing.
Swing velocity comes into play. The weight of a hammer head and weight of the handle distributed along its length both resist angular motion, dictating how much physical effort is required to get things swinging.
Things get really messy if you start comparing across brands. One brand’s 14 oz hammer might be longer than another’s 16 oz hammer.
More premium hammers might be made of titanium, or feature a longer length and lighter handle material.
Comparing two hammers from the same brand and product family, a heavier hammer will often be longer than a lighter hammer, and our generalization holds. Direct comparisons across brands and products lines tend to create many exceptions, breaking any generalizations or assumptions that would have been true ten or more years ago.
You can sometimes get a feel for things at a home center or hardware store, although the brand selection might be limited, and open-air swinging will have a different feel than when you’re actually striking and driving in nails.
You could perhaps look at popular styles and sizes, and go from there. Framers tend to gravitate towards 22 oz hammers. If you find yourself tiring easily, perhaps try a 20 oz hammer.
The Estwing shown above is still my favorite claw hammer, but it’s not at all the right choice for larger nails. If at all possible, you have to experiment as your needs change.
Buy Now: Estwing 16 oz Claw Hammer via Amazon
Have your experiences been the same, or is your answer to the title question more straightforward than mine?
There’s also “The Baseball Bat Rule” that applies here. For Baseball Bats, the weight and style of bat differs between players. Not because of brand, specifically, but because some hitters can swing a lighter bat harder than a heavier bat, resulting in putting the ball where they want it. Other players, the opposite is true. They can swing a heavier bat faster than a lighter bat, giving more power to the ball on contact, sending it further or in a direction with more power than if they had used a light bat.
In both cases, when a player uses the wrong weight of bat for their swing style, they make more mistakes in swinging, resulting in more failures/strikes/fowl balls/etc.
I was taught to swing a baseball bat, and the baseball bat rule, playing with my Dad in the yard. When I picked up a hammer, I found the same was true. Whatever hammer your application calls for, you have to choose your swing-style. Are you super accurate with a lighter hammer, speeding up how fast you can put in a nail? Or are you able to swing a heavier hammer faster, resulting in fewer strikes, more accuracy, and less fatigue for the job?
You just can’t really cross Hammer PURPOSES and get the same results. I’m pretty sure my Anti-Vibe Hammer is too big to do my Leather Work with, but at the same time, I wouldn’t use my brass Mallets on a Nail, or to deform metal. If you have multiple skillsets, you need to find the swing-style for each skill, and use what weight of hammer suits you best for each application.
Maybe in Leather Work, you prefer the control of a lighter mallet, but in wood or framing, you prefer a heavier hammer for a faster drive? Just think of it like a Baseball Bat. The difference isn’t between the hammers, it’s between YOU and the MATERIAL you’re hammering.
Does that make any sense to anyone else?
hammer up, i mean batter up.
Probably the most equivalent analogy is going to be the bats. but just like vehicles, they make more than for for different purposes & financial means
Oh, definitely. The Baseball Bat rule is only one of many factors meant to be involved in Hammers in this case. It’s not a replacement to what Stuart said at all.
Hammers have WAY MORE uses and varieties than Baseball Bats. I believe Bats really only have Four varieties: Hardball, Softball, Metal, and Toy. The rest is weight for each variety. With that weight comes length and material differences, but ultimately it doesn’t make them any less bound by the type of Batter. If they’ve got a sponsorship from… Cooper or Louisville Slugger… It’s been a long time since I bought one, or even tried, then obviously you’re going to go with their (Model X) with the attributes for your swing.
HAMMERS, on the other hand, come in a lot more than 4 varieties. I can’t even name them all, and don’t even get me started on Mallets and Mauls… Every industry has its own kind of hammer, with its own unique abilities. Limiting the rules of buying them down to JUST the Baseball Bat Rule? That’s just insane. Even I’m not that crazy.
But good call! I probably should have clarified that I meant it as an addition, not a replacement. Thanks adam!
The shaft material and swing weight are often overlooked, and I think far more important than the head weight.
Estwings are great demolition hammers. I can’t recall seeing a broken one. But they kill your elbow with vibration and that insane swing weight. Plus, from what I see, a mis-hit often ruins a nail rather than just kinking it a little.
Stiletto or Dalluge titanium heads are nice. Hickory is a nice material for a handle, and the swing weight is so light. But the heads wear out fast, and claws can snap, or worse, the handle.
Personally I’m a fan of the titanium shaft with the steel head. I think the Martinez M1 and M4 are amazing and worth every penny even for a homeowner/DIYer.The improve upon the TB2, that Mark originally designed.
I’ve been using the shorter M4 to build a shed recently and switching between an old Estwing and my Vaughn 16oz California Framer. I stopped using the Estwing. I know there are fans, but it’s clearly an inferior framing hammer. Even the finish oriented M4 is better in every way except the claw. My Vaughn handle is coming loose and I have almost lost the head a few times. For the price, I think I’m going to be buying a Framing head for my M4, rather than a new handle for the Vaughn. I know the Martinez is out of the picture for many. It was a present that I hope to keep the rest of my life and pass on to my kids with the memories of what we built together.
And before anyone chimes in with how “it takes a man to swing a real hammer”, I’ve heard it all before. That’s nothing more than bullshit insecurities and straight up jealousy. I broke both elbows at 18 and couldn’t swing a hammer without pain for almost 4 more years. I realized then that my ego wasn’t going to be helping me wipe myself 60 years from now. There are no prizes for wrecking your body for the sake of saving face among people that couldn’t care less.
IMO the m4 head on a M1 shaft is the way to go. Better to have that extra couple inches and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Agreed with your overall statement the Martinez framers are rediculously well made, hit like a truck, and are a joy to swing.
Why would it be worse to have the hickory handle break compared to the claw?
I have Hickory-handled Stilettos and Delluges and occasionally break a handle (I keep spares around). For something like 10 bucks and ten minutes, I’m back in business……
Gordon, what is swing weight? I’ve never head that term before.
When I started roofing, I was 12 years old. It was my summer job for many years, working with my dad. I started with a 12 ounce Companion branded claw hammer and used it for years until the rubber grip could no longer be held together with tape. I found it fine for driving roofing nails, I replaced it with a 16 ounce C-man, made by Vaughn. The 16 ounce drove nails with a lot less offer on my part. For whatever reason, I find myself liking to use claw hammers more than ripping hammers. The balance feels better to me.
I believe he’s referring to the weight of the overall hammer in motion. If you can lift it, great. If you can’t hold it tight enough to hit the target, because the weight throws you off, it’s no good.
I have big hands, but I have early onset arthritis, because I was an idiot in my teens, who refused to let things heal right when I got injured. It means, yes… I can sure LIFT a 30 pound sledge, but get out of the way once it’s in motion. The swing-weight increases the centripedal force on your hands approximately… and it has been a long time since physics class… 40%? So… You’re SWINGING ~40 pounds around, pulling at your hands. A 20 Oz hammer may feel fine in the air, but you’re going to have to have a grip closer to 30 Oz to ensure you have control over where the head lands.
Swing Weight, as far as I can tell, is the weight added to the hammer by the swing, as it pulls at your hand. It’s only a small arc, compared to a centrifuge ride, or gravity test at NASA training camp, but the added weight can’t exceed the amount of grip you have on the hammer. If it’s REALLY ballanced, between the head and the handle, then the amount of Swing Weight SHOULD be reduced significantly, as it is closer to the central point of the swing, which exerts less centripedal force overall…
Gordon? Am I getting that right? like I said, Physics Class was a long time ago for me. I don’t do the numbers or the symbols anymore, but I do just… GET it while in application…
Yep, you pretty much nailed it (haha).
You hear guys talk about “choking up” on the hammer to do delicate or careful nailing. IMHO that’s a result of hammer with a poor swing weight. They’re afraid to use the full power of the hammer because they’re not fully in control. By choking up on the handle you’re changing the fulcrum, balance point, and the swing weight.
You also end up with a really tight grip which tenses up the rest of your arm leading to poor technique and increased fatigue.
You hear a lot of that stuff talked about in tennis rackets. I’m not an avid player but a friend was and he was explaining the differences in metrics. Every frame has a swing weight number. The higher it is the harder it is to swing. That number factors in a lot of things like the balance point and weight of the frame. It’s just one metric of a frame but is often a good place to start when looking for a new one.
Hammers have less axes of movement than a tennis racquet so I doubt anyone cares for a swing weight measurement. But who knows what the future holds. Until then, it’s easy to pickup some hammers and swing them a bit.
Related to this conversation— particularly with finish hammers, most of my swing is in the pivot between thumb and forefinger. I learned from drumming incorrectly not to overgrip.
I tried out a lot of hammers this year. One of my newly discovered favorites is the Wiha electricians hammer, which is said to have been balanced as one piece of steel. The rubber grip runs the full handle. It’s weighty for a finish-oriented hammer — just a hair under 16oz the whole thing. I thought the impacts might be tiring given it’s internal metal handle, but there’s very little deflection wobble in the recoil so it’s very comfortable, and of course, with the more centered balance it feels like you can’t miss no matter where you grab it. Doesn’t flip like other hammers tho. Whacks you good when you catch it.
Funny, I’ve only ever used “Choking Up” on a hammer to start a nail, and only when they’re really short nails. Nails you can usually drive with one swing. Plus, the only reason I do this is because, again, I have big hands. Not in the good way. So, putting a simple picture up in drywall, I only need to tap the nail, not fully swing it. What am I going to do? Get a tiny hammer? Doesn’t matter if it’s a stick, I just need to tap it in. And it’s usually done while holding it to the wall with a flat hand, and the nail/picture hangar between two fingers. If I was to full-swing that, I’d just be hitting my hand harder.
Not every situation is about the balance of the hammer, but I do agree that people take some caution starting a nail. I believe that’s where that magnetic hail holder feature came from in a lot of framing hammers these days. To replace the delicate placement phase of hammering.
Now… In my case, I can honestly say it’s not a balance issue with the hammer that makes me cautious with the first few strikes. Years of being a computer tech, I do have carpal tunel, and it throws my aim off most of the time with full swing. So, I do start nails with a short tap for precision, then hope for the best in hitting the nail in the rest of the time. So, while I agree that sometimes the balance of the hammer contributes to people choosing the choke-up method for precision, there’s a higher likelihood that it’s ergonomic issues with the person’s hands that makes them resort to this. If you’re swinging a hammer for 20+ years, it’s not that different from typing commands into a computer for 10+ years. You’re going to have some repetitive stress injuries going on, no matter how tiny they are.
And if we’re being honest, I think this may have been the reason the tool industry invented nail, staple, and pin guns. To extend the life expectancy of all our finger and elbow joints, as a collective. I’ve found a lot of situations where Ergonomics have come into play, where I never thought, in a million years, it would matter. Swing Weight is really important in Ergonomics though. It’s even a metric in swing-out/up mechanisms. When something is triggered to swing into place, is it with enough force to do damage to what is swinging, or what it will swing INTO when released.
I’m actually really glad you brought up Swing Weight. Some people use it differently than we’re talking about it, but I’m glad we hit on this one. (We can’t avoid the hammer puns on this topic, I’m sorry.)
I rarely use my heavier framing hammers, I am more of a DIY/Woodworker, so not much framing work. 12oz hammer is enough for me, I appreciate the smaller size and lighter head. More precise and easier to handle.
I have both a wood handle and full metal framing hammers. In the last major construction project i did (14×14 shed) i have to admit after a while the wooden handle hammer was preferred due to less arm fatigue.
While i may be interested in getting a titanium handle my last big purchase in this area was a pneumatic framing nailer. Problem solved!
I’m 6’3″, 220 and I swung a “manly” 28oz framing hammer for years until I tried a 16oz titanium hammer with a hickory handle. The difference? The titanium gave me better control without causing carpal tunnel syndrome like the “manly” hammer did. The big hammer now lives, retired, with my corded sidewinder.
I was complaining yesterday to my wife that I needed a heavier hammer to drive the big nails for barbed-wire fence horizontal posts. I don’t know what size they are exactly, but about 5″ long, 3/8″ thick and have spiral fluting – heavy duty.
I brought my Estwing 22oz out to the field with me but I had to take pretty wild (and not terribly accurate) swings to get the nails driven flush. I also regretted the smooth face.
She declined to approve my purchase, regretfully. Eventually I was annoyed enough to go get a drilling hammer from my shop – which worked pretty well (at least until the nail was almost driven in, at which point I resorted to a punch).
Any suggestions for heavy nail-driving hammers if I do end up making a purchase?
…Do we have to consider the price of a Divorce Lawyer into the equation? Or is your marriage stable enough to handle a really good suggestion?
I mean… There’s Estwing 20+ Oz Ultra Hammers that run up into the $70 range, and they can be quite a favourite. There’s also the option of combining a 2-3 LB Solid Steel/Brass Mallet with your 22 Oz hammer you already own, using the mallet like an anvil to transfer more weight and force to the nail to run it flush…
But… None of that is worth recommending if we have to include the price of a divorce into what we suggest… I’ve had to deal with the barbed wire you’re talking about, so I do know it takes a lot to fasten it down. Some people actually prefer to bend the nail into a hook at the end, rather than deal with trying to hammer it flush. I don’t know what your financial situation is, or why your Wife opposes a hammer… That’s none of my business… But if we’re talking about a budget issue, or you hording hammers, at least let us know that info so we don’t get you in trouble with the wife.
I would seriously consider a palm nailer for that application. You could even rent a gas powered compressor if you were too far from power.
Kyle from RR buildings talked about buying a palm nailer for nails just like that. He ended up buying some larger nail guns but I don’t think that would be worth it for a single task like you have.
If your drilling hammer wasn’t enough, that could possibly by engineer hammer or mini sledge territory. From what I’ve seen, engineer hammers are only a little longer than drilling hammers, hence possibility of having to look into a small sledge hammer.
Dead blow ball pein? Might work but seems wrong for the job.
If my 22” hammer does not drive it, I bring out the mini sledge.
For the retaining wall build with the 8” nails, after one or two nails, even with the mini sledge, too much effort was required; so, I lined things up and pre-drilled holes with an auger drill. Took extra time, but it is not worth ruining my wrists over or getting injured in some way. Pre-drilled, tapped them in with the mini sledge then gently drove them home with full sledge.
I really appreciate all the suggestions. My drilling hammer is sufficient to drive the nails in – doesn’t do too bad at all actually with it’s heavy head and shorter handle. I’m driving the nails in at an angle to hold the top rail of the H-brace in position though, so as the nail gets to the last 1.5″ or so, the big wide head of the drilling hammer is a bit of an issue if I want to avoid damaging the surrounding wood. Using a punch at that point solves the problem, but it’s a bit more finicky – and I have to dial back the power to make sure I don’t squish my fingers.
My wife’s assessment of my “need” for another hammer probably wasn’t entirely incorrect. I’ve certainly got more than a few. I like having the proper tool for the job though and can typically rationalize it to myself as a drop in the bucket compared to paying someone to do the work for me.
If I’d been released to the store, I was envisioning maybe just a heavier framing hammer with a checkered face? I probably wouldn’t go super premium with the purchase since it’s a hammer I would use only for specific tasks (e.g. sub $100).
I wonder if you could make some kind of a heavy duty nail “drive” to finish things. Not sure what it is called, but I have one for average / small nails. Think of it as a screw driver, with a striking plate on top, a round flat tip, and a sliding sleeve around the shaft, keeping the thing aligned. Tap away …
One could probably make a fixed mini version with a bit of steel … making like a 12” driving spike with a bit of steel pipe welded on that goes beyond the tip a bit.
I have a friend that was a carpenter for his entire working life. Starting in his early teens and into his post retirement. I remember seeing a similar post on Toolguyd maybe a decade ago and was talking with him about it. He told me he had been using the same hammer his entire working life, a 13 oz Stanley claw hammer. It had been through a few handles but the same head the entire time. From framing to finishing including furniture and landscaping. He told me he had learned his craft from an oldtimer craftsman that did not need a different hammer for every kind of nail.
I tend to agree.
It’s not just the weight of the hammer, or the length, but the handle style and where you hold it to swing it.
The axe-style handle of more modern designs seems more comfortable and easier to hold, and less likely to slip without having to hold tighter during a swing.
I like having the extra length in the heavier hammers not just for the extra force in driving nails, but for the increased leverage when using the claw to pull nails out or pry the wood they’re in.