A reader wrote in, asking for lightweight framing hammer recommendations.
I need one for a lot of framing (and I can’t swing the big boys – looking for something around 20oz). – Brandon
This one took a bit of thought, but I offered what I feel are a couple of solid picks. Since Brandon asked about 20 oz hammers in particular, I limited myself to only consider 19 oz and 20 oz hammers. While framing hammers are available with 20 oz heads, there are going to be many more options if the range is widened to include 22 oz sizes.
For rough framework that won’t be visible once the project is finished, a milled or checkered face hammer is still going to be the better choice even at these sizes.
Wood Handle: Vaughan/Grayvik California Framer
If I were in the market for a new lightweight framing hammer with wooden handle, I would go for the USA-made Vaughan Grayvik California Framer 19 oz. As previously discussed, Grayvik-branded hammers are identical in design and function to Vaughan hammers, but as factory-seconds there might be blemishes in the finish or materials.
You can buy this USA-made hammer for just $10 from Harry Epstein. The Vaughan version is ~$27 via Amazon.
It is difficult to say whether there will be an appreciable difference between how a 19 oz hammer swings compares to a 20 oz, but if more powerful is desired then 22 oz seems like a better size to step up to.
Steel Handle: Estwing
I have used Estwing hammers for years, and have grown to really like their steel handles. The grips are cushiony, comfortable, shock-reducing, and long-lasting. Overall, the proportions seem just right, and the hammers feel very well balanced. Plus this style is still made in the USA.
They make a 20 oz milled-face framing hammer, E3-20SM, which is priced at about $36 via Amazon. 20 oz is not a common size, so local availability won’t be that great. The smooth face version, model E3-20S, is available at Home Depot locations (at least in my area), but as mentioned the milled face hammer will probably be better for framing applications.
If 20 oz is a little too light, Estwing offers many 22 oz versions in different lengths and styles. The 20 oz E3-20SM is 13.5″ long and the 22 oz E3-22SM is 16″ long. That extra 2 oz and 2.5″ length will both contribute to a more powerful swing, but could also make the hammer more fatiguing to use for long sessions.
The reduced-length E3-22SMR is 13.5″ long like the 20 oz version, but has a slightly heavier head, making it a nice middle ground option. However, it’s priced at about $40-45 online.
If price was a strong factor, I would buy the 22 oz E3-22SM ($28 via Amazon) and just choke up on the handle a bit. The difference in price between this hammer and the reduced length version is enough to buy the Grayvik hammer mentioned above.
20 oz vs. 22 oz Hammers?
Which is going to be less tiring to use, a 20 oz or 22 oz hammer? This seems like a tough question, and since I don’t use a framing hammer often or for long sessions, it’s not something I can answer.
Here’s what I’m thinking: the 22 oz hammer head is heavier and longer, which means it will be a little more tiring to use, but the 20 oz hammer will require more swings to sink each nail.
It’s a tough choice that basically comes down to working a little harder or a little longer. Which would you pick, if time didn’t equal money?
P.S. Thanks, Brandon, for the great question!
When I taught school I gave the seniors an Estwing hammer for graduation. I told them to look for things you only will have to buy once, and take care of it. You will be dollars ahead.
I still use one my grandfather had.
To the topic, I’m lucky to make it a day with a 16 oz hammer. Once you get tired and can’t hit the nail anymore, a heavier hammer isn’t much good. Course, I don’t make my living doing it either.
For framing work, which I do sporadically, I like the Grayvik all steel hammer I got from H.Epstein A while back. It has a magnetic nail starter that works with both single and double headed nails, and a flat edge on the head, which can be a help when toenailing. Same handle and same steel handle as the Vaughan hammer I also own, but with a plainer finish and half the purchase price. I have done misty small projects around the yard by myself, and the magnetic starter can be useful in some situations. I have no idea on head weight, other than I can tell it swings easier than a friend’s 22 pincer.
I meant 22 ouncer. Darn auto correct, LOL.
If you’re looking for something lightweight, consider a Stiletto hammer made from titanium. I’ve been using their 14 oz version – it’s got the same driving force as a 24 oz hammer (according to them), but much much more lightweight. It’s got a hickory handle as well – I much prefer wood handles to others.
I’ve been using it for the past 8-9 years on the job, and the only thing I would change is my work habits – I constantly use the claw for things I shouldn’t, and as a result it’s gotten quite dull at the point.
This is what I’m using:
Of course, it’s quite a bit more pricey than a steel hammer, but your shoulder and forearm will thank you after 10 hours!
I swing a dalluge titanium hammer with a wood handle.
Worth every penny.
Not cheap. I paid about 100 for mine. Conversely, my Stanley framing hammer cost about 30. That dalluge hammer is about half the weight, and drives nails further. It’ll save your arm. I still use the Stanley, but only for demo.
I read many of the comments on Amazon, and forgive my ignorance, but how does all that weight, speed, mass, density, material and geometry work to make a 16 oz hammer swing like a 20 ?
Does this titanium business all amount to snake oil ?
The marketing explanations are complete BS, in my opinion, and ladden with stretched truths. However, there is no argument that many people find titanium hammers to be easier to swing and less fatiguing after a whole day of framing.
My feeling is that the benefits are more related to hammer geometries and kinetics to give the hammer greater striking momentum. It’s not snake oil, but it’s not straightforward either.
I think the handle length, weight, and and weight distribution, plays a bigger role in Ti hammer performance than seems obvious at first. The faster the hammer head can be swung, the greater its momentum and striking energy.
I was told the main advantage to titanium was in it’s shock and vibration absorption. If you hold a titanium crowbar and strike it with a hammer, it transfers much less vibration to your hand than a similar steel bar would. I would assume the titanium hammer would behave similarly, sending less vibration to the user, meaning less fatigue at the end of the day. However, wood has similar properties, and a friend who is a true carpenter uses only wood handled hammers for construction, saving the all steel ones for demolition, so he doesn’t worry about handle breakage.
While it is true that on titanium has better vibration dampening properties than steel on average, today’s better steel hammers have shock-reducing alloys and handle designs.
Wood handles are also somewhat shock-reducing, but I believe those properties can change over the years as wood ages and dries out.
I had a Stiletto Titanium T-bone 15 that I swung everyday for a couple of years, I bought in to all of the hype about reduced vibration and stress injuries and so on.
I was a nice hammer, but not for the $225 my wife paid for it as a gift to me, Ti is nice but it has it’s limits — like anything harder then titanium — as in STEEL NAILS!! So you’ll be swapping out the faces at least yearly depending on usage.
As for the swinging and if it “hit harder”, personally I liked the lighter weight since at the end of the day it just felt easier to keep swinging.
I had to have surgery my arm, and afterwards the vibrations just seemed to be more intense with the Titanium as well as steel handled hammers.
I tried one of my apprentice’s dewalt wooden 17 oz and it was sweet, and went out that afternoon and bought one [should have bought another but that’s hindsight] I’d still be swinging it if it wasn’t for someone who needed a hammer and didn’t bother to ask he they could borrow it] So the quest for a replacement was started…
I went back to my roots and looked at Hart….. and not just looked but bought and love!! I swing a hart 18 oz daily — we do timber framing as well as custom homes and just wanted a good all round hammer that worked for everything — trust me get the Hart 18oz, save the extra $200 from the Titanium hammers and not worry about a thing – just oil the handle here and there and you’ll hand it to your grand kids and your joints will thank you for it!!
I agree. $225 for the stiletto units is redicilous.
The dalluge model I referenced to above is only about $100. I don’t think the geometry is as much as they imply, but I will say this: my arm feels like a million bucks after a full day of framing.
Steel and wood handled normal framing hammers leave me with tennis elbow. I’d check one out if you have a buddy with one.
I use a smooth face 16 oz Dalluge axe handle for everything, 2-3 swings for 16d sinkers, 1 or 2 taps to set, 1 more swing to sink. It’s not the weight of the hammer, it’s the snap at the end of your stroke. I’m a 48 yr old carpenter, My dad (GC since 74) used a 21 oz Stilletto, still has it. He always told me never to use more than 21 oz, I grew up using vaughn 21 oz. Pass on the titanium unless you need it to match your gucci tool belt lol. Hate the ax like edge of the estwing handle.
Thanks for the comments – I ended up with a 19 oz Vaughan Blue Max California framing hammer with the hatchet style handle. It swung the best of all the hammers I tried and I was able to use a coupon from my local building supply store. I was going to go with an Estwing, but I ultimately decided that in spite of it’s durability, the wooden handle felt easier to swing. (I can always replace the handle if I need to, right?) I just can’t justify the expense of a ti hammer.
It looks like you made a great choice! I tend to flip-flop about my preference towards axe-style handles, but with the Vaughan Blue Max it seems well executed.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and final decision!
Thats a good hammer, you wont regret it. I swung the same vaughn for 20 yrs, (same handle too) I only replaced it when I lost it due to a career change. I really like the axe handles. I should have mentioned always check the grain when buying wood handle tools, tight and vertical in line with the head.
I have an estwing 21oz weight-forward which packs quite a punch (they compare to a 28oz as far as impact). It’s definitely a love it or hate it hammer. I know a lot of people hate my hammer, but hey…it keeps it from walking off on me, so I call that an added bonus. If that extra ounce feels too much for you, they do have a 17oz. version of it as well. The orange guys used to carry it by me, but I haven’t seen one recently. Definitely hold on to one before you buy it…the ergonomics may not work for your hand.