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Next to a screwdriver, your hammer is likely the most reached-for item in your toolbox. While most often used to drive nails or pull them back out, hammers are actually very versatile tools. Depending on the design and weight, you can use a hammer to drive much larger objects than nails, such as spikes. And of course, you can use the right hammer for demolition, to break apart rocks or concrete, to shape metal, or even to apply force to a delicate surface that you don’t want marred.
While the basics of hammers are simple—they consist of a wooden, metal, or fiberglass handle with a metal head used for striking other objects—there are a lot of different hammer types and designs out there. It should be noted that hammers often are classified by weight, but that weight refers to the weight of the metal head, not the weight of the entire tool.
We researched a wide variety of the most popular hammers available today, and then whittled the choices down to those we feel are the best suited to the average DIYer, renter, or homeowner looking to tackle various tasks around their home.
Here are the best hammers available now.
Best Overall: Stanley 16-Ounce FatMax Xtreme AntiVibe Rip Claw Nailing Hammer
Type: Claw | Weight: 16 ounce | Handle Material: Steel
Large strike face
Few complaints that it's not for heavy-duty use
Stanley is a big name among tool manufacturers, so it's only natural that their 51-163 16-Ounce FatMax Xtreme takes the top spot for good hammers to buy. This one goes beyond what most hammers offer in design and build. While it easily can drive nails into hard and thick woods with its 16-ounce, all-steel construction, it does it in a way that is meant to protect the user.
Hammering repeatedly can lead to many problems with hands and wrists over time, including carpal tunnel syndrome, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The vibrations of each impact can stress the bones and tendons holding everything together. If you will be using a hammer a lot, this one minimizes the dangers by absorbing most of the impact of each strike. The handle is also designed to reduce the torque placed on the wrists and elbows as you swing.
Best Mallet: TEKTON Double-Faced Soft Mallet, 35 mm
Type: Mallet | Weight: 12 ounce | Handle Material: Steel
Rubber face and plastic face
Hollow steel rubberized handle
Small head size
The toughest hammer isn't always the best for some projects. If you are looking for a versatile hammer to use for more delicate projects, the Tekton 30812 Double-Faced Soft Mallet will get the job done. The dual soft faces—one side is black rubber and the other is red plastic—are better for hitting surfaces you don't want to damage as you apply a lot of force to each strike. This is perfect for protecting fragile surfaces or completed finishes while you hammer.
The body of the hammer is meant to keep the whole tool light if you need something that you can comfortably carry and use for long periods of time. The shaft and handle are made of tubular steel, which reduces the overall weight of the tool. The soft, rubber grip will also keep the hammer comfortably planted in your hands while you swing and strike.
Best Budget: Stanley 51-106 13-Ounce Wood Hammer
Type: Claw | Weight: 13 ounce | Handle Material: Wood
Finished wood handle
Not for heavy-duty use
Sometimes, finding a good hammer is a matter of personal preference. For some people, nothing can quite compare to the feel and weight of a wooden-handled hammer when it's time to drive nails home. Wood is old-school technology, but with hammers like the Stanley 51-106, it still has a lot to offer. It offers a level of ergonomic customization that metal and rubber simply can’t match. And when the price is this reasonable, so much the better.
Like other wood handles, the 51-106 will change to fit your grip the more you use it as the wood slowly wears over time. Don’t worry; this is natural and rarely compromises the overall strength of the hammer. The wood is heat treated and polished to a visual shine to increase its overall strength. The shaft is also tempered in its weak spots to reduce the possibility of chipping and splitting the wood as you strike.
Best Stubby: IIT 32380 12-Ounce Stubby Hammer
Type: Claw | Weight: 12 ounce | Handle Material: Fiberglass
Perfect for use in close quarters
Not for heavy-duty use
Somewhat awkward for large hands
The IIT 32380 12-Ounce Stubby is meant for light-duty projects where you will find yourself hammering for hours on end. The lightweight, ergonomic handle is covered in a soft rubber comfort-grip that will work for both right and left handed individuals, and the stubby size makes this tool ideal for working in confined quarters, or carrying out around-the-house repairs and simple carpentry tasks.
When it comes to weight, the Stubby is just right: at 12 ounces, it isn't too heavy nor is it too light. The steel head is strong enough to survive repeated abuse for long projects, while the weight is convenient for the times you need a little extra force in your swing. At 8 inches in length, it is also a perfect size for carrying around on your toolbelt when not in use.
Best Lightweight: Olympia Tools 8-Ounce Wood Claw Hammer
Type: Claw | Weight: 8 ounce | Handle Material: Wood
Great for light tasks
Head not magnetized
If pounding in nails to hang pictures is just about the most action your hammer ever sees, there’s no need for a heavy tool made for more rigorous tasks. Instead, a lightweight hammer like the Olympia Tools 8-Ounce Wood Claw Hammer gets the job done very effectively, but with less wear-and-tear on your hands and wrists, and less potential damage to your walls should you misjudge your swing.
The hammer has a solid wood handle that absorbs some of the strike impact, is very durable, and just plain looks good. The business end of the tool is drop-forged alloyed steel with a curved claw opposite the face for use in pulling nails back out of walls or other surfaces.
At under a pound in total weight, and measuring just 11.5 inches in length, the hammer won’t take up much room in your toolbox, nor will it weigh you down.
Best for Metal: Estwing Tinner's Hammer
Type: Tinner’s | Weight: 18 ounce | Handle Material: Steel
Solid, quality construction
While tinner's hammers are mostly intended for shaping sheet metal and other metalwork, they are also useful for driving nails through tough wood or metal. The Estwing T3-18 will give you 18 ounces to play with when you want extra force and durability behind your swing.
Despite the size and weight, this hammer comes with shock reduction grip to minimize the amount of shock and vibration your wrists absorb after a strike. This type of design tries to keep the shock in the hammer, so your bones and ligaments don't take the brunt of the force. The hammer is properly weighted between the head and claw, which is forged directly with the handle as one piece for a well-balanced feel in your grip.
Best Club Hammer: Estwing Sure Strike 3-Pound Drilling Hammer MRF3LB
Type: Drilling | Weight: 3 pounds | Handle Material: Fiberglass
Forged steel head
Rubberized grip on handle
Some people may find it too heavy
You’ll feel like Thor when you give the Estwing Sure Strike 3-Pound Drilling Hammer a swing. Drilling hammers, also called club hammers, are one step below sledgehammers in terms of power and weight, so this is a tool you’ll count on for the toughest tasks, such as driving chisels into brick, pounding nails into the hardest woods, demolition, or driving stakes into wood, the ground, or other hard surfaces.
The double-faced hammer has a hardened, tempered steel head and an 11-inch heavy-duty fiberglass handle with a ribbed, easy-grip jacket that keeps the tool securely in your grasp even during the most powerful swing. Its total weight is 3.51 pounds, which is heavy, but not overly so for most people. It’s a great choice for anyone who needs a hammer for tough jobs around the house or yard.
Hammering for more than a few blows can really take a toll on your hands. That’s why our top choice of hammers is the Stanley FatMax Xtreme (view at Walmart), which is designed to greatly minimize vibration and impact. But if you need a heavyweight hammer to tackle demolition or to drive nails, chisels, or stakes into the hardest surfaces, reach instead for the Estwing Sure Strike 3-Pound Drilling Hammer (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in a Hammer
There are three basic materials used for hammer handles: wood, fiberglass, and steel.
Wood is the classic hammer handle, and still preferred by many. It’s fairly lightweight, doesn’t transmit a lot of vibration to your hand and wrist, and with enough use, wooden handles tend to “form” a little bit to your hand over time. Still, wooden handles are the likeliest to break and they can be slippery. They’ll also rot or warp if left out in rough conditions or exposed to moisture. Generally, you can replace a wooden hammer handle if it breaks, however.
Fiberglass handles are not as light as wood, but weigh less than steel. Fiberglass is also good at reducing vibration from hammer blows; this can be a major issue if you are using your hammer for a lengthy work session. Because fiberglass doesn’t conduct electricity, these hammers are a good choice if you’ll be working in an area with live wires. Nor will fiberglass rot or warp over time. On the downside, you won’t be able to replace the handle should it break. Typically, fiberglass handles have a rubber or composite grip to prevent the tool from slipping out of your hand.
Steel hammer handles are the heaviest, but also the strongest, making them a favorite for demolition work. Steel transmits a great deal of vibration, however, which means you could end up with sore wrists and arms by the end of your work session. Steel hammers are generally one piece of forged metal from handle to head, unlike fiberglass and wooden hammers, giving them excellent durability. Typically, these hammers have a rubber or composite grip to help reduce some of the vibration and make it easier to keep a hold of the tool when your hands get sweaty.
There are a lot of different types of hammers out there, each with a specific purpose, although there is a lot of overlap between many of them. Here are some of the most common types of hammer.
Claw: This is the most common type of hammer. The head has a slightly curved, forked claw that’s useful for pulling nails out of wood and other materials, and a smooth face that won’t mar the wall as you drive the nail home.
Framing: These hammers are very similar to claw hammers, but the claw is straight, rather than curved. Often, framing hammers have a slightly textured face that helps hold nails in place as they are struck.
Ball Peen: The head of this hammer has a flat face on one side and a round, somewhat ball-shaped face on the other. There is no claw. Ball peen hammers are mostly used for metalwork.
Club: Also called drilling hammers, these tools with two short, flat faces are basically smaller sledgehammers. Club hammers are great for light demolition, as well as driving chisels and wedges.
Rubber Mallet: Shaped much like a club hammer, but with a rubber head instead of metal, mallets are not used to drive nails, but rather, to add some force when driving stakes or chisels, building furniture, working with upholstery, or similar tasks where you need more power than your hands provide alone, yet you don’t want to damage the surface upon which you are working.
Tinner's: These hammers have a square face and a sharp claw without a fork. They are mostly used for metalwork, including hammering sheet metal and automotive repairs.
Weight and Length
A hammer that weighs too much will tire you out, but go too light and you sacrifice strike power. It should be noted here that a hammer’s weight refers to just the weight of the steel head, not the weight of the entire tool.
You’ll find claw hammers weighing as little as 8 ounces and monsters weighing as much as 32 ounces, but for the average DIYer, a tool that’s between 16 and 20 ounces is best. Go towards the bottom of that range if you’ll mostly use the hammer for hanging pictures and similar light tasks, and towards the upper end of the range if you’ll be doing framing or similar construction activities.
When it comes to length, longer isn’t always better. While it’s true that a longer hammer lets you build up more momentum for a more powerful blow, it’s also true that such a hammer weighs more than its shorter counterparts, and is generally not necessary for the average DIYer.
As a general rule, choose a claw hammer that’s between 12 and 16 inches in length for typical around-the-house repairs and tasks.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was written by Michelle Ullman, the tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs.