Most do-it-yourselfers and homeowners have a conventional claw hammer in their toolbox or lying on a shelf. Lightweight, smooth-faced, and easy to handle, these hammers are perfect for hanging pictures, attaching trim, or for minor building projects.
A framing hammer might not be part of that collection—at least, not yet. For larger projects, a framing hammer can reduce effort, eliminate sore thumbs, and drive nails into wood with more force than regular claw hammers can.
What Is a Framing Hammer?
A framing hammer has a heavy head, a flat prybar-like claw, and a long handle for labor-efficient driving of nails or ripping apart boards on large construction projects.
Framing Hammer vs. Claw Hammer
At a quick glance, it's hard to tell the difference between a framing hammer and a conventional hammer, often known as a claw hammer.
Both hammers have steel heads with a striking face at one end for hammering in nails. Both have a claw at the other end for prying out nails. Both have wood, steel, or fiberglass handles that are often cushioned.
But once you pick up the hammers and look at them closely, differences are apparent in weight, length, hammer face, and type of claw.
Claw hammers tend to weigh just about a pound: 16 ounces. Some claw hammers are 10 ounces— perfect for putting up pictures or tapping in finish nails.
Framing hammers start where claw hammers end. Most framing hammers weigh between 16 and 22 ounces. Extra-heavy California framing hammers are 25 ounces and some are even 32 ounces—a full 2 pounds.
With handles in the 10- to 13-inch range, conventional claw hammers are easy to manage. The swing arc is short. Less handle means less overall weight to the hammer.
Framing hammer handles range from 14- to 18-inches long. Added length provides greater striking power. Length also gives more leverage when ripping boards apart.
Conventional claw hammers may have a milled face, but usually not. The smooth face on claw hammers reduces damage on surfaces where appearance matters. This makes smooth-faced claw hammers a good choice for baseboards, crown molding, window trim, door casing, wall paneling, or for face-nailing flooring.
What Is a Milled Face?
Milling is a grid-like, checkered, or waffle pattern that is forged into the face, or striking end, of a hammer. Milling adds grip when the hammer contacts the nail.
Smooth-faced framing hammers are available, but most tend to have milled faces. The ridging helps you pound harder with less fear of the hammer slipping from the nail head. Since framing isn't finish work, it doesn't matter if the hammer delivers ridges and pockmarks to the wood.
The namesake of the claw hammer is its distinctive rounded claw that has the perfect angle for pulling out nails. The claw allows the user to pry out nails by pulling backward. Difficult nails can even be started by pulling the hammer sideways.
Framing hammer claws are flatter. With just a moderate curve, framing hammer claws can be used for pulling nails, but not as well as with a claw hammer or a dedicated nail puller. Its flat claw excels at grabbing and pulling boards apart.
Milled face is typical
More difficult to swing
Pulls nails with difficulty
Claw easily rips boards apart
Smooth or milled face
Easier to swing
Pulls nails with ease
Difficult or impossible to rip boards apart
What to Consider When Buying a Framing Hammer
It's easy to buy the cheapest possible framing hammer or, the opposite, to assume that higher cost confers higher quality. But what is the best possible combination of qualities that make this framing hammer right for you?
All other factors being equal, is the price right for this framing hammer? It's easy to spend $200 or more on a framing hammer. If you're a professional and tools are often borrowed but not returned on job sites, cost may be a prohibitive factor for you.
The cheapest possible framing hammers are in the $10 to $20 range, but at 10 ounces or less, they barely qualify as framing hammers.
Most do-it-yourselfers should expect to pay around $30 to $75 for a framing hammer of decent quality.
Framing hammers' handles are steel, hardwood, or fiberglass and are a few inches longer than that of a normal claw hammer.
If you have problems with gripping and swinging these extended-length hammers, it helps to have a handle grip that extends a little beyond the handle's mid-point. The mid-point is where you'll start the nail, and sometimes you may even end up sinking the nail while grasping that mid-point.
Hickory and other wood handles do not have molded grips; the wood itself is shock-absorbant. So, wood handles are ideal when you think you'll need to hold the handle anywhere along the length of the handle.
- Material: Framing hammers have a steel or titanium head with extra ounces for greater inertia when driving nails.
- Milled Face: Framing hammers usually have a ridged, milled face to prevent slipping when the head strikes the nail.
- Claw: A nearly flat claw is standard on most framing hammers for easier prying and ripping.
- Side Pryer: To supplement the claw, some framing hammers have a V-shaped prying feature on the side of the head.
- Magnetic Nail Set: Found on most framing hammers is a V-shaped nail set at the top of the head that allows placement of the nail by striking the hammer on the working surface.
- Anti-Shock Handle: Steel- and fiberglass-handled framing hammers have a soft, cushioned grip to reduce vibration. Wood framing hammer handles absorb vibration, so they do not need a cushioned grip.
- Anti-Ring Claw: Some framing hammers have an asymmetrically shaped claw to mitigate an audible ring upon impact.
Where to Use / Not Use a Framing Hammer
Framing wall systems
Ripping boards apart
Any work where appearance matters
As with any other hammer or striking device, a framing hammer contacting a nail or anything hard can chip the material or the tool and create debris that could cause eye injury. Always wear safety glasses when using a framing hammer. Avoid glancing blows. Instead, strike the nail or surface squarely.
If the head is loose on the handle, repair or replace the hammer. Only use a framing hammer for attaching or prying out fasteners or pulling boards apart. Do not use the hammer for unintended uses, like breaking up concrete or mortar.
How to Use a Framing Hammer
Wear Protective Gear
Wear safety glasses before using the framing hammer. Due to their heavier weight, framing hammers can be very loud, despite the anti-ring features found on many hammers. So, it's recommended that you protect your hearing, too.
Place Nail on Nail Set
Lay the nail in the magnetized nail set—the slot at the top of the hammer. Make sure that the nail is resting straight in the slot, with the sharp end of the nail pointing outward.
Strike Hammer to Set Nail
Visually judge the general area where you want to place the nail. Remove your free hand so it isn't struck accidentally. Strike the hammer forcefully just once to place the nail firmly in the wood.
Swing With Hand Close to Head
Grip the upper half of the handle (the half closest to the hammer's head). Strike the nail two or three times to drive it farther into the wood.
Move Hand Farther Back on Handle
Slide the hand to the lower half of the handle. Continue striking the nail until the nail head is flush with the surface of the wood. Pockmarks on the wood from the milled head indicate that the nail is flush with the surface of the wood.
Buying vs. Renting a Framing Hammer
Most rental yards do not carry framing hammers. Given the reasonable cost of framing hammers and lack of rental availability, it's best to buy one instead of renting one.
Most framing hammers cost $20 to $40. More expensive framing hammers with titanium heads claim to deliver the same force as heavier steel head hammers, but with less weight. Titanium head framing hammers cost more than $100.
Keeping the Framing Hammer in Good Condition
Keep the framing hammer dry after use to prevent rust from developing. To preserve the milled face, never strike the framing hammer on concrete, masonry, metal (other than nails), brick, stone, or other surfaces that may flatten the milled grooves.
When ripping boards apart, do not exceed the framing hammer handle's strength capacity. Switch to a crowbar or prybar for boards that do not easily come apart with the framing hammer's claw.
When to Replace Your Framing Hammer
Discard and replace the framing hammer if
- Face is heavily chipped
- Face has mushroomed
- Cracks have developed in the head
- Handle is splintered or bent
- Head is loose on the handle