A hammer is not a one-size-fits-all tool. For most homeowners, a finishing hammer with a claw will be the hammer most often used, but it’s beneficial to have on hand a mallet, sledgehammer, and large framing hammer if you will be tackling large carpentry projects.
The standard hammer is a 16-ounce, curved-claw finish hammer. It is designed for driving, setting, and pulling nails. Choose a hammer with a smooth finish, a high-carbon steel head, and a quality handle made of hickory, fiberglass, or solid steel. Less expensive steel handles often have hollow cores that are not as efficient at transmitting force to the head. This is a tool that needs to feel comfortable, so heft all the finish hammers available before purchasing.
Straight-claw framing hammers – usually with a 20-ounce or heavier head – are used for framing walls and other heavy-duty tasks. The extra weight helps drive large nails with fewer swings. Most framing hammers are too heavy for finish carpentry, where control is of primary importance.
A mallet with a non-marking rubber or plastic head is the best tool for driving chisels without damaging the tools. Mallets are also useful for making slight adjustments to a workpiece without marring the surface of the wood.
A sledgehammer or maul is effective for demolishing old construction or adjusting the position of framing members.
Framing hammers vary in size, length, and handle material. Handle types include fiberglass, solid steel, hollow core, and wood. Hammers typically range in length from 14 to 18″. Most framing hammers have a head weighing at least 20 oz., but lighter and heavier models are available. Some heads feature a waffle pattern across the face that increases the hammer’s hold on the nail for more efficiency and accuracy. Framing hammers have straight claws for prying boards.