Choosing the Right Hammer for the Job

Woodwork hammers are of two basic types, the claw and the cross-pein. A 450-570 gm (16-20 oz.) claw hammer is a necessity as it drives and pulls out most nails. A cross-pein hammer is a useful addition for small pins and tacks.

Choose a hammer with a forged steel head as cheap cast ones tend to shatter.

Claw hammers have steel or wooden shafts, the best wooden ones being hickory. Steel shafts are stronger, but they have the slight disadvantage that the rubber or plastic grip becomes slippery in hot weather — wash the grip in cold water if this happens.

The cutaway section of the claw should taper to a fine V capable of pulling out fine pins.

The cross-pein hammer has a tapered end — the pein — on the head, for starting pins and tacks held between the fingers.

The pin hammer is the lightest version of the cross-pein hammer, and is used on pins which a heavier hammer would bend.

The pin push is a time saver for fixing hardboard or thin ply to framing. A panel pin fits into the end tube, which is held against the hardboard or ply and driven in by a push on the spring-loaded handle.

Using hammers

Hitting a nail cleanly needs a firm stroke, pivoting from the elbow with no wrist movement. Grip the hammer handle near the end, not in the middle, and keep your eye on the nail. Start the nail by tapping, then swing from the elbow. Hit the nail with the handle at right angles to the nail at the moment of impact.

Good balance is essential in a hammer to obtain good results — the best test of a well-balanced claw hammer is if it comes to rest when stood on the claw.

The shape of the face — the striking part of the head — is important, too. It should be slightly domed so that if you hit a nail at an angle, the nail will still go in straight. The edge of the face should be very slightly chamfered.

Keep hammer faces clean and free from grease by occasionally rubbing them lightly on a flat sheet of sandpaper — a slipping hammer face causes nails to bend.

Preserve wooden handles by rubbing them at least once a year with raw linseed oil. Rub the oil in liberally with a rag for several minutes, then wipe the handle dry.

Take care not to touch finished surfaces with the plastic or rubber grip of a steel-shafted hammer, as it leaves black marks.


Use pin punches (they are sometimes known as nail sets) for driving headless nails or panel pins below the surface of timber, leaving a hole which is then filled and painted over so that no fixing is visible. Use them also to finish driving in nails where you do not want to mark the surface with the hammer head. Punches are usually 100 mm (4 in) long and point sizes vary in diameter from 1.5 to 4.5 mm (1/16- to 3/16 in) — use a size slightly smaller than the diameter of the nail head.

Buy the square-headed rather than the round-headed type, which can roll away when put down on the workbench.

Punches are hollow ground at the top so that they locate centrally on the nail head and stay there while you drive the nail home by tapping the punch with a hammer.

Punch nail heads just below the surface — to roughly the same depth as the diameter of the nail head.

If you chip the end off a punch point, grind it back to above the chip line. This leaves the punch with a larger point than before, but it is still usable. You can restore the point to its original size by grinding down the tapered end along its length.

Removing nails

Partially driven nails are levered out with the claw of a claw hammer — hook the nail head in the V of the claw and remove the nail with a series of pulls. To pull out a long nail, slip a block of wood under the hammer head when the nail is half out and continue levering on that.

Use wood `softening’ — a scrap piece of wood — also to protect the surface you are levering on.

Pincers pull out nails that a claw hammer cannot — for example, a wire nail with the head off. A pair of 150 mm (6 in) pincers is the best all-round size.

For a lot of rough nail pulling, a nail puller — also known, significantly, as a wrecking bar — is useful. This is cleft at one end, for pulling nails, and has a chisel-type blade at the other, which is useful for raising floorboards.

If a nail defies all efforts to remove it, punch it in and fill the hole over it, or chisel away the wood round it until you can apply the pincers’ jaws.

Replacing a hammer handle

Saw off and push out the old handle, file the top of the new one to fit into the hammer head, then cut two slots down from the top of the new handle, making them two-thirds of the head’s depth.

Drive the handle into the head and saw off the surplus wood. The handle must be dry and well-seasoned to stay tight — to ensure that it is, leave it in a barely warm oven for an hour before fitting.

Drive wedges — either hardwood homemade ones or metal bought ones — into the slots. When the handle is absolutely tight, file the top and the wedges flush with the head. Rub the handle with linseed oil.

22. June 2011 by admin
Categories: Hand Tools, Woodworking | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Choosing the Right Hammer for the Job


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