How to choose and use a hammer

  • By <I>James and Morris Carey </I>
  • Tuesday, July 3, 2012 5:14pm
  • Life

A hammer may be the oldest tool we know of, and perhaps the most vital.

There are more hammer styles than we have room to discuss here. Having said that, we would like to offer a few important basics that apply to all hammers.

First, always purchase a hammer with a wooden handle. In our experience, wood will absorb shock to your wrist, elbow and shoulder better than any other handle type. Steel with a rubber grip, fiberglass with a rubber grip and all the others we’ve tried cause fatigue and muscle pain with extended use.

Don’t purchase a hammer with a stiff handle just because it seems as if the handle will pull nails without breaking. Used properly, a hammer with a wooden handle will pull the largest nails without breaking.

Here’s how: Instead of pulling the nail in the conventional manner (claws over head), turn the hammer 90 degrees (inserting the nail between the claws as usual) and then pull the nail by laying the hammer on its side.

Pulling a nail sideways takes a moment longer, but less force is exerted on the hammer handle and on you. Oh, and your neighbors will be amazed when you show them your special trick.

By the way, there are other tools that exist specifically for pulling nails. They include the cat’s paw, the flat bar and the wrecking bar. All are available in an assortment of sizes.

Hammers sporting a milled face are used to frame floors, walls, ceilings and roofs. They are meant to strike a blow forceful enough to drive a large nail in two or three blows. The wafflelike face grips the nail head thus reducing the chance of hammer-to-nail slippage.

Hammers with a milled face should not be used for fine finish work. The jagged face will damage a smooth surface. Surface marks are OK on studs and joists because they are hidden behind wallboard. On door molding or exterior siding, such a hammer mark would be an eyesore.

The smooth-face hammer is most commonly referred to as the claw hammer. It is designed for lighter nailing on smooth surfaces such moldings, trim and cabinets. Although the face is smooth it is important to slightly roughen it so that it will grip the nail head. Do this by rubbing the face of the hammer on any concrete surface. Doing so will cause the hammer face to appear “brushed,” as in a brushed finish on a faucet.

Using these simple tricks will make driving a nail easier and safer. With less stress to the arm and body, assembling a project with nails becomes a pleasure, even when a nail gets bent.

For tips from James and Morris Carey, go to or call the listener hot line, 800-737-2474, ext. 59. The Careys are also on KRKO (1380-AM) from 6 to 10 a.m. every Saturday.

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