Know your hammers: a quick primer

A hammer is usually the first tool we learn to use – remember those childhood toys? Here's a quick primer on the different types you might need in your toolbox.

Know your hammers: a quick primer

Claw hammers

  • The basic everyday household hammer is a 450 gram (1 pound) curved-claw hammer.
  • For rough construction work, choose a 680 gram (1 1/2 pound) straight-claw hammer, sometimes called a ripping hammer.
  • For finished carpentry, use a light 350 gram (3/4 pound) hammer.

Pein hammers

  • Instead of a claw, these hammers have a second striking surface, called a pein (pronounced like "peen").
  • A rounded ball pein is used to shape soft metal.
  • The cabinetmaker's hammer has a long, thin cross pein which is used to start panel pins, as well as a flat face.
  • A bricklayer's hammer has a flat end as well as a long chisel-like face to score bricks.

Mallets and sledgehammers

  • To strike woodworking chisels and assemble wooden parts, use a carpenter's mallet.
  • Assemble other projects and pound out dents in metal with a rubber mallet.
  • Long-handled heavy sledgehammers are used for demolition work.
  • The short-handled club hammer can be used with stone-cutting chisels and to drive in stakes.

When you're hammering

  • Make a nail holder from a plastic drink bottle. Cut the top off an empty bottle, leaving a container 8.5 centimetres tall. File off any sharp edges or cover them with tape. Cut two 4 centimetre (1 3/4 inch) vertical slits 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) apart in the centre of one side. Slide the end of your belt through the slots for a homemade nail pouch.
  • Use corrugated metal fasteners to secure butt joints in light wooden frameworks. They make a stronger joint than nails, with less risk of splitting the wood.
  • When you're driving small nails into awkward spots, push the nail into a thin strip of cardboard to hold it in position while nailing and to shield the timber from an errant hammer blow.
  • A simple bicycling glove is a good defence against blisters and cramps when using a hammer or screwdriver for any length of time. The fingerless style allows complete mobility while the padded palm cushions your hand.
  • When nailing near the end-grain, try this to keep the wood from splitting: hold your nail upside down on the spot, hammer the pointy end two or three times, and you have a dulled point plus a countersink hole for the nail head. To be extra sure, drill a pilot hole first.

Keep this quick primer in mind and you'll be able to easily choose the best hammer for your job.

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