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Hammer buying guide

How could Project Hammer not have a buying guide for hammers?  Like most articles, I will focus on general hammer use by home owners and do-it-yourselfers (DIY).  Also, this article will touch on the two main types of construction hammers which are curved claw hammers and straight claw or framing hammers.  For simplicity in this article, I will call the curved claw hammer just “claw hammer” and the straight claw or framing hammer “framing hammer“.  I will touch on things like weight, grip, material, and design.

A hammer is just a hammer, right?

In theory, all construction hammers serve the same basic purpose.  To hit things.  Usually nails.  But the experience and efficacy of the right hammer argues that they are very different.  If I am hanging a picture frame with a small nail and I pull out a 28oz milled face framing hammer, I am bound to cause some undue damage.  Sort of like using a fire hydrant to douse a match.  On the flip side, if I try to drive a box of faming nails with 10oz claw hammer, I will be there all day long.  So what should you consider for general use?  Do you need more than one?  Let’s dive into a few considerations and categories when choosing a construction hammer.

Click “Shop this article” to jump to recommended hammers in each category. 

Click “What do I use” to jump to what I make sure is part of my collection.

Parts of a hammer

Parts of a hammer

Both a claw hammer and a framing hammer have similar parts.

The head is usually made of metal. It will have a handle that is either wood, metal, fiberglass, or some sort of polymer (plastic) material.  It will have a neck that connects the handle to the head.  Having said that, some hammers are forged from a single piece of metal and do not have a neck.

The face is exactly what you think.  The area you use to hit stuff.  The face will either be smooth or milled.  A milled face is specifically designed to interact with a nail head to decrease the chances of slipping.  This could also be applied to anything you chose to hit with your hammer such as a cat’s paw or pry bar.  Generally, you will want to go with a smooth face hammer unless you are a contractor or professional that may want both a milled face and a smooth face hammer. 

The claw will either be curved or mostly straight.  The claw’s primary purposes are extraction and prying.  As you can imagine, a curved claw is not ideal for prying but it can extract small to medium sized nails from moderately dense material.  I have also used my framing hammer’s claw end to dig holes, punch through plywood, and pry apart mostly anything.  I have even used it to pull myself up into tight spaces by hooking it around framing like a climber’s ice pick.  

The handle is also what you may think.  It is what you use to “handle” the hammer.  The handle can be made from a variety of materials.  All of which have their pros and cons.  In the case of polymer or metal handles, there is typically an over molded grip to provide grip and absorb shock.  The length, thickness, and design of the handle contribute to their desired purpose and preference.

What to consider?

  1. Type
  2. Design
  3. Material
  4. Weight
  5. Specialty


I already touched on this earlier in the article, but you are generally going to focus on two types of hammers for your home or DIY projects.  

  • Curved “claw” hammer – A claw hammer is designed for light to medium duty use.  These are typically much smaller and very economical.  They are light weight and can fit into a small tool box that can be stored in a closet, cabinet, or on a shelf in the pantry.  They are going to be used to assemble furniture, hang picture frames, and craft projects.  You can find some heavier weighted claw hammers but that is not very common.
  • Straight claw “framing” hammer – Framing hammers are your medium to heavy duty tools.  They are used for a variety of DIY projects all the way to professional contractors.  Their defining characteristic is a straight claw, increased weight, and a larger face surface.


Not to be confused with “type”, the design of a construction hammer is largely due to the ergonomics and special features of the hammer.  

  • Ergonomics – This is entirely personal preference with a little bit of environment added in.  Do you like the look and feel of it?  Will it suit the working conditions?  Then go with it! 
  • Special features – Not to be confused with specialty hammers, special features of a construction hammer could be a consideration.  Some framing hammers have a magnetic head with a groove in the top of the face to place a nail.  That allows someone to drive a nail with one hand.  They are usually designed for framing nails (aka 16d or 16 penny nails).  Hammer heads could also have grooves in the side of the claw to extract nails.  I would consider a milled face a special feature as well.


Material is similar to design.  Some of it is personal preference and the rest is about the intended use and environment the hammer will be used for.  Here are some common combinations.

  • Metal head & wooden handle – A classic combo for a classic tool.  These are what most think of when they think of a hammer.
  • Metal head and handle – These are made out of a single piece of forged metal with an over molded handle.
  • Metal head and composite handle – These have a metal head that connects to a fiberglass or plastic handle.


For me, this is one of the most important considerations when purchasing a hammer.  Here are some general head weight ranges.  Keep in mind that some hammers ride the line between ranges and could double for both use cases.

  • Under 16oz – Light duty use around the house or craft projects.  Great for household tool kits.  These are mostly claw hammers.
  • 16oz to 20oz – Medium duty use for DIY projects, furniture, and finish work.  These are good mix of claw and framing hammers.  These hammers can do a lot even at a lighter weight.  I find them to be a happy medium for most DIY projects.
  • Over 20oz – Heavy duty use for anything and everything that needs a good pounding.  These are mostly framing hammers.  They are meant to take a beating and pack a wallop.  If you are working on a framing crew, you must have something with enough weight to do the job.  This is your tool.


This article is not intended to touch on specialty hammers.  I did want to call some of these out as you will see them with the construction hammers in stores and online.  It is good to be able identify them generally.  The most common being rubber mallet, dead blow, sledge, ball peen, and tack.

What do I use?

I own quite a few different construction hammers and specialty hammers but I will focus on three.  Before I jump into weights and types of each, I will call out that I have a very specific preference towards full metal hammers.  For light duty work, I do not have much of a preference.  I do not expose them to tough environments or stress them beyond their intended use.  Any old claw hammer does the job.  However, for my framing hammers, I always carry a full metal hammer in a few different weights

My must haves are the Estwing 22oz long handle, Estwing 20oz leather grip, and Estwing 16oz hammers.  I love these hammers.  I carry the 22oz and 20oz hammers with me on all jobs.  I could get away with just the 22oz hammer in most cases but I wanted something a little lighter weight to carry around on my belt all day.  Plus, 20oz is the heaviest hammer Estwing makes with a leather wrapped handle.  And those are cool.  My 16oz is used for basically everything else from doll houses to furniture.

When I started building, my father gave me one of his Estwing framing hammers.  Probably just to borrow, but I kept it.  Oh well!  That is probably where my loyalty started.  Over the years using many different hammers, I have found that I still love the Estwing design and material.  In fact, I still have that hammer from my father and it gets regular use.  It is my 22oz hammer.  Not to say that other brands and hammers are not durable or have the similar designs and materials.  These are just my favorite and very budget friendly.  Shop some other great options below.

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Curved "Claw" Hammers

Straight Claw "Framing" Hammers

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