Let me paint you a picture. You’re outside. It’s in the middle of July in Kansas. The temperature is over one-hundred degrees. You had put off building a new deck for the last few months and now when you finally get the time to start it is in the middle of this heat wave. Your hammer that your father used and that his father used before him is sitting on the ground next to you. Most of the wooden handle is next to your foot. The head of the hammer, along with what is left of your broken handle lies a few feet away. Sweat is pouring off your head as you stare at the broken hammer before you. You could try and unwedge the wood from the head of the hammer and start over again with a new handle, but would it be worth it? Or, would it make more sense to get yourself a new hammer? Would it make more sense to get something that is going to last you a lifetime? That’s where we come in at ToughAssTools
What to Look For
So, you’re in the market for a new hammer but you don’t want to buy just anything off the shelf. You want something that is going to last, something that you can pass down to your son. We’re going to take some of the guesswork out of this for you by suggesting three different hammers for you to choose from but before we get into that let’s dive into a few points that should be considered before buying hammer. There are so many options that can be chose from but in this article we are going to act like you are your average do-it-yourselfer. You’re not looking for a top of the line framing hammer but instead a standard sixteen to twenty ounce rip hammer.
The first thing that should be considered is the handle. If you have a bad handle then the best head in the world isn’t going to make a difference. When people picture a hammer they envision the metal head and the wooden, most likely hickory, handle. This is for good reason. It’s been the typical hammer for centuries. But, we’re in the twenty-first century now and it is time to do away with the old school and bring in the new. The best handles nowadays are either going to be steel or fiberglass. The wooden handles, as shown in the short story above, tend to break rather easily. This leaves you with a broken handle and the pain of having to get a new handle and wedge it into the head. The fiberglass handles are much more resistant to wood from breaking but are still wedged into the head. In my opinion the best of the best is going to be steel. A steel handle is normally a one piece construction throughout. This removes all doubt of the head separating from the handle. The only downside of a steel handle is that the reverberations are more intense and may cause some discomfort in the user’s wrist or elbow. (There are shock absorbing handle covers that come with some hammers to offset this.) Most handles come in between sixteen to twenty inches. In an effort to lower the weight of the hammer some manufacturers have taken to lightening the weight of the head and extending the handle of the hammer. This extension allows for the same force as a shorter hammer but lowers the overall weight of the hammer.
The second thing to look for is the type of claw that you will be getting with your hammer. Most people recommend to get the standard straight claw also known as a rip claw. This is easiest when trying to extract nails or tacks or to even try to wedge into some boards. The curved claw is meant for more intricate work such as pulling small finish nails out of your work with little or no damage to the wood. For the average DIYer I would recommend the straight claw.
Thirdly, is the actual face of the hammer. If you look at framing hammers you will notice that most of them have a serrated or edged faces. This is done to make it easier to grip onto the nails when driving. This feature is mainly used by full time carpenters and is not a necessity for a do-it-yourselfer. The risk you run when using a milled or edged face is that you can leave impact marks on your finished product. This possibility alone scares off most novice carpenters.
Sticking with the face of the hammer there is another option that some hammers come with. That is the magnetic face. The purpose of this is to allow the nails to stick slightly so that when you begin driving the nail will not fall and roll away during a swing. This is a luxury feature and again is not needed for the do-it-yourselfer. But, if you want pay a little bit more the feature won’t hurt anything.
The last thing to consider when buying a hammer is the weight. You will see all different kinds of weights on Amazon.com when looking at rip hammers. (Example link of the Stanley 51-163.) The weight of the hammer is calculated by weighing the entire unit. (Not just the head but everything.) Most DIYs only really need a hammer between sixteen to twenty ounces. Anything larger than that may be cumbersome to use. The larger the hammer the more power you have but also the more damage you can cause. (To yourself or to your project.) You’ll notice that woodcrafters use some of the lightest hammers out there so that they can finish their work with the utmost care.
Good, Better, Best
Ok, ladies and gentlemen we have gone over what to look for in a hammer. Now it is time to dig into a few of the hammers that are out on the market today. What I like to do when looking at something to buy, especially a tool, is to take the Good, Better, Best approach. What is this you may ask? Well, in my opinion there are three types of consumers in this world. The first being the ones who only want to pay the bare minimum, the second is the middle of the road guy who can afford to spend a little bit more, and the third being the premium money is no object kind of guy. We all wish we could be that last guy but the truth is most of fall into the either the second or first category.
Now with the Good, Better, Best approach I do not like to recommend junk. Hence the name Good. I will recommend a good product that will last for some time but if you want a nicer product than we can move up to the better and if you want the premium then we move up to the best. In this article I am going to choose a rip hammer based off the model I discussed above. The question is what kind of consumer are you? (I’m ashamed to admit that I’m the bare minimum guy!)
TEKTON 30124 Jacketed Fiberglass Rip Hammer
Let’s start with the Good. For the money it doesn’t really get better than this folks. If you are one of those guys who don’t want to spend a lot of money than this is your baby. The TEKTON offers quite a bit even at it’s lower cost.
Just like we talked about earlier in the article the TEKTON avoids the hickory handle and opts in for the more durable fiberglass. While the fiberglass is stronger than the wood we still don’t get to the level of a one piece construction hammer. The manufacturer of this hammer claims that the ‘head is permanently bonded to the handle,‘ but I am sure that most of you know that permanent doesn’t mean permanent . There is still a risk of this handle breaking or of the head becoming loose after repeated use. But, hey this is the budget hammer and not the top of the line.
With a fiberglass handle you have a more sturdy hammer but you also have higher impact vibrations when using. Over extended periods of use these impacts can cause injury to your wrist or elbow. In an effort to solve this dilemma TEKTON added a molded impact absorbing poly-jacket to the handle. While the impacts are obviously still there this jacket lessens them significantly and will allow for extended use with a much lower risk of injury. The jacket also comes with an anti-slip grip will work even in the sweatiest of circumstances.
The 30124 TEKTON comes in at just over 1.8 pounds and has a total length of thirteen inches. The head of the hammer is your basic generic head. There is nothing special about it but again we are at the cheapest price level. There is no milled or edged face on this one. There are no magnets in place to hold your nails up right. The one thing worth mentioning on the head of this hammer is the claw. The hammer that I suggested above is a straight claw that has sharpened chisel ends. This will allow you to wedge that claw in between a couple of tightly fitted boards and start prying away. An example picture from TEKTON’s website is shown below. I can almost hear the wood splitting…
Overall this is a great hammer for the guy on a budget. I scoured the internet looking for any kind of negative feedback on this thing and I honestly couldn’t find any. The worst that I could find was that in some instances the molded jacket comes slightly loose from the fiberglass handle. This caused some slippage when attempting to hammer. Besides that, there really isn’t anything negative about this product.
If we look at Amazon.com we can see that there are thirty plus reviews out there and they are all nearly five stars. I know I’ve said it before but you aren’t going to find anything better at this price range. If you were wondering why this hammer was so cheap you could probably guess why. It’s imported, from China. Now, before you cringe that actually doesn’t mean what it used to. Chinese products have been getting better and better over the years and again you get what you pay for.
If you are on the tight budget than this is your hammer. However, if you are looking for the next step up and an American made product then I suggest that you continue reading below.
Estwing E20S 20 oz Straight Claw Hammer with Smooth Face & Leather Grip
Ok, folks it is onwards and upwards to the better hammers on the market. This next one I am really a fan of. It is made by the Estwing company. For those of you who are not familiar with them they started all the way back in 1923 and are quickly approaching the centennial mark. Their company was founded and is still located today in Rockford, Illinois. (About an hour west of Chicago.) They do their own manufacturing and their hammers are American made. Yes, you heard right these hammers are made by your neighbor.
One of the things Estwing is famous for is their solid steel construction. Just like in the introduction and with the first hammer the worst thing to happen during a job is your handle breaking or the head becoming unwedged. You have to stop everything your doing to fix or to get a new hammer. It is a pain in the ass. You don’t have that worry with this Estwing product. It is a one piece steel construction that will not break. Once they have finished smelting the hammer they go the extra mile and do a full polish of the metal before sending it to the consumer.
The total length of the hammer comes in at twelve and a half inches and with a total weigh just over one pound. The handle comes with a leather grip which is rather unusual. Most of the time you will see a rubber or nylon grip to reduce shock when hammering. While the leather is decorative and looks nice on the eyes it’s overall effectiveness on absorbing shock is less than the Nylon versions that I have seen. Another concern of mine was that the leather would be slippery when working on a job and would cause you to lose your grip. I read a few reviews and one of them stuck out to me, “The grip does start off slippery compared to your everyday hammer but it will “break-in” and not only look better, it starts to have a better grip.” That reviewer claimed to have this Estwing product for over four years. So, maybe that is the trick. You just have to wear down the leather almost like a baseball glove. That being said there are still other reviewers out there who have claimed that the leather is just too slippery. In some instances people have claimed that it flew out of their hands during a swing.
The head on this hammer is not edged or milled but that is ok for your standard hammer. This head comes rounded and holds up over the years without any major quality issues. The head is not magnetized either. There are no bells and whistles here. The claw is your standard straight rip and won’t give you any trouble extracting nails or wedging between boards.
Overall this is a high quality hammer that is going to last you for decades. Yes, decades. Estwing has been doing this for over one-hundred years and I can assure you that they know what they are doing. In the off chance that your hammer does break they even offer a warranty on their steel hammers. More info can be found by clicking here and going to their official website.
The only thing negative on this hammer is the leather grip and even that is controversial. Some people love it and others hate it. It just depends if it is your style or not. Although it would be pretty neat to pass this hammer down in ten or fifteen years to your son. The leather would be perfect by then! If we take a look at Amazon.com we can see that there are nearly three-hundred reviews out there and nearly everyone is between four and five stars. All of the low star ones are complaining about that darned leather handle. No other complaints found.
If you’re looking for a rip hammer that is going to last you forever but not break the bank than this is the one for you. However, if you’re still left wanting more than by all means keep reading my friends.
Fiskars IsoCore 20 oz General Use Hammer, 15.5 Inch
This one was a toss up folks. I was torn between going the Estwing or the Fiskars for the best rip hammer on the market today. After some internal debate I decided to go with the Fiskars. Both of them are great hammers but the thing that sold me on the Fiskars is the handle. Remember that leather handle from before? While it looks nice hanging in your garage it doesn’t do much for shock absorption. The Fiskars comes with a patented Shock Control System that claims to reduce shock and vibration by up to four times. Along with the shock absorption system the handle also comes with a soft grip feature that sculpts to your hand, large and small dimples where you fingers rest to prevent blisters, and it is one piece construction so there is no risk of the head separating from your handle. But hey, don’t listen to me check out the YouTube video talking about this hammer’s shock absorption:
We have a one piece solid steel construction that is finished with a rust resistant coating ensuring that your hammer will last. We have an amazing shock absorbing handle that will help with any carpel tunnel or elbow issues you may have and will not cause you to lose your grip unlike the leather handle. We also have a magnetic nail starter as well. The first two hammers didn’t even have that. Could this thing get better? Yes. It also comes with a Full Lifetime Warranty. So, in the off chance this thing does break you are insured. (Click here to visit their official website for more information.)
The hammer comes in at fifteen and a half inches long and weighs in at just shy of two pounds. The head of this hammer is rounded. There is no edging or serration like a framing hammer but again you probably won’t need that. If you are looking for a serrated edge or a more heavy duty hammer than I recommend you check out my article on the best framing hammers.
While Fiskars is not an American made product it is not a cheap import by any means. If you weren’t aware Fiskars is a Scandinavian owned company that was founded all the way back in the 1600s. Four-hundred years old. Four-hundred years of making tools. I couldn’t find rather or not if this tool was made in Scandinavia or if it was made here in the US or even in China. As far as Amazon.com the jury is still out on this. I usually like to use them as my barometer on rather a tool is of good quality or not. At the time that I am writing this there are only seven reviews of the product on file. That being said everyone of these reviews are rated five stars out of five. So, that is saying something.
With all of the benefits this hammer has to offer I can proudly say that this is one ToughAssTool and will make a great addition to your garage. The question you have to ask yourself now is are you a Good, Better, or Best guy?
- TEKTON 30124 Jacketed Fiberglass Rip Hammer – Buy Now!
- Estwing E20S 20 oz Straight Claw Hammer with Smooth Face & Leather Grip – Buy Now!
- Fiskars IsoCore 20 oz General Use Hammer, 15.5 Inch – Buy Now!
Thanks for reading and I hope that I was able to help in your buying decision!
Alec John Johnson