A good hammer is like a good folding knife, it should stay with you forever and act as an extension of your will.
I’m not a big fan of hammers from the hardware store. In general I find them ill-balanced, poorly heat-treated with odd-shaped handles (but other than those details, they are fine). Or maybe I’m wrong and just have a thing for old hammers.
If you have a similar thing, here are some thoughts on how to find your end-of-days hammer.
The best way to buy a hammer is in person at a Mid-West Tool Collectors Assn. meet. (You aren’t a member? Fix that here. It’s only $25 a year, and they do great work.) A good tool auction is also an excellent place to visit. Or join the Early American Industries Association, which also has good tool swaps. Heck, I’ve seen good hammers at antique malls.
Inspecting a hammer in person will tell you everything you need to know.
- Has it been rehandled (usually poorly)?
- Is the head loose?
- How’s the balance?
- Is the striking face slightly domed?
- Is the handle comfortable and the right length for you?
- Does it say, “Take me home?”
- Are the head or claws chipped?
All those things are more important than the brand. Some of my favorite hammers were made by companies no one has heard of. If you prefer a top-shelf brand, look for Maydole, Cheney or True Temper. But know that you’ll be up against tool collectors.
What size hammer? I use a 16 oz. for most chores. A smaller hammer is also nice to have for delicate work. Your mileage may vary.
Buying hammers on ebay is a crapshoot in my experience. There are some sellers who specialize in selling hammers (and weasel pelts). And though their prices are higher, you are much more likely to get an accurate description and decent packaging. (One ebay seller wrapped a hammer I bought in Saran Wrap and stuck a label on it.)
Plus, on ebay, you aren’t going to be able to tell if the hammer feels balanced or comfortable. So you might have to kiss a lot of toads.
One more option: Buy one from Seth Gould or another blacksmith. Seth makes runs of nail hammers and then sells them on his site. The best way to snag one is to follow his Instagram account. Seth’s hammers are outstanding in every way. I’m sure other blacksmiths make great nail hammers, too. I just don’t have any experience with other hammer-making smiths.
— Christopher Schwarz