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
15 thoughts on “Where to Find a Good Hammer”
I’m still using the straight claw 16 oz Plumb with the fiberglass handle I bought 50 yrs ago. The handle has been worn down to about half of its original diameter.
Thanks for this post! Very helpful!
Couldn’t find an old hammer before the baby anarchist class…would up with a new one from Vaughn. Wow. Love it! Went to Grainger and they brought out boxes of different hammers to pick. Got the hammer with an octagon handle. All of my household hammers and sledges have been rehandled now
If anyone is looking for hex handles or other handles I have had great results wit: hammersource dot com
I purchased a Hex handle for my vintage Stanley made by VB and it almost fit perfect out of the box.
Made a wooden head hammer recently as a scrap-wood project,…or is that more correctly a mallet??. Regardless, I had many good compliments on the balance, and the appearance. It was just a fun project for me.
Iv got my great grandfathers claw hammer, it’s had 6 new handles and two new heads but it’s a hammer that I’m happy to have.
Dimples in the striking face is a bad sign along with filings and grinding marks around it. It’s a sign of soft metal which mushrooms easier and will ultimately chip, which shortens the life of the hammer and is not safe. Hence #4 – look for a slightly domed head.
I inherited the smaller cousin of a pair of Stanley finishing hammers… Not sure what era, but in spite of being on the small side (probably under 16 oz) it is great for me. I’ve always been uncomfortable with larger hammers for anything besides demo.
Good post – much thanks and gratitude for Lost Art Press and the associated community; I’m glad you’re here.
In my box now are a 16oz Zenith from Marshell-Wells in Duluth – they were a jobber who bought instead of made their inventory – and a 13oz Dynamic from True Temper (If you’re old enough, this is the hammer you had in shop class – the nose kinda looks like a Bedlington Terrier). Those have been there for 20 years or so. I added a Vaughn 18oz straight claw a few years ago when I decided to lose all the non-wood handles, even for rough work (if you’re really, truly driving nails, your elbow will thank you in the evening after dinner).
For the old guys, the touchstone was the claws. They should be close, tight, unchipped and sharp – sharp enough and close enough to pull an 18ga wire brad (or a household straight pin) without slipping. This is not a trivial manufacturing process, so, whatever name is on it, if they got that right, then they probably put the same care and attention into the rest of the work. Lots of lore to nail hammers – from the time we started building with sticks to pneumatic nailers, it, the saw and the square were the primary tools of the job.
Bought mine from Aaron Cergol, cergolforge.com
I’m a fan of the leather handled Estwing hammers. I do prefer the claw shape of the older models over what they produce today, but the difference is slight.
An ancient 16 oz. model, and a new 12 oz. from Lee Valley are the mainstays in my woodworking toolbox. http://www.leevalley.com/US/wood/page.aspx?p=32054&cat=1,53193
Call me a pedestrian fool if you want, but I’m happy.
If I had a hammer…
i make my living as a restoration carpenter, i have 3 hammers i use regularly a 22 oz Estwing that i use for almost everything. a 16 oz Estwing Rip that i use for finish work and a titanium framing hammer w hickory handle i use for overhead framing . the balance of the Estwings Works well for me. That said if it is comfortable in your hand ad you can consistently use any part of the face you INTEND to hit the Nail with it is a good hammer for you (metallurgy aside)
thanks for the blog lots of great information
mike from rochester ny
Seth Gould has hammers back in stock, act fast.
Out of stock per the website. Alas.
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