Arguably one of the oldest tools known to man is the hammer. Ironically, we're still trying to come up with new ways to improve it! While it may have been a prehistoric tool, it is unlikely to become extinct anytime soon, as most houses (at least in the US) are still built of wood. While the best nail guns save a lot of nailing, you'll still find any framing contractor with a hammer dangling from their hip. For this reason, we looked at the many hammers currently on the market to choose the best framing hammer.
Over the years I've worked in construction, I've found a lot of strong opinions about hammers. In fact, thinking about it now, the hammer is probably one of the most polarizing tools I've ever come across. Everyone has their own opinion on what makes a good hammer. Steel, wood or fiberglass handle? Titanium head or steel head? Straight handle or curved handle? Smooth or textured grip? Frankly, I even have to admit to being a little biased. For the past few years, my mounting hammer of choice has been the Douglas 20 oz framer. This hammer is great because of the genius head-to-handle connection, straight, chisel-pointed ripper claws, and nail pullers on the side. The fit and finish are second to none, a balance I appreciate. It is the perfect combination of function and form. But is it the best hammer? This is a great question. I would like to know.
While I have a few favorites, this is not to completely diminish the other hammers in our lineup. Some of them certainly have some good qualities worth mentioning. Here are our recommendations for the best framing hammers for various applications.
Overall Best Frame Hammer
Stiletto Ti16MC 16 oz.
The Stiletto Ti16MS Frame Hammer's claim to fame is its 16 oz. Titanium head. This hammer head, combined with the straight hickory handle, is the lightest hammer in the entire series. However, it's still heavier than the Stiletto 12 oz titanium reshaping hammer. The style of the head is very classic, with a large striking face and deep milling.
There is a magnetic peg holder on top of the head. At the bottom where the handle inserts into the head, there is an additional metal extension of about 3/4 inch. This provides some impact protection for the handle. It's simple, this hammer is fun to swing and your arms, shoulders and elbows will thank you over time. While its $107 retail price is the second most expensive in the test, you can find it online for less. Really, if you're wielding a hammer all day, I'm not sure you can pay for the comfort.
Pros : Lightest hammer in test, second largest striking surface.
Cons : Cost.
Verdict: Lightest-swinging heavyweight hitter.
Price : $99.99
Best Demolition Framing Hammer
DeWalt DWHT51411 17 oz.
While I'm usually a fan of DeWalt's tools, this hammer really frustrates me. What impressed me the most was the strangely angled head. I found that it never seemed to wobble like a traditional hammer – often hitting unevenly. Still, we like this "Fubar" like design for effectively gripping and twisting 2x4s when using a nail gun (with the other hand) to secure studs. We also like the integrated side nail pullers.
Advantages : low price, nail remover.
Cons : Weird wobble, no nail magnets.
Verdict: While it swings well and hits hard, the sticky coating on this handle could drive you nuts.
Price : $37.99
Best Wooden Handle Framing Machine
Vaughan & Bushnell 2115C Dalluge 21 oz. Mounting Hammer
The Vaughan & Bushnell 2115C Dalluge Frame Hammer features a 21 oz waffle head. As a frame hammer, we like the simple design. The 18-inch hickory handle offers a great feel for a comfortable swing. The steel head also features a magnetic peg holder. Of all the hammers tested, this tool felt the most like a typical frame maker.
Pros : Magnetic staple remover, comfortable swing
Disadvantages : none
Verdict: If you want a traditional "no-frills" framing hammer, look no further than this.
Price : $65
Dead On Tools 24 oz Precision Cast Wooden Hammer
We call this a runner. This 24-ounce hammer does feel easy to swing—despite its heft. From the black wood handle to the milled face, the Dead On Tools 24oz Precision Cast Wooden Hammer means business.
We love the magnetic nail set and the confident black hickory straight handle. The hammer is 18 inches long from top to tail and has a very natural swing and overall excellent balance. If looks are all you care about, this could be the tool for you!
Pros : Excellent balance, cheap.
Cons : No frills, non-replaceable heads.
Verdict: This hammer is cool, but it's not titanium and it might be hard to keep it looking good.
Price : $99
best steel frame hammer
DeWalt MIG Welding Framing Hammer
As it turns out, bringing a metal-handled hammer to market wasn't easy, as other proven tools already existed. What sets the DeWalt MIG Welding Framing Hammer apart from other welding hammers is its method of construction. Instead of a single forged handle and head, DeWalt uses three separate steel forgings that are then gas welded together.
DeWalt does this by heat-treating each part differently. Combined, the hammer offers good wear resistance, toughness and flexibility in all the right places. All in all, this hammer is very comfortable to use. It also exhibits decent balance. You can find these in sizes ranging from 12 to 15 ounces.
Pros : Lightweight clubhead, large hitting face, attractive, easy to swing, available in sizes.
Cons : Transmits more vibration than a wood-handled hammer.
Verdict: A lighter weight hammer than you might think.
Price : $54
Douglas FR-20S or DFR-20S 20 oz.
This Douglas hammer was a gift from my brother who is a framing contractor in Alaska. He assured me that this hammer would become one of my favorite tools because of its balance, design and functionality. He's absolutely right as I've used this tool more than any other in the past 5 years since he gave it to me. This hammer has a genius handle-to-head attachment system that is not only strong but also provides handle over-knock protection.
Because of the way it's designed, it has one of the easiest replaceable handles in the industry. The surface has inverted dimples to help hold nails without damaging delicate materials, and its built-in side nail pull and almost straight-edge claws make demonstration and removal jobs easy. The grip has changed little over the years, aside from newer models featuring an attractive red accent color. Unfortunately, Douglas doesn't seem to be able to keep this tool in stock. Neither can Vaughan, who makes a similar (but titanium) 7180 Dalluge. If you can find one – buy it!
Pros : Stainless steel head, great balance, perfect fit and finish.
Cons : Cost and availability (they can't seem to keep them in stock).
Conclusion: In my opinion, this is a hammer to beat.
Price : Vaughan & Bushnell 7282 for $99
best titanium frame hammer
Stiletto TB3MC 15 oz Ti-Bone Titanium Hammer
I know we chose the hickory 16 oz model as our top overall, but this one is titanium through and through. This 15-ounce hammer harks back to the beginnings of the Stiletto brand. The Stiletto Ti-Bone III Titanium Hammer has milled faces (they're smooth too) and an integrated 180º side stud puller. Of the models I've looked at, the TB3MC hammer is one of my four favorites.
It hits really hard – like a heavier steel hammer. I'd put it around 24 oz or higher if you want to compare. The hammer has a removable steel face so you can buy replacement heads (smooth or milled) without buying a whole new tool. It also gives you the strength to hit steel with the weight of a titanium hammer.
It also features titanium throughout the hammer—not just the head. The rubber grip on the handle gives you a secure grip that won't look like it's peeling or cracking. We also like the well-placed thumb indent at the top of the coated handle.
Pros : Great price, classic look, good balance.
Cons : Nothing to complain about here.
Verdict: One of my favorite hammers, and one of the best looking hammers of the crowd.
Price : Check out 16 oz titanium equivalent for $99
Dead On 24 oz. Milling Straight Hickory Hammer
Dead On once called this hammer "the stick of death". This essentially makes it cool (though not necessarily great). The steel head weighs 24 ounces and includes a built-in magnetic tack set. You get a black curved hickory wood handle. The overall weight of this hammer falls in the middle, yet it feels balanced when swung.
The finish of the hammer is not as strongly textured as I would like since it is investment cast and not finished. The striking face size is also the second smallest hammer I've seen. Finally, Dead On heat-treated the face area and claws to maximize longevity. You can find hammers for less, but for the price, we like this as our budget pick.
Pros : The name is cool.
Disadvantages : the hitting surface is small, the texture is not very strong
Verdict: An aptly named tool whose name and appearance may be more popular than the actual hammer.
Price : $34
Best American Made Frame Hammers
Hardcore Hammers The Original 19 oz.
The idea behind The Original is certainly innovative. By recessing the waffle slightly, you can virtually eliminate face wear from anything other than nails. However, the area around the face is larger than I'd like, so anywhere but near the dead center of the face could be a hit with a bent nail. Due to the finish, it seems like an extra tap is needed to actually get the nail head flush with the wood. This tends to leave a decent circular imprint around the nail.
We do like the dual stud magnets on the top and bottom of the face. Hardcore Hammers also manufactures these tools in the USA.
Pros : Double stud magnet, lightweight steel head, hardened steel waffle top.
Disadvantages : The striking surface area is small, and oblique strikes tend to bend the nail head more easily.
Verdict: A hammer with a good idea that could use some tweaking.
Price : $105
Vaughan California Framer 19 oz.
The Vaughan California Framer 19 oz hammer has classic shape and size. If you prefer a full-size hammer that hits hard, this American-made classic is not only a great choice, but also a great value. I choose this hammer as one of my top four picks in this lineup.
Pros : Head-to-head, no surprises.
Cons : Nothing to complain about.
Verdict: This classic-style hammer hits hard and drives home the nails like you'd expect.
Price : $46
Estwing Big Blue 25 oz.
This metal-handled Estwing hammer was probably the most recognizable in our test. Time and time again I have seen these hammers wear down to a smooth finish from use. Unlike hammers with wooden handles, these Estwing metal tools are virtually indestructible. Maybe that's what makes them great for nail pulling and heavy-duty prying in addition to their nail-driving capabilities.
While this hammer was the heaviest in our test, it still exhibited good balance. The American made Estwing series metal handle hammers are on my top 4 list of hammers for their durability and balance.
Pros : One-piece handle and head, reasonable price, nice finish.
Cons : Nothing negative to note.
Verdict: This hammer is actually a staple tool in most contractors' handbags. It's not perfect, but it gets the job done.
Price : $49
So what makes the best framing hammer?
To better understand some hammer technology (yes, there is technology involved), it makes sense to take a quick science lesson on hammer physics.
Don't worry, it won't do much harm.
How Mass Works – Warning: Math Ahead!
A hammer is a force amplifier that converts mechanical work into kinetic energy and back into kinetic energy. When the hammer is swung, kinetic energy is stored in the hammer head. Kinetic energy is equal to the swing length multiplied by the force produced by the muscles (and gravity). When the hammer hits the nail, the nail stops the hammer with an equal and opposite force.
Where this gets tricky is when you start to factor in the impact of hammerhead mass. The energy delivered by the hammer to the nail is equal to one-half the mass of the hammer multiplied by the square of the velocity of the hammer at impact. The key here is that the energy transferred to the peg increases linearly with mass, but quadratically with velocity.
KE = 1/2 mv 2
Let me sum it up for you: an easier-to-swing hammer delivers more power to the nail. This constitutes one of the key points in the titanium versus steel hammer debate.
Hammer handle is also important
The lightweight hammer head allows for faster swing speeds, but the handle design also helps to improve swing efficiency. This includes consideration of vibration absorbing materials, lengths and angles. Essentially, to find the best frame hammer, it has to have some combination of head and handle qualities that make it feel "right".
There are literally hundreds of hammers out there, so for the sake of time and practicality, we're trying to limit the playing field to frame hammers that have a head weight in the 20 ounce to mid-range range, have long handles, straight split jaws, and Milled faces. Both titanium and steel models are acceptable. Our list of hammers is by no means exhaustive of all available hammers. There are many more makes and models that I haven't had access to yet. I may have to revisit this after I collect and evaluate all the hate mail I will definitely receive after this Best Frame Hammer review. (I did mention that this is a controversial topic, no?)
The Best Framing Hammers for Measuring and Weighing
I started weighing each hammer. I then measured the face dimensions with calipers and the handle length with a tape measure and set up a grid to make it easier to compare and evaluate the various tools. When I measured my face, I didn't use the outer diameter of the head, but the area of the milled face. In nearly every hammer, this space is less than the entire outside diameter of the head. I think knowing the actual striking area of a hammer is more important than knowing the full head size.
It's also worth noting that while some hammers may be light on the head, the handle can sometimes add enough weight to negate any gain in chipping off some extra steel. We point this out because the hammer weighs more than just the head. This is the whole hammer (some manufacturers don't always advertise it prominently).
Manual Testing Framework Hammer
I tested each hammer with both bright and galvanized 16 penny (16D) nails. I hammered the nails into the spruce studs and some pressure treated 4×4's. Since much of a hammer's functionality depends on the skill and dexterity of the user, extensive testing is really unnecessary for the scope of this article. In other words – I don't have to drive in thousands of nails before coming to some conclusions.
In fact, I take a lot of rest so I'm not wobbling around with tired arms or sore wrists. Perhaps in the future, when time and budget allow, I can develop a scientific device to analyze things like impact power, vibration, and swing efficiency. While it would be cool to have statistics on these variables, this is ultimately a subjective topic that requires subjective scrutiny.
Reviewing a hammer is like reviewing a truck. Some professionals are polarized over which brand they prefer. You can test, retest and be crowned Truck of the Year (every year). Everyone still has their own personal preference for the pickup they want to drive.
Perhaps the best hammer test ever is to have all participants blindfolded, and then I can randomly give them a hammer and see what they really think. While they won't be affected by branding, colours, materials and logos, this was probably one of the most painful tests we've ever done!
Value, Features and Performance
After spending some time using all the hammers, I ended up with a list of what I think are the best. I base it on their value, traits, and an overall opinion of their performance. Of course, almost any framing hammer can drive nails. However, not all of them will do well. In addition to my beloved "benchmark" Douglas frame hammer, I also tested steel and titanium options from Stiletto, Estwing, DeWalt, Vaughan, and others. I also looked at cross sections of synthetic, steel and wood handles.
As much as I prefer Ford trucks, I might show a slight inclination toward more traditional hammers. The whole experience is still largely subjective.
While I may prefer specific features, the best test of a hammer is to pick up one and give it a swing!
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