Hammering out the basics


Go Home: Essentials


Hammers seem simple enough: You hold the handle and hit the nail. But not every hammer fits every job. Size, design and weight are critical to getting the best bang for your buck.

Of course, once you've found the right hammer, you'll need to use it properly.

What you need to know --Different hammers are designed to do different things. The most versatile is the claw hammer. But the claw on some hammers is curved; on others, it's straight. A curved claw is better for pulling out a nail. A straight claw is used for ripping and demolition. A finishing hammer is designed for finer work, such as installing trim and building cabinets. A ball peen is for bending and shaping soft metal. A tack hammer drives small nails and is used in upholstering.

A carpenter's mallet is designed for hammering surfaces that should not be marred. A brick hammer is meant for cutting and setting brick and chipping away at excess mortar. A drilling hammer can drive nails in masonry. A drywall hammer is designed to get the nail into the stud behind wallboard, leaving a small dimple that can be filled with joint compound.

What not to do --Don't think generically -- buy the hammer designed for the specific job you want to do. Using a drilling hammer on an easily marred material like drywall or a claw hammer in fine cabinetry work won't bring the desired result.

Be sure to ask --The weight of the hammer. The heavier the hammer, the fewer the blows needed to drive a nail. But if the hammer is too heavy, your arm and hand muscles will ache and you won't be able to strike the nail consistently. Hardware stores sell hammers in weights from 7 to 20 ounces. Ask to give each one a try before you buy.

The basics --Don't try to hammer a nail without positioning the nail first. First, tap the nail gently, and then take your hand away. Hold the hammer near the end of the handle. Lift the handle, swinging your forearm from the elbow, and let the weight of its head drop the hammer. The handle should act as an extension of your arm; a hammer's force can be as great as 300 pounds per square inch.

Good advice --Never pull a nail directly out of wood; use a wood block for leverage and to protect the surface of the material. A pry bar may be a better choice for stubborn nails, since the force required to remove it might break the hammer's shaft or pull off its head.

What it should cost --From a few dollars to about $40, depending on the kind of hammer and the material from which it is made. Wood hammers are the least expensive; fiberglass and rubber-coated metal hammers are more costly.

Which material makes the better handle? Wood (hickory is recommended) lasts a long time and absorbs the shock wave created when the face of a hammer strikes a nail. Fiberglass handles seem to last longer than wooden ones, but many pros say the material is not as good at absorbing shocks. Rubber-coated steel handles tend to vibrate more than wood, though the combination of materials seems to accommodate greater force.

Alan J. Heavens writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Go Today follow-up

A Dec. 17 story in Go Today discussed the Ever-Green Watering System, a device that sits under a Christmas tree posed as a wrapped package but containing a 2.7-gallon reservoir of water that can be used to keep the tree watered.

The story said the device could be obtained through Ace Hardware stores. However, that's true only in other parts of the country. In Maryland, the exclusive retailer of the Ever-Green is Greenstreet Gardens in Lothian, where it sells for $21.99. Greenstreet Gardens can be reached at 410-867-9500 or online at greenstreetgardens.com.

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