Framing Hammers

If you’re looking for a new framing hammer, check out these new tools.

By Michael Davis
Winter 2002

I started framing before air-powered tools and compressors were very common. I worked with a big farm boy named Emit and the two of us would go through about two boxes of 16d’s, or 100 pounds of nails each — per day. We used big 32-oz. framing hammers and could sink a nail with two blows.

Now that we all use air tools for just about everything, that kind of hammer skill is becoming a lost art. And while hammers may be used less these days, they’re still the definitive framing tool, and I’m here to tell you, hammer companies are taking their tools to new levels. Today’s framing hammers are one part science, one part art, and two parts power. Not that cost and value aren’t important, they are; framers work hard for their money. But these tools combine tough materials, smart engineering, and sculptural beauty rarely seen in other tools. Here’s a look at the latest generation of framing hammers, from the field.

Douglas Tool

DFR20S: The Douglas DFR20S is a 20-ounce hammer with good balance and feel. It’s also designed tough: instead of the wooden handle fitting into the hammer head, the people at Douglas designed the head with a steel shank that fits into their notched wooden handle. The shank flattens out on both sides of the handle to form a protective face that provides good protection for the wooden handle. It’s a good, cool-looking system.

Instead of the standard raised-diamond corrugation on the face of the hammer, Douglas uses a recessed-traction face. This traction face design held up a lot better than most of the traditional corrugated heads when we hit anchor bolts and nail pullers instead of nails. Good hammers have to take as much punishment as they dish out. The traction face is a great idea.

The rest of the head is packed with features, too. I like the stout chisel claw. It’s useful for splitting plates and digging out stubborn nails. The cheek has a notch for “side-pulling” nails. This works pretty well, but every time I use it I’m afraid I’m going to break the handle. Douglas says this isn’t a problem and so far it’s holding up just fine. And the front end of the head has a magnetic nail-starter notch that is a great feature. At $60 it’s a bit pricey, but it’s a great hammer. If you love tools like I do, the price will be worth it.

Hart Tool Company

California Special, CS21: This classic hammer is one of my favorites. The company has produced top quality framing hammers for years, and the California Special is a beautiful tool. It has a highly polished steel head and a long, sleek curved Hickory handle. It’s got clean lines but it’s all business. You can get this great hammer for only $31.00. That’s a lot of style and quality for a good price.

Woody HW-22: The Hart Woody (very similar to the Douglas model) is another cool tool. Hart uses their Strong Back system to beef up the wooden handle. A 3/8-inch wide steel band runs from the top of the head, down through the hammerhead and about three inches down the claw side of the handle. This helps distribute nail-pulling stress down the handle. They’ve also got a steel overstrike plate. The Strong Back system is a neat idea and it adds a lot of life to the handle. The Woody used to have a side pull feature like Douglas, but they deleted it because the wooden handles kept breaking.

The Woody’s handle is slightly curved and feels good. The 21-oz. model costs just $31.00. This is a well-made, high quality tool, with plenty of style and innovation, and at a great price.

Estwing

E3-22SM: This is the tried and true Estwing 22-oz. straight claw framing hammer. It’s built on a solid steel shank and is pretty much indestructible. Buy one of these and unless you lose it you’ll have a hammer for life. Estwing has a new Shock Reduction Grip. It looks just like the old grip as far as I can tell, but the company tells me it’s supposed to reduce vibration up to 50%. Unfortunately, I couldn’t feel the difference. The street price on this little jewel is a modest $29.00, which makes it a very solid, no nonsense tool and a very reasonable price.

Stanley Works

51-947 ANITIVIBE III: This is Stanley’s new “AntiVibe” design, a 22- oz., corrugated-faced hammer with a curved hatchet style handle. A lot of engineering went into designing this tool. It’s sleek, solid and well-balanced. The handle’s curved design helps reduce wrist strain and the “AntiVibe” system (a “tuning fork” design that dissipates vibration in the handle before it reaches your arm) really does take a lot of the impact shock out of pounding nails. At $40 it’s a good value, too. It’s a solid tool, built to last, packed with high tech engineering–all at an affordable price.

51-402, FatMax 22: The FaxMax hammer is a fantastic tool. It has a 22- oz. steel head with straight claws and a magnetic nail holder. It’s connected to a sleek curved hickory handle that has one of the best-shaped grips I’ve ever felt. I swear these guys must have snuck into my house and molded this thing to my hand while I slept. It’s a perfect fit! And at just $31.00 it fits my wallet just fine too. The FatMax is a darn good tool, well made, and priced right.

Stiletto Tool Company

TI16MC: The TI16MC is one of the fine, easy-on-the-elbow Titanium hammers Stiletto Tool designs and manufactures. It weighs 16 oz., which is 2 oz. heaver than their typical framing hammer. They call the 16-oz. hammer a “Musclehead” and it delivers impressive driving power. I feel that I can drive nails as well with it as I can with most 22-oz. steel hammers. The lightweight head is fitted to an ax style handle, it’s well shaped and provides a good, solid grip. The head has a magnetic nail holder for setting nails beyond your reach. It’s a little on the expensive side, with a suggested street price of $68, but it’s a very fine tool.

TiBone TB15MS: Stiletto’s TiBone is one of the wildest hammer designs I’ve ever seen. The head and handle are a single piece of molded titanium with an injection molded nylon grip. The hammer has a removable steel striking face. You can replace a worn or damaged face with a new one, or you can switch from corrugated for framing to smooth face to use for nailing siding. This is one of those tools everyone on the site will want to hold. It’s very cool, stylish and definitely expensive. It costs $195. If you need to switch hammer faces that will cost you another $30, nearly the price of some other hammers.

Shark Corporation

24-oz. High-Brow Claw Hammer: I was surprised when I pulled “The Duck” out of its box. This Asian hammer is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It has a long nose like a trumpet, a rounded high-brow head and sharply curved claws, all set atop a long straight wood handle. You can fit a nail between the claws and the back of the head for starting beyond your reach. There are little hammer faces on each side of the head so that you can drive nails or hit nail pullers with the hammer cheek in a tight spot.

I found this tool interesting, but it wasn’t well received in the field. My carpenters said it was poorly-balanced and they didn’t like the “Duck” head. And, although you can yank out a 16d nail with only one pull, they didn’t like the curved claws either. The straight handle was unpopular them, too. It only costs $25, but even this bit of good news did not sway their opinion of this strange bird.

Vaughn & Bushnell

Ti-Tech: Vaughn has its own Titanium hammer, a new 16-oz. tool called the Ti-Tech. It uses interchangeable steel striking faces so that you can switch from smooth face to corrugated head and back again, as your work demands. I like being able to use the same hammer for siding one day, wall framing the next, and installing finished soffits on another day. Vaughn says that in addition to smooth and corrugated faces, they also offer a head with a magnetic nail holder, but I didn’t see it.

I received hammers with both wooden and fiberglass handles. I liked the fiberglass handle the best. It seemed to absorb more shock, and it would be hard to break. The fiberglass Ti-Tech retails for around $90.00, the interchangeable heads run about $15.00 each. This is a very nice tool. It’s well designed and solid, but a little pricey for my taste.

Dead On Tool

DO21: The DO21 is Dead On’s tried and true 21-oz. framing hammer. It has the standard magnetic nailset atop a well-crafted solid steel head. But this tool has a graphite-wrapped wooden handle. The wrapping gives you a great grip, and the traditional wood handle provides great shock absorption. At $55.00 the DO21 seems a little pricey.

Ti7: The Ti7 takes an innovative new approach to the Titanium hammer. Dead On has come up with a way to bond a steel hammer face to a Titanium hammer body. The result is a hammer that looks and feels pretty darned good. The Ti7 has the same magnetic nail holder as the rest of the Dead On line. It’s mounted on a long black ax handle and is an impressive tool. The suggested retail price on this one is $99.00–not cheap–but right in line for a Titanium hammer.

Michael Davis is president of Framing Square, a large framing, siding, and trim company in Albuquerque, NM, and is a contributing editor to Hanley-Wood’s Tools Of The Trade.