I’ve had the same hammer for the better part of my career. I’ve seen plenty of fancy new models come through the ranks over the past few years, but for all their bells and whistles, I haven’t seen one that would help me with the work I do better than my old stand-by. That is, until I worked with a titanium-headed hammer.
What to Look For
Design. For the work I do—retrofitting old houses, deck building, framing, trimming—I need a hammer with an aggressive claw. A claw with too much fetch (or curve) means I can’t plunge it behind a piece of trim or under a deck board that needs to go, but a claw that’s too straight won’t grab that kind of stuff consistently. I also like a smooth-face hammer—a milled-face tool is only for rough framing; I need something more versatile. There are hammers where you can turn a set screw and swap out a milled face for a smooth, but I’ve never had much luck pounding anything mercilessly that’s held together with a tiny set screw.
Weight. This is where evolution is revolution. My old steel stand-by is a 20-ounce hammer. In titanium, this translates to about 12 ounces. But even though this 12-ounce tool is clearly lighter, I can pound a nail or the back of a flat bar with way more impact energy. Since my hammer spends most of its time in the loop at the base of my back or on my right hip, just hanging there until I need it, my joints really appreciate that 8-ounce weight reduction by the end of the day.
Feel. For me, this amounts to a good old-fashioned straight hickory handle. Rubber handles tend to grab onto a leather tool bag’s hammer loop, and for the rigid plastic loop I wear, I find them too big and textured to drop in or snap out quickly. Yes, wood handles can break if you use them super-aggressively, but I’m happy to take the risk, since replacement kits are readily available.
The Bottom Line
Titanium hammers can cost nearly twice as much as traditional steel hammers, but you’ll get more than twice the hammer for your buck. Not only does my body feel better after carrying it around all day, but I can do as much ripping and pounding as I need with a tool that helps make hard work easier.
Carpenter Mark Clement is working on his century-old American Foursquare in Ambler, Pennsylvania, and is the author of The Carpenter’s Notebook.Published in: Old-House Journal September/October 2009