Building a Toolkit Post #1 The Hammer


If you own a home, rent an apartment, or sleep in the back of your truck, you need some sort of a toolkit.  It could be an eyeglass repair kit, mini-screwdriver, and some business cards for repair services in the kitchen junk drawer.  For others it may be a garage so well outfitted and stocked that you could build an addition without a single trip to the hardware store.

This series of posts will offer guidelines and tips on what you would expect to see in an effective toolkit for getting small projects done and some background on the why. They’re broken down into usefulness groups as follows:

  • Essential – this is a tool that should be in everyone’s kit
  • Eventual – might not be something you want to get right out of the gate but eventually it should end up in your kit
  • Specialty – limited circumstance for use (think pipe wrench) but might be worth having around
  • Luxury – a time-saver or something you could get by without that makes jobs easier

This is the first post in the series.  If you’re reading this later all future posts will be listed in a directory of all our in the Subject Matter Organizer.  Links below may be affiliate links, see Disclosure on Affiliations .

The Hammer

Usefulness Group: Essential

The ubiquitous claw type hammer

Why you need one:

Some say if the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat every problem like a nail. Truth be told, a lot of those little projects around the house involve nails or other things that need to be treated like one.  If you need to pound, smash, break, pull, or pry on something, a hammer (or its claw) is likely what you need.  The explanation on why you need a hammer is much like the tool itself–simple and blunt.

Unsurprisingly, (even for something this simple) there are more types of hammers than the simple claw variety most are familiar with (see the ball-peen,  framing,  engineers, and dead blow as examples for the curious).  We won’t get into all those and their uses here as they’re more like specialty tools with specific uses in many cases.

For the well put together toolkit, you’ll be looking at something with a head that weighs in the 16-20 ounce range.  The heavier it is, the more force you’ll generate when you swing, which makes nails easier to drive.  The converse is that the heavier the hammer, the harder it is to swing/control.  Stick to the lighter end of this range (16 or 18 ounce) for a home kit as all you really give up is a few extra swings for a lot more control.

Handle options are going to be hardwood, fiberglass, or possibly steel.  It’s really hard to go wrong with any of these options (unless you find one that has a thin hollow steel tube).  Solid steel is tough, but non-replaceable and heavy.  Hardwood is easy to replace but also easier to break; it’s also a lightweight option.  Fiberglass is a nice balance between the two on durability and is also light weight.

The real trick for effective use is to not choke the grip by holding the hammer close to the head.  To generate the maximum force for either a strike or a pry motion, you want the longest lever possible.  Get that lever by trying to always grip as low as you comfortably can while maintaining control and swinging with a purpose.

Budget Option:

The ubiquitous claw type hammer we mentioned above is all you really need.  You may go through a couple over the years, but if you’re not taking on more that the occasional hanging of a picture frame or nailing something back together, you won’t really notice the difference between this and a nicer option.

Recommended Option:

Fiberglass hammers aren’t much more expensive and have a better handle toughness.  The fiberglass may show some wear after years of use, but it’s so inexpensive to replace the hammer it isn’t worth the effort to replace a handle.  You could switch this and the budget option without complaint from me; it really comes down to personal preference.

Buy it Once Option:

This hammer will last forever.  All steel, you can redo the leather grip, it’s a quality manufacturer, and it just looks awesome.  Cost is only around double for something your grandchildren may not even wear out.  Unless you earn your living by swinging one 10 hours a day, or you are woefully neglectful (like forgetting about it inside of a rain bucket for half a decade) this should be the only regular hammer you ever need to buy.

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