Hammer Time… 7 Common Hammers & When to Use Them

Sean Derrick (Product Development Engineer)

Rookie Year: The Engineering Intern’s Toolbox (Part 3)
A Series of Technical Blogs for Engineering Interns & Entry-Level Engineers



It’s hammer time… cue the music. To most interns and entry-level engineers a hammer is a hammer. “They all look the same and they’re all used to bang stuff together, right?” Actually, it is not that simple. Sometimes using the wrong hammer can be dangerous to the user or cause damage. Other times using the wrong hammer will lead to wasting a lot of time with little results. All hammers were designed and engineered for a specific purpose. Knowing that purpose will help you select the right tool for the job…and make you look like less of a rookie. Let’s learn how to choose wisely.


1. Claw Hammer (Light Duty)

Claw Hammer and Framing Hammer


When most people think of a hammer they picture a claw hammer. This is because they are the most ubiquitous hammer around a house. Claw hammers are used in construction or maintenance to drive or remove nails. They consist of a large cylindrical striking head with a flat face and two claws on the opposite side of the hammer head. These claws are designed to be used like a crowbar to pry up nails. A standard claw hammer, pictured on the left in Figure 1, has a solid metal head with a wooden or composite shaft which is meant for light duty. A framing claw hammer, as pictured to the right in Figure 1, is a single piece of metal. This type of claw hammer is meant for prying or heavy-duty use where a wooden handle would break.

Claw hammers are typically lightweight and measured in ounces not pounds. They are built to be swung at thousands of nails by a user all day long. The lightweight design allows the user to swing very quickly to deliver a great deal of force. Because they’re lightweight they are suited for striking lightweight metal objects like nails. They work poorly for hitting solid heavy objects. In fact, striking heavy objects with a claw hammer can be dangerous as the hammer might rebound and strike the user or others. Additionally, because the hammer head is hardened for wear resistance, it will damage softer objects such as woods, plastics, painted surfaces, and metals like aluminum.


2. Ball-Peen Hammer (Medium Duty)

Ball Peen Hammer


Like the claw hammer a ball-peen hammer shares the same striking surface but in place of the claw it has a domed head referred to as the “ball”. This ball is used to deform or “peen” soft materials. Ball-peens can be used to drive nails, hardened dowel pins, or other small lightweight metallic items too large for a claw hammer. Like the claw hammer they are ill-suited for hammering heavy or soft objects as they are relatively lightweight. A good rule of thumb is to use a ball-peen when the object being struck is bigger than a nail but smaller than the hammer head. A ball-peen is available with either a wooden or all-metal handle. An all-metal handle is useful for heavy, repeated striking.

Riveting with Ball Peen


The historic use of a ball-peen was to manually round off edges of rivets. A rivet is a fastener that joins two pieces of material together. Before welding, it was the primary way to connect large steel beams and plates together. A hole would be drilled between the two plates to be joined. Then a soft pin (rivet) would be inserted into the hole. A heavy anvil would be placed on one side of the pin and the ball-peen would be used to strike the opposite side. With enough force, both ends of the pin would deform and flare out. The hammer would be spun around and the ball end would be used to mushroom (peen) the top of the flared pin. As the rivet was peened over it locked the two plates together. Hence the name… using the ball end to peen the rivet.


3. Lineman’s Hammer (Heavy Duty)

Linemen's Hammer


A lineman’s hammer is a heavy hammer, measured in pounds, used to knock around heavy and solid objects. Unlike the claw or ball-peen, it is meant to be swung much slower letting the weight of the hammerhead do the work. This is a “get out of the way” hammer as it’s essentially a small sledge hammer. The main striking face is large and dense while the rear side tends to be pointed. The purpose of the pointed end is to concentrate all the force from the hammer to a smaller area and amplify the impact.

This hammer is meant to drive heavy objects together or apart, such as spikes into utility poles, which is where it got its name. A variant of this hammer is used by blacksmiths to hammer red-hot metal in order to form it or by machinists to join large parts together. Due to the hammer’s weight, it is not easy to control mid-swing. Therefore, this hammer is not meant for highly precise repetitive tasks. Likewise, due to the weight of the hammer, it will damage just about anything that isn’t as hard as the hammerhead. Do not use this hammer on surfaces or items you don’t want to break, mar, or dent.


4. Mallet (Light duty – Non Marring)

Rubber Mallet and Wooden Mallet


A mallet is a hammer used to strike an object without damaging it. They are typically lightweight and made from solid wood, rubber, or leather. Due to their lack of weight, they are typically not very good at moving objects a great distance. Instead, they are better suited for seating (nudging) objects together. Likewise, mallets have large blunt faces which make them poor for precise work. Because they land with a relatively soft blow they are also good for driving chisels and cutting tools. Their mild blow ensures that you will not damage the chisel or take too large of a cut. Be warned that mallets tend to rebound due to their soft heads. If striking a hard object it is possible it could jump back at you.


5. Soft Face Hammer (Medium Duty – Non Marring)

Soft Face Hammer



A soft face hammer has the weight of a ball-peen but contains soft polymer, brass, or rubber striking faces. Most soft face hammers contain two cylindrical striking faces each having dissimilar material types. For example, one face would be a soft rubber while its opposing face is made from a harder urethane. This gives the user options and combines two tools into one neat package.

These hammers are good for hammering objects with a greater force than a mallet without damaging the object the way a solid metal hammer would. Additionally, the head of the hammer tends to be much smaller making them more ideal for precision work where a mallet wouldn’t fit.


6. Dead Blow (Heavy Duty – Non Marring)

Dead Blow Hammer and Internals


A dead blow hammer is a solid polymer mallet with a hidden secret. Inside the hammer head is a cylinder filled with lead shot, sand, or steel shot. When the hammer is swung the shot lands dispelling all of the energy into the object being struck. This virtually eliminates any rebound within the hammer’s head, which is a common problem with a standard mallet. The shot delivers a great deal of force per swing without the hammer needing to be very heavy.

Due to the dead blow being made of polymer it is very helpful in minimizing the damage to a struck surface. Therefore, the dead blow is used very similarly to a traditional mallet but for objects which need a little more force in order to move. Dead blows are great at dislodging stuck parts, driving stiff wooden joints together, or to pop small dents out of sheet metal. This hammer is also ideal for striking objects with a great amount of controlled force such as chisels and other sharp objects. This allows for more aggressive cuts without damaging the chisel.


7. Sledge Hammer… (Enough Said)

Sledge Hammer



The sledge hammer is the big daddy of them all. Chances are if you are using a sledge hammer in a work environment you are at a construction site, large heavy manufacturing site….or YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING WRONG!

A sledge hammer is a VERY heavy hammer with a handle as long as an axe. If you need more description than that you are on your own. It is meant for blunt force trauma combining its heavy weight with the long handle to swing it quickly. This combined effect delivers a great amount of force to a small area in order to move or more likely to break something.


Written By: Sean Derrick – Product Development Engineer |
Sean has a B.S. in Engineering Design and a M.S. in Manufacturing Engineering from Western Michigan University. He has over 7 years of product development experience in a variety of industries ranging from medical, automotive, furniture, consumer products, and defense. Sean enjoys hiking, mountaineering, skiing, movies, and is pursuing a Ph.D in his free time.


17 thoughts on “Hammer Time… 7 Common Hammers & When to Use Them

  1. Thank you! I am not a handy person and was trying to figure out what to use to pound a wooden stake into the ground. This article was extremely helpful!

  2. I would plant the stake with a few blows untill it’s one third into the ground with a short handle “dead blow” hammer, and drive it the rest of the way if the soil is soft, use a longer handle and heavier “sledge hammer” if the ground is hard.

  3. Another use for a Ball-Peen that doesn’t come up as much any more is as a Fuller, in traditional blacksmithy. Especially for Farriers, they just don’t make, and sell Fullers like they used to. So, this is one you can swing by the local Hardware store, and pick up to draw out metal. In knife making, the Fullers are often called “Blood Groves,” but are actually a way to draw out, lighten, and stiffen a blade. They have nothing to do with blood. However, most modern ones have it ground in, while originally, hand forged blades were drawn out to full width by hammering them between 2 fullers. One with a handle, you whack into the top with another hammer. The other has a square spike you put in the hole (The Fuller Hole) in the top of an anvil. Or screw into a vice. Farriers have to do a lot less fuller work, now that you can get cast shoes in standardized sizes. However, you’re unlikely to find one that doesn’t have a Ball Peen Hammer/Fuller in their kit, in case they need it.

  4. I was researching what made a dead blow hammer different from a rubber mallet and came across this article. This actually taught me quite a bit about the specific uses for various types of hammers. Thank you for sharing the information!

  5. I need the sort of hammer that you could place in the hole above the flat of an anode rod. The face of the hammer would be flat to match the face of the anode rod. The top of the hammer would also be flat. I would hit that with another hammer. The idea is to loosen the anode rod. Otherwise I must scrap my hot water heater sooner or later, because the anode rod is immovable.

  6. The intent of this page is certainly good. And much of the information is rather accurate and helpful. But some of the information is misleading. Case in point: The “light duty” framing claw hammer has a solid steel handle because “This type of claw hammer is meant for prying or heavy-duty use where a wooden handle would break.” If that argument is true, why do the “heavy duty” Lineman’s hammer and the “enough said” sledge hammer have wooden handles? Won’t those wood handles break? Truth is that most types of hammers come in various styles with wooden, steel, fiberglass or titanium handles (there may be more types). Each type of handle is used in it’s specific product based on strength, weight, durability and cost requirements. In general, wood handles are found in lower-price hammers. The better the hammer, the better the handle. Professionals, and those appreciating quality tools, will pay more for a good hammer because it will last longer and, in general, works better than a lower-quality hammer. For instance, I own and use a framing claw hammer (similar to the hammer shown in the picture) and a finish claw hammer that are both made by Estwing. They are more expensive than the average hammer but they are balanced so well that they are a joy to use and are much less tiring to use than lesser hammers. So be sure to purchase and use the tool that best meets your needs. Go to a lumber company that sells tools and ask them about hammers–you will get information from people who really know about them. Sales people at big box or general merchandise stores may or may not know much about the different types of hammers.

    1. There’s nothing “misleading “ regarding what you’re referring to. I’m a third generation carpenter with three decades of carpentry in the professional industry under my belt & worked with & for my father & grandfather in this trade since I could barely walk. There is absolutely nothing misleading about the purpose of a metal bodied hammer being more suited for “prying &/or heavy duty use” that is exactly correct. ‘Case & point’, concrete foundation work. As it clearly states & you quoted, “prying” is its most obvious & biggest benefit, thus you will not break the handle…Regardless of how you swing &/or abuse it, it will survive. & although it is suited for such ause & abuse, it is still the same essential size as any other conventional hammer. In fact you can find an Estwing in just about any & every size, in both straight & curved claw. To further correct you, the reason the Lineman’s hammer & the Sledge are commonly found with a wooden handle (tho these days less-so, given the increasingly ubiquitous nature & decreasing cost of composites etc) is because they’re not fir prying at all. Arguably 99% of broken handles are due to heavy prying. THUS exactly what the aforementioned information states, verbatim. However, there is the single percentile of incidents where an individual swings violently (generally during “demo work” & misses the intended object (or not) & strikes the handle on concrete or metal or any inanimate object of greater density & snaps the slender wooden handle. Ergo, lineman & sledge hammers are strictly (as clearly stated) are better suited for blunt force &/or increased energy in, not only a single, but less violent swing/blow. Vis-à-vis, the majority of the time, nothing more than a wooden handle is necessary. Not to mention, any kind of ‘real man’ enjoys & prefers the classic simplicity & historic nature of a good ol wooden handled hammer.. Insert raspberry here

  7. As a precis of common Hammer Types the article is very good…Albeit there is an enormous range of Hammer Types-Styles and Applications…Starting with the common types and usage an excellent article

  8. I am just looking for the information regarding ball peen hammer, claw hammer, mallet hammer & other types of hammer. Your blog helps me a lot to get a comprehensive idea regarding it. Thank you so much!

  9. Thanks, Sean! I got the info I needed to purchase the right hammer for my project. I have used all these hammer types, but only infrequently. I will be using the dead blow, which is what I was looking for.

  10. Nicely done. I passed the article on to some people with little trade experience. I could go on for hours about hammers, but your wonderful article gave them all the information they needed without listening to an old dude carry on. Everyone comes out ahead. Thanks for the effort.

  11. Just a quick question:
    I am not professional or even an expert in the field and I’m just asking because I can’t keep buying new tennis rackets. I accidentally bent the frame of my tennis racket (most likely an aluminium frame as it is light and hollow) and was wondering which hammer I should use? On the inner bend the metal is cracked and possibly protruding so I know not to hit that side with a rubber hammer and will use a metal one or heat. Should I use the dead blow hammer first to help straighten it out (since it is bent quite a bit) and then use the soft blow hammer to help make it level or should I just get the dead blow hammer? Reminder if it is bent then the face (the netting of the racket) will be warped making it harder to play especially for a beginner.

  12. Thank you for the information, I had no idea there were so many types of hammers. I’m thinking
    the Soft Face Hammer is what I need to beat the door jambs into submission to allow the axles
    of my wheelchair to clear them.

  13. I have been involved in construction for over 50 years. The type of handle is often based on the individual’s preference.
    Personally, I always choose a wooden handle as I am able to create a grip that fits my hand. Also, the wood handle will generally dissipate the vibration before it reaches my hand.
    I generally carry a cat’s claw (available in different lengths and thicknesses) for pulling nails if that becomes a necessity.

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