This post was originally published in October 2016, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.
When we use the term “hammer” we all know what to expect, what they are used for but do you realise how many types of hammers there are and their crucial design elements? In its most basic form you can describe your hammer as a handheld tool which is simply used to strike another object. The first hammers date back to 2,400,000 BC when stones were used as the hammerheads then we have the first real modern day hammer with stones attached to sticks via strips of leather and animal sinew (dating back to 30,000 BC). However, it was only really in the Bronze Age that we saw the creation of the hammers styles which we see today and often take for granted.
Bronze Age hammerheads
There is historical evidence to suggest that bronze/copper hammerheads were used around 3,000 BC in an area of the world we now know as Iraq. In reality this was the first major breakthrough in the design of the modern day hammerhead allowing for much tougher materials to be used in construction. Indeed archaeological digs from 200 BC show that the ingenious Romans had created a range of different types of hammerhead with even a “claw hammer” dating back to 75 AD discovered during Roman settlement digs.
By very definition, the fact that a “claw hammer” was available in Roman times would seem to indicate that metal nails were also a common construction tool. What we see today is very often taken for granted but we do know that the range of modern day hammers can be traced back thousands of years.
Design of a hammer
While there are many different variations on the traditional hammer they all have two main components which are the head and the handle. The shape, size and material used for each of these elements will vary depending upon their use. Believe it or not the force created by a hammer blow is directly proportional to the weight of the hammerhead, the length of the hammer handle, the force with which it is driven down (or up) and good old-fashioned gravity. We take many things for granted in the modern world but the ability to balance good old-fashioned brute force together with accuracy is not easy.
Creating the hammerhead
Can you imagine the individual force drawn down upon a hammerhead not to imagine the cumulative force over the life of a hammerhead? These elements of the hammer are created during a process called “hot forging” which sees a steel bar heated to temperatures approaching 2350°F (1300°C). This process softens the steel bars which can then be manipulated into the shape of a hammerhead using an array of dies. One of the dies is static while another is brought down with force creating immense pressure which moulds the molten steel into the required shape.
This is repeated numerous times eventually, bit by bit, creating the finished article. As you might expect when excess molten steel is forced out of the dies it can form what is known as “flash” which is effectively unwanted steel compromising the shape of the hammerhead. This “flash” has to be removed using trimming dies which clamp the desired shape cutting off the excess material due to the enormous force at which the dies are brought together. As a final quality check each hammerhead is cooled and any rough spots are removed manually.
When you bear in mind the excessive force which a hammerhead will experience during its lifetime you might suspect this is not the end of the process. In order to prevent chipping and damage to the hammerhead, which takes the full force of the kinetic energy created by downforce, the hammerheads are heated and then cooled very quickly which changes the structure of the steel material. This ensures that the impact area has a different type of grain to the rest of the hammerhead and will not be compromised when used.
The final process is known as “shot blasting” which cleans and smooths the hammerheads using small steel particles which are fired at great speed effectively smoothing the outer surface. Hey presto, the hammerhead is finished and can be painted and polished.
The most common types of hammer handles are wood and metal with the wood type simply shaved into the desired shape on a lathe. After this process the wooden handle is clamped and a diagonal slot created at the top which is where the hammerhead and handle will be united. The process for a metal hammer handle is very similar to the creation of the hammerhead with steel bars heated to extreme temperatures and molten steel forced into shaped dies. Other materials can be added to the centre of the hammers to give greater strength and longevity.
Once the hammer handles have been completed the wooden type is secured using wedges and steel pins with the metal handles connected using epoxy resin. The finished product will then be examined both from a visual point of view and tested for quality control. While all elements of the hammer making process are important it is the hardening of the impact area which is perhaps most vital – from a safety point of view as well as value for money for customers.
55 types of hammers
There are many different types of hammers which are all shaped perfectly to create an end result – the list includes:-
So simple yet so effective it is no surprise that the claw hammer is perhaps the most widely used hammer today. Popular in the construction industry and DIY market the hammerhead is specifically curved with one side used to hammer nails into a material while the other side, split head, is used to extract nails.
Often referred to as a stonemason’s hammer the brick hammer is designed to act as both a traditional hammer and a simple chisel tool. The blunt end of the hammer is used to split stones and hard masonry while the chisel shape can be used to round off the edges and smaller pieces of stone.
It is quite easy to confuse the framing hammer with a simple claw hammer but there are some subtle differences. The framing hammer is much heavier, around double the weight of a traditional claw hammer, and designed to bring down extreme force on large nails. The much longer handle together with the gripped impact head ensure less slippage when hammering in large nails. The claw element is also straight as opposed to curved with more focus on separating materials such as skirting boards, etc as opposed to extracting nails.
While hammer welding itself may be an art form which is fast disappearing from the modern day world, a welder’s hammer is a very useful reminder of days gone by. This particular tool is used to remove waste material from round a weld with both a pointed tool and a chisel tool on either side of the hammerhead.
While many different hammers are perfectly refined replicas of the traditional claw hammer there are some subtle differences. The so-called electricians hammer has the claw tool at a different angle and a polished tempered steel head for impact force. The handle is made of high strength fibreglass which is able to absorb the shock of multiple impacts.
The drywall hammer is an innovative tool which is perhaps a lot more useful than it looks at first glance. The traditional impact head is bevelled with a waffle shape allowing you to hammer in nails on a drywall without breaking the outer layer. It also adds a bevelled effect to the wall which can be useful when adding new layers of plaster, etc. The other side of the hammerhead has a simple nail extractor, an axe-shaped sharpened edge for scoring and a useful hook to allow multiple people to carry strips of drywall using their hammers.
Soft face hammer
A soft face hammerhead is made of non-ferrous materials such as wood, plastic and is very basic with two impact areas and a shaft which is often made of wood, rubber or fibreglass. The “soft” materials used reduce what is known as bounceback as they are able to absorb the vast majority of the impact energy. In many ways they are a smaller version of the traditional mallet but for use in more delicate situations.
The tack hammer is used when securing upholstery using either small nails or specialist tacks. The two sides of the hammerhead can vary between the traditional smaller impact area and one which is magnetised for help in positioning the tack or a small nail remover similar to a claw hammer. These hammers are relatively small and perfect for delicately securing upholstery.
The sledgehammer does not need much introduction! With a relatively large head and extended handle it is possible to gain significant impact speed which is perfect for tasks such as breaking rocks and driving fence posting into the ground. The hammerhead is larger than normal, traditionally made of metal and can take extreme impact force.
The blacksmith’s hammer has an interesting history all of its own which goes back many centuries. Effectively it is designed for multipurpose forging allowing a blacksmith to bend and chip away at extremely hot metal materials to create a specific product. This is a specialist tool and is not designed for traditional use.
A bushing hammer in its simplest form is a vital masonry tool which allows stone and concrete to be texturised. These tools have an array of small pyramid-like designs on the hammerhead which imprint onto the concrete and stone. They are used for decorative purposes or to allow greater traction/adhesion were further work may be required.
The lineman’s hammer is traditionally associated with the task of hammering bolts or large screws into materials such as utility poles. It may appear very slight in structure and design but the principle is the same with two rounded hammerheads and a handle designed to absorb shock – often enhanced by rubber grips.
As you might guess, the mechanics hammer is instrumental when looking to remove dents from car panels. The design is very different to a traditional hammer with a metal flat hammerhead complemented by a pointed impact tool. Watching a mechanic remove dents from a car panel is a joy and an art in itself.
The design of a chasing hammer is very different from your traditional hammer with a long rounded handle and a hammerhead which consists of a flat impact area and a ball-peen. Used traditionally with metalwork and riveting it offers a good mix of good old fashioned force as well as the ball-peen tool used to sink rivets flat with the surface.
Also referred to as a machinist hammer the ball-peen hammer is used in metalworking offering a relatively small hammerhead with a flat impact area and a rounded head tool. This is one of many hammers used for tasks such as riveting, offering a one stop tool to punch the rivet into the metal and round it off.
Forged out of one piece of metal the tinner’s hammer is predominantly used in the metal roofing industry. The hammerhead consists of a slightly bevelled flat head as well and a rounded cross peen. This is perfect for hammering rivets into the roofing and sinking them with the rounded edge.
More commonly associated with geologists the prospector’s hammer offers both a flat edge hammerhead to break stones and a chiselled type tool for more intricate work. These are the type of hammers you see in films where experts are digging for fossils. They make that breaking and chiselling look so easy!
While obviously associated with toolmakers, the toolmaker’s hammer is also be used in a variety of other environments. While the handle can vary in size and material the hammerhead is exactly the same with a flat impact area and a rounded tool. This is complemented by a magnifying lens placed just below the hammerhead creating an eye catching look.
Commonly referred to as a type of mallet the dead-blow hammer is perfect for use in relatively tight spaces. It is designed to minimise any damage on the contact area with minimal rebound also assisting where space is at a premium. Consisting of two identical hammerhead tools this type of hammer can be used for a variety of different tasks.
Railroad-spike maul hammer
The railroad-spike maul hammer is a precision made tool used to hammer railroad spikes onto railroad track. The hammerhead itself is relatively thin as is the hammer handle although the design, length of the handle and the hammerhead allow for maximum impact force.
As the name suggests, the stone sledgehammer is traditionally used to break giant rocks into more manageable pieces. The long handle and relatively small head are perfect when looking to create maximum impact force where precision is not necessarily vital. This is the type of hammer which depends upon brute force.
Like many blacksmith’s tools the blacksmith’s sledgehammer goes back many years and is used to shape pieces of metal such as iron. The large flat metal head and extended handle allow the creation of significant impact force. While there is an emphasis on brute force to shape different pieces of metal there is also a need for precision impact.
The half-hatchet hammer is simply a cross between an axe and a hammer affording the user a variety of different options. Sometimes referred to as a rigging axe it can be used in a number of different everyday scenarios.
As the name suggests, a trim hammer is more delicate than a traditional nail hammer. These hammers are compact and lightweight and are very popular within the carpentry industry. The polished steel head and smooth texture do not mark the surface when hammering nails flush.
The club hammer is a small version of a sledgehammer where brute force is required to break down masonry, stones and demolition work. It can also be used as an impact tool where you are looking to cut stone/hard metal with a chisel where perhaps precision is not required.
Boiler scaling hammer
The name gives it away because a boiler scaling hammer is a vital element of the toolkit of fitters and welders. The hammerhead is made of a hardened metal with both a horizontal and vertical chisel head which is perfect for the removal of scale from boiler plates. It can also be used in other scenarios.
Sometimes referred to as a rock climbing hammer the piton hammer is similar in design to a basic metal spike which can be driven into small cracks and crevices as rock climbers ascend a rock face. They may have been around many years but they offer a solid anchor and are one of the most important climbing aids.
The scutch hammer is used in the construction industry, specifically for cutting and chiselling bricks, but this is not your stereotypical hammer. The hammer comes with either a single ended or double ended scutch which allows specific cutting attachments to be used.
The gavel hammer has a history which goes back centuries allowing those in control to attract the attention of the crowds. Commonly used by auctioneers, judges and at public meetings this small compact hardwood hammer can certainly demand control of any room!
Rubber hammer / rubber mallet
Sometimes described as a rubber mallet, a rubber hammer is an extremely important tool where there is a requirement for soft but firm blows. This type of hammer is commonly used in upholstery, woodwork and those working with sheet metal. The fact that the rubber head causes minimal damage also makes this a perfect type of hammer when forcing material such as plasterboard into place.
We see a number of hammers which are used in the blacksmith trade and the blocking hammer is one more to add to the list. While the wooden handle is traditional, this hammer has a flat square head on one side and a cylindrical shaped head on the other. When shaping metal on either an anvil or a block the blocking hammer is the perfect tool.
As the name suggest, the brass hammer has a brass cylindrical double head which is perfect for hammering steel pins into different materials without damaging the surrounding area. While useful in an array of different scenarios, it is most often used in the automotive industry and traditional woodwork shops.
Cross Peen hammer
The cross peen hammer consists of a traditional hammerhead together with a wedge shaped alternative. Those who have hit their fingers when trying to position a panel pin or tack into wood or plasterboard for example will appreciate this hammer. The wedge side allows you to “start” the pin or tack without risk of damaging your finger. The traditional hammerhead allows you to finish the job.
Cross Peen Pin hammer
The cross peen pin hammer is a smaller version of the cross peen hammer which is more appropriate for wood and not suitable for metal and other hard materials. It has the same small traditional hammerhead and wedge head and is used more for light joinery and intricate cabinetwork. The relatively light nature of the cross peen pin hammer makes it ideal for relatively soft materials.
The engineering hammer is a hard wearing durable tool which has traditionally been used for locomotive repairs and other similar activities. It has a rounded head and a cross peen which makes it ideal for particularly difficult repairs. The term is also used to describe ball peen hammers and rounded double head hammers.
The hatchet hammer is a hybrid between a hammer and an axe. The axe blade is used like a traditional axe but also has a traditional hammerhead on the opposite side. In theory there are numerous situations in which the hatchet hammer will come in useful but they are most often associated with survival/emergency situations. The ability to cut with the axe and also hammer in a traditional manner has saved many lives over the years.
A planishing hammer is a relatively small hammer which is traditionally used to fine shape and smooth metal. It consists of two similar hammerheads one of which is slightly convex and the other has a peen tip with a cylindrical die. Due to the shape of the hammerheads in is possible to exert significant force with limited damage to the metal itself.
As the name suggest, a power hammer is able to exert immense pressure using compressed air which is used to power a large piston. The hydraulic system is perfect for shaping steel and other similar types of material which are less malleable with more traditional manual hammers. When you consider that the piston head can move up and down anything up to 200 times as a minute you begin to appreciate the potential power.
As the name suggest, the Rip hammer is not only used in construction but also extremely popular in demolition. Described by some as the professionals answer to a claw hammer, it is heavier in weight and the claw component is straight as opposed to curved on a traditional claw hammer. This has to be one of the more durable hammers used extensively in construction/demolition for actions such as digging holes to demolishing wood and brickwork.
A rock hammer is traditionally used in the field of geology and excavation. It offers the opportunity to not only chisel out stones and bricks but also break small rocks with the flathead. We’ve also seen variations of the rock hammer used by bricklayers to loosen and part brick work joints. Due to the length of the pick hammer it has also proven useful when digging small holes.
The scaling hammer is a rather strange looking tool consisting of a vertical chisel and pick. This type of hammer is extremely useful when removing not only scale and rust but also extremely hard coatings from inside boilers which can build up over the years. The relatively thin points allow you to get under the surface of the scaling/rust and draw it out.
The shingle hammer is a hybrid of various hammers and often referred to as a roofing hammer. It has a spike head and a square head and usually incorporates a small claw for pulling out nails. The spike is used to create nail holes in shingle and slate which will often shatter and break when using a traditional hammer. Once the hole is made the square head is used to push the nail through the slate/shingle and position it on a roof or similar structure.
Spike maul hammer
This is a hammer which is traditionally used to force spikes into the ground which hold train rails in place. There are two types of spike maul hammer one of which has a square tapered head which complements the main driving block. There is also a bell variation with long thin cylindrical heads one of which is thicker and the other is longer. It is difficult to comprehend the tremendous workload required to lay track and to ensure that each spike is firmly in place.
Straight peen hammer
The straight peen hammer is very similar to the cross peen variation and perfect for shaping metal and putting nails in place. The only difference to a cross peen hammer is the fact that the peen (the pointed end) is parallel with the hammer shaft as opposed to vertical. The size and variation of the peen can vary as can the block hammer end.
Knife edged hammer
To all intents and purposes a knife edged hammer is very similar to an axe with a flat square hammerhead on the opposite side. Using the knife edge it is very easy to cut and split wood while the flat surface is useful when looking to bludgeon the wood. Softening the wood (or driving a wedge into the wood) and then splitting with the knife edge is a perfect combination.
Rock climbing hammer
Rock climbing hammers are also known as wall hammers, aid hammers and big wall hammers and play an integral part in rock climbing. They allow the climber to place and remove pitons, copper heads and fixed anchors. The sharp end of the hammerhead helps position/loosen the anchors (bolts) and the blunt end is perfect for hammering them home.
Splitting maul hammer
A splitting maul hammer is best described as a cross between a sledgehammer and an axe. The axe head comes to a sharp point and is used to split wood. The sledgehammer side of the hammerhead can be used to bludgeon the wood or more commonly to push a wedge as deep as possible thereby opening up the wood for the axe tool. Both sides of the head are shaped in such a manner as to minimise the chances of becoming stuck in the wood.
A slaters hammer is an extremely useful tool which consists of a claw head for removing nails, together with a sharp pointed head for punching holes into slate and a sheer edge which allows the slate to be shaped to fit perfectly. There is also a more traditional hammer shaped head which allows the nails to be hammered home. Effectively four tools in one!
While thankfully dentistry has come on in recent times it is not that long ago primitive dental hammers were used during treatment. Traditionally they were either one cylindrical shape with two flat ends or two flat discs placed either side of a steel ball. We can only imagine the excruciating pain but they were used to condense filling material after treatment. It is not clear what kind of success rate they had bearing in mind the pressure and the continuous tapping on the filling and tooth.
Over the years we have seen many different types of reflex hammer but they all create the same end result. Modern day reflex hammers, with their rubberlike head, are used to tap on a deep tendon to test reflexes. As the hammer head is made of a rubberlike material, of varying shapes, it carries significant force but will not actually cause damage. Reflex hammers are also used for chest percussion.
Hammer and Chain
While hammer and chains come in a variety of different sizes, and materials, they are traditionally used for fire alarms. We have all seen the panic glass on storage facilities with the chain and hammer hanging down below. A sharp jolt with the hammerhead is all it takes and this removes the chances of being cut when using your hands.
War hammers are probably exactly what you imagine, tough hammerheads on extended shafts which offer significant leverage. The style changed over the years but was always based on a sharp pointed head (similar to an ice axe) and a traditional hammer block. The spike would cause significant damage to an individual while the hammerhead did not even need to penetrate armour to cause potentially deadly concussion.
Copper and Hide hammers
While copper and hide hammers are perhaps not as well-known as the other hammers in this list, they are perfect for shaping metal without actually penetrating the surface. The hammerhead is copper at one side and rawhide at the other. This allows metal, such as car bodywork, to be shaped back into place without causing damage. Old-fashioned it may be but it is extremely effective!
A lath hammer is used when manipulating the thin flat strips of wood which make the foundations of a plaster wall. The axe head allows the wood to be trimmed into shape, the notch helps with the removal of nails and the traditional hammer striking head is use when driving nails into the wood. Lath hammers have a metal head and shaft with a rubber handle which absorbs impact forces.
and finally…. Thor’s Hammer!
Norse mythology goes back centuries and Thor’s hammer was one of the most fearsome weapons available at the time. The hammer is regularly depicted today in cartoons and Norse history although the actual hammer itself is called Mjölnir. While hammers have been used in battles for many years Thor’s hammer has a mystery all of its own.
This is just a selection of the various types of hammers available today because ultimately there will be a hammer for every occasion!
Aren’t you amazed at how many types of hammers there actually are? Many people will be surprised to learn how far back we can trace the use of hammers in their most basic form, i.e. stone, and then moving on to various types of metal. The design, angling and structure of individual hammer are aligned perfectly to create the desired impact force. They are also available in many different materials with some deemed “soft” in comparison to the traditional hard hammerhead.
Even though there are many automatic hammers, and other similar products, available today the good old-fashioned claw hammer and its many compatriots still play a major role in the construction industry and everyday life!
Thoughts from the editor about types of hammers
Thanks Mark – that was a cracking article and you have certainly educated both myself and the readers about various types of hammers that are available in the world. I had no idea that there were so many types of hammers actually out there!
There are also many more types of hammers not covered by this article, and many variants. If you want us to tell you about them let us know. I’m sure we’ve got a “55 more types of hammers” article in us.
So readers, what are your favorite type or types of hammers? We certainly have a few of our own favorite types of hammers at EngineeringClicks! One of my favorite types of hammers personally is the Dead Blow hammer, mainly because of its cool sounding name. Tell us your favorite types of hammers in the comments below.