Hammer Time

Head to Head Hammer Bash

Hammers are one of the most widely used tools in the world and while the basic concept hasn’t changed much over the years technology has certainly pushed some significant improvements that are widely available across the market today. We reached out to a range of Brands and asked them to send us up to two hammers, preferably a “light framing” weight hammer and a more subtle “finish” weight hammer. As you can imagine each hammer on the market today is slightly different than it’s competitor so trying to create a true “head to head” comparison wasn’t possible, however we feel the hammers included in our evaluation represent a nice mixture in both price point and style.

Hammer Head to Head on Tool Box Buzz

It should also be noted that there are many, many more makes and models on the market. We could spend months testing hammers and likely never touch them all. In this article we’re trying to touch on some new models that have recently come out in the market that cover a wide range or prices and availability.

Also, in this Head to Head we’re trying something new with the crew which we hope will allow us to do more of these articles and also get some of our “remote” reviewers in the game. Most of the reviewers received hammers to evaluate on their own, on the job, in the shop, and around the house. This allowed us to spend more time with the tools, and also develop a broader range of opinions and evaluations.

The Hammer Line-Up

As I mentioned earlier we’ve broken the hammer samples into two categories; Light Framing Hammers and Finish Hammers including the following models:

Light Framing HammersLight Framing Hammers

  • DEWALT 20oz               – Model DWHT51054 – Smooth Face – Steel Handle – Rubber Over-mold Grip
  • Estwing 15oz                  – Model EB-15S – Smooth Face – Steel Handle – Rubber Over-mold Grip
  • Stanley FATMAX 17oz – Model FMHT51244 – Waffle Face – Steel/Plastic Handle – Rubber Over-mold Grip
  • KOBALT 16oz                – Model 62754 – Waffle Face – Steel Handle – Rubber Over-mold Grip
  • Powerstrike *                – Radial Finish DART Strike Face – Steel Tube Handle – Textured Paint Grip
  • Stiletto 14oz                   – Model TI14MC-F – Waffle Face Titanium Head – Fiberglass Handle – Rubber Over-mold Grip

*NOTE: The Powerstrike hammer we tested is a prototype for a shorter handle design. Not available yet on the market, however, the slightly longer handle is available.

Finish HammersFinish Hammers

  • Stanley FATMAX 14oz – Model FMHT51249 – Smooth Face – Steel/Plastic Handle – Rubber Over-mold Grip
  • Hart 16oz                        – Model HH16SCS – Smooth Face – Steel Handle – Rubber Over-mold Grip
  • Kobalt 16oz                     – Model 62742 – Smooth Face – Fiberglass Handle
  • Stiletto 10oz                    – Model FH10C – Smooth Face Titanium Head – Hickory Handle

For each of the hammers we had each member of the team evaluate them on the job, in the shop, and around the house doing DIY projects. We’ve summarized basic features for each hammer below with highlights from the team members notes.

Light Framing Hammers – Features and Team Notes

DEWALT DWHT51054DEWALT DWHT51054 20 oz.

  • Strike Head: Smooth face, 1-1/4”
  • Magnetic Nail Starter: No
  • Claw: Rip Claw
  • Side Strike: No
  • Side Pull: Yes
  • Shank: One piece steel construction
  • Grip: Soft Rubber/Plastic
  • Thumb Grip: Ribbed thumb grip
  • Handle Shape: Modified axe handle
  • Length: 14”
  • Price: $29.97 (Home Depot)

The 20 oz. DWHT51054 is an interesting size and design and almost belongs in a category between the light framers and the finish hammers in this evaluation. The sleek design, short handle, and smooth face would allow it to be used on a wide variety of projects including framing, siding, and trim work. All of the team members felt this hammer was very well balanced and had good vibration isolation. Notably missing from this hammer is a magnetic nail starter and the side nail puller seemed limited to large shank nails.

Estwing EB-15SESTWING EB-15S 15 oz.

  • Strike Head: Smooth face, 1”
  • Magnetic Nail Starter: Yes
  • Claw: Rip Claw, Pointed
  • Side Strike: No
  • Side Pull: Yes
  • Shank: One piece steel construction
  • Grip: Soft Rubber/Plastic
  • Thumb Grip: No
  • Handle Shape: Classic Estwing Handle
  • Length: 15-1/2”
  • Price: $47.71 (Amazon)

Everyone on the crew noticed the made in USA proudly stamped on the rubber grip and for many of us that’s a big bonus. Aside from that the EB-15S is considered an “ultra” model for Estwing and features a sleek design resulting in a lighter, more aerodynamic hammer that includes their shock reduction grip. I guess you can say this is a modern version of the hammer many of us grew up swinging in our younger years. The crew noted that the magnetic nail holder was very effective, and the side nail pull was easily able to pull larger nails without switching to the main claws.

Stanley Fatmax FMHT51244STANLEY FATMAX FMHT51244 17 oz.

  • Strike Head: Waffle face, 1-1/4”
  • Magnetic Nail Starter: Yes
  • Claw: Hybrid Rip/Pull Claw
  • Side Strike: No
  • Side Pull: No
  • Shank: Solid steel core wrapped with anti shock rubber
  • Grip: Soft Rubber/Plastic
  • Thumb Grip: No
  • Handle Shape: Modified axe handle
  • Length: 16”
  • Price: $34.99 (Amazon)

The Stanley FATMAX FMHT51244 has an interesting shaft designed to reduce vibration. The solid steel shaft is wrapped in a combination of plastic and rubber resulting in a handle that felt comfortable while noticeably reducing vibration. Reviewers definitely noticed the “thin” profile of the handle which easily slides in and out of a hammer holder but felt “small” for guys with larger hands. Noticeably missing from this hammer is a side nail puller.

Kobalt 62754KOBALT 62754 16 oz.

  • Strike Head: Waffle face, 1-1/4”
  • Magnetic Nail Starter: Yes
  • Claw: Rip Claw, Pointed
  • Side Strike: No
  • Side Pull: No
  • Shank: One piece steel construction
  • Grip: Hard Rubber/Plastic
  • Thumb Grip: Ribbed thumb grip
  • Handle Shape: Modified axe handle
  • Length: 15-1/2”
  • Price: $34.98 (Lowes)

The Kobalt 62754 reminded many of us on the crew of the DEWALT MIG Weld hammer due to it’s sleek shaft design. This hammer is a forged steel design with rim tempering to reduce the chances of chipping and spalling of the surfaces. While this hammer does feature a magnetic nail holder the magnet didn’t seem as strong as the other hammers in this category. Also this hammer does not offer a side pulling feature. We all felt the hammer was well balanced and comfortable while driving 16D nails.

Powerstrike HammerPOWERSTRIKE – Short Handle Version

  • Strike Head: Radial Finish DART Strike Face, 1-1/2”
  • Magnetic Nail Starter: Yes
  • Claw: Rip Claw, Shallow with Deep Edges
  • Side Strike: No
  • Side Pull: Yes, Both Sides
  • Shank: Hollow Aluminum Tube
  • Grip: Textured Powder Coat
  • Thumb Grip: No
  • Handle Shape: Modified axe handle
  • Length: 16”
  • Head Weight: 14, 19, or 24 oz depending on weight selection
  • Price: $149.00 (Direct from Powerstrike Tools – Cost of original handle size)

The Powerstrike hammer was certainly the most unique hammer in this category with a unique tubular handle and interchangeable head design. The hollow tubular handles are made from aluminum while the claw and head frame are made from stainless steel. The replaceable striking faces are made from hardened steel. One big bonus on this hammer is the fact that they are made right here in the USA which we all love. Vibration isolation on the Powerstrike hammers is very good and having a vast majority of the hammers weight at the “business” end makes great sense. These hammers offer a good magnetic nail holder and side nail pulls on both sides of the head which we found to be quite effective.

One very unique design feature on this hammer is the ability to change the head weight from 14 oz. to 19, and 24 oz. depending on the bushings you install. All three weight configurations are possible with the pieces that are included with the hammer. Weights are changed by changing the bushings by removing the pinch bolt.

Several of the team members felt that the handle grip needs some improvement. More specifically we felt that the textured powder coat grip wasn’t sufficient to prevent slipping from the hand. Those of us who work outside in cold climates also felt that the lack of a rubber grip certainly made the hammer feel much colder than other hammers that use an overmold. Some of us are also wondering how this hammer will withstand long durations of jobsite abuse, especially the softer aluminum tube handle.

The Powerstrike is an expensive hammer (compared to most of the other hammers in this article) but it does offer users the ability to easily change handles and striking faces depending on your task and mood!

Stiletto TI14MC-FSTILETTO TI14MC-F 14 oz.

  • Strike Head: Waffle face, 1-1/2”
  • Magnetic Nail Starter: Yes
  • Claw: Rip Claw
  • Side Strike: Yes
  • Side Pull: No
  • Shank: Poly Fiberglass
  • Grip: Soft Rubber/Plastic
  • Thumb Grip: Thumb indent
  • Handle Shape: Modified axe handle
  • Length: 16”
  • Price: $99.00 (Home Depot)

Stiletto is considered one of the most premium hammers on the market today and based on the performance and features of the TI14MC-F there’s little doubt in my mind that this is an excellent hammer. The overwhelming consensus was the TI14MC-F was the best hammer with regard to the least amount of vibration. The combination of the light weight titanium head combined with the fiberglass handle creates a very light weight hammer that reduces vibration while performing like a much larger (heavier) framing hammer. The magnetic nail holder was also the best we tested with a deep socket and strong magnet. The thumb indent on the handle also provided extra comfort and stability while driving nails.

Finish Hammers – Features and Team Notes

Stanley FATMAX FMHT51249STANLEY FATMAX FMHT51249 14 oz.

  • Strike Head: Smooth Face
  • Magnetic Nail Starter: No
  • Claw: Hybrid Rip/Pull Claw
  • Side Strike: No
  • Side Pull: No
  • Shank: Solid steel core wrapped with anti shock rubber
  • Grip: Soft Rubber/Plastic
  • Thumb Grip: No
  • Handle Shape: Modified axe handle
  • Length: 14-1/4”
  • Price: $29.99 (Amazon)

The Stanley FATMAX FMHT51249 seems to be an “in-between” hammer as it’s quite a bit larger than the other finish hammers and quite a bit smaller than the light framing hammers we looked at. You certainly could use it for some finish work but this hammer is more likely a great option for doing siding and exterior trim (applications that use smaller “headed” nails vs finish nails). This hammer is very similar to it’s big brother (the 17 oz. model) except it does not offer a magnetic nail holder.

Hart HH16SCSHART HH16SCS 16 oz.

  • Strike Head: Smooth Face
  • Magnetic Nail Starter: Yes
  • Claw: Aggressive Pull Claw
  • Side Strike: Yes
  • Side Pull: Yes
  • Shank: Solid steel
  • Grip: Soft Rubber/Plastic
  • Thumb Grip: Thumb indent
  • Handle Shape: Modified fat end axe handle
  • Length: 13-1/4”
  • Price: $24.97 (Home Depot)

The Hart HH16SCS offers all the features of the big boys in a nice compact 16 oz design that’s great for finish work. An excellent side nail pulling feature combined with an effective magnetic nail holder all built on a head with an aggressive pull claw make this a very versatile all-purpose hammer. The grip is very comfortable and soft in the hand. Several of the crew noticed a very audible ping which is sure to offend some ears on the job site. This is an excellent choice for home owners and DIY’ers looking for a hammer to tackle any job from light framing to finish work.

Kobalt 62742KOBALT 62742 16 oz.

  • Strike Head: Smooth Face
  • Magnetic Nail Starter: No
  • Claw: Aggressive Pull Claw
  • Side Strike: No
  • Side Pull: No
  • Shank: Fiberglass
  • Grip: Soft Rubber/Plastic
  • Thumb Grip: No
  • Handle Shape: Modified Axe Handle
  • Length: 13”
  • Price: $9.98 (Lowes)

The Kobalt 62741 hammer is definitely priced right for home owners and DIY’ers at just under $10! This no frills hammer offers a light weight fiberglass handle, smooth face and aggressive pull claw certainly capable of handling most jobs around the house. Our tough carpenters did have a grip failure on one of the samples but I’m certain they were putting it to the test in a big way which likely led to the failure. Hard to beat for the price!

Stiletto FH10CSTILETTO FH10C 10 oz.

  • Strike Head: Smooth Face
  • Magnetic Nail Starter: Yes
  • Claw: Rip Claw
  • Side Strike: Yes
  • Side Pull: No
  • Shank: Hickory
  • Grip: Hickory
  • Thumb Grip: No
  • Handle Shape: Axe Handle
  • Length: 14-1/2”
  • Price: $79.99 (Home Depot)

The Stiletto FH10C is a combination of high tech and classic design with it’s Hickory wood handle and titanium head. It features a very nice magnetic nail hold and a slightly curved handle that’s extremely comfortable in the hand. We found the combination of the low angle rip claw combined with the curved handle allowed us to pull nails easily without damaging the finished work surface by hitting it with the handle. This hammer is light as a feather and swings so effortlessly. This is one of those hammers you’ll buy and fall in love with for years to come.

Hammer Test – Jeff Williams Testing Rig

With all the claims out there by the hammer manufacturers we wanted to see if we could test the hammers ability to drive a nail without any influence by the user. Our goal was to find a way to compare the performance in each category with some actual measurable numbers that would give us a good comparison. Jeff Williams decided to build a cool testing rig that simulates the length of his forearm from the elbow to the hand, combined with a pivot point and spring. Jeff’s test rig looked pretty damn sweet if you ask me!

Hammer Test RigJeff’s test rig was set up so he could release the hammer from a fixed, repeatable height, applying a constant force from the spring, and drive a nail into wood. Jeff measured the average depth by tossing out the high and low and averaging the results.

Before we go into the results, I want to add a few disclaimers here (Jeff and I discussed this in length and felt this was a pretty important note):

  • This test does allow us to compare each hammer to each other for a very specific test (fixed height, fixed force).
  • The test doesn’t really allow us to measure how these hammers would react to increases in acceleration due to differing weights. For example, a lighter hammer will likely result in the user swinging it faster, and accelerating it quicker, potentially resulting in a greater applied force. A test rig to simulate that is WAY beyond our pay grade!
  • We acknowledge there are dozens, if not hundreds  of other tests we could perform, this test just allowed us to do one comparison and some interesting insights into hammer performance.

And the results are…..

 

 Average DepthHammer
HammerInchesWeight (lbs)
Stanley 140.3391.81
Hart 160.2971.91
Kobalt 16 Finish0.2811.67
Stiletto 100.2341.14
Powerstrike0.4011.70
Dewalt 200.3441.77
Hart 200.3442.05
Stanley 170.3332.10
Stiletto 140.2971.74
Kobalt 16 Framing0.2972.03
Eastwing 150.2861.88

 

So what do these results tell us? The results are certainly interesting and not exactly what we’d expected to see. For the finish hammers the Stanley 14 oz. had the deepest average depth of drive even though it wasn’t the heaviest hammer. It did however have the longest handle which is likely the biggest reason for it’s success from a purely “moment arm” perspective.

For the light framing hammers the greatest average depth was the Powerstrike 23 oz. and again it wasn’t the heaviest hammer overall. It did have one of the longest handles and due to it’s design most of it’s weight is located in the head with minimal weight in the shaft. Most notably in both categories is the Stiletto hammers coming in last place for this particular test.

Before drawing any conclusions I’d like to skip to the next section of this article where I asked each evaluator to select their favorite hammer and tell us why. When you combine the two sets of results you get some VERY interesting discussions points.

Crew Top Picks

I asked all the guys in our testing crew to pick their favorite hammer from this group and tell us why. The beauty of this is each of the guys in this group bring a completely different perspective to the table which I found quite interesting.

Todd Fratzel

My favorite hammer in this group was the Stiletto 10 oz Hickory handle. The hammer is so light and well balanced. The Hickory handle is extremely comfortable to hold and the combination with the Titanium head makes vibration almost non-existent. This is a hammer I can use in the wood shop on delicate projects or installing trim and siding. Definitely a great all around hammer for anything outside of framing applications.

Rob Robillard

When I tested all the hammers for vibration, by simultaneously hitting them on the concrete floor, the Titanium hammers had less vibration and recoil.   It’s a fact that Titanium provides approximately 10 times greater damping than high carbon steels, plus it weighs 45% less than steel.  I use this rule of thumb  for tools carried in my tool belt.  Every pound carried on your belt equates to a 20lb load of fatigue on your lower back at the end of an 8 hr. day.  Less weight means less fatigue at the end of the day. So for me the Stiletto hammers were my favorites in both categories.

Read my article:  Titanium vs. Steel Hammers

Phil Benevides

The Stiletto 10 oz. is my favorite hammer, feels great in your hand and the feathery weight allows you maximum control to strike your target consistently avoiding dimpling finish pieces or marring trim. A must have for any finish carpenter.

Jeff Williams

My favorite hammer tested was the Stiletto 10 oz. It was so light and had great control. The hickory handle has great fit for my large hands. With an almost straight claw, it allows me to pry closer to walls than any other hammer.

Second favorite hammer was the dewalt. When I’m not doing finish applications I’m using a hammer for demolition or setting concrete form panels. The dewalt can handle any amount of beating I wouldn’t dare do to a titanium hammer. I’ve used it as a brick hammer in a pinch as well. The blocks broke, the dewalt didn’t.

Ethan Bickford

Powerstrike. I really like the duplex side pulls on this hammer. The complete absence of vibration when hammering is fantastic. I also really like that it’s made in the USA and that it’s unique, there is no other hammer like it out there.

Josh Bordenca

I love the Stilletto 10 oz. because its weight will deeply impact user fatigue, and lets face it, as we get older this becomes a much more important factor in tool purchases.

The Estwing 15 oz. surprised me.  Having never been a huge fan of their hammers, this one left an impression on me because, it’s well balanced, had very little vibration, and ultimately it’s very comfortable, given the length of the handle and grip. Overall a superb hammer to have on your tool belt.

Billy Burns

Hands down it’s the Stiletto 10 ounce. It’s weight proportional, no gimmicks, and no stupid wing dings or useless design additions to this hammer. Stiletto beats out all the other brands, it’s has a great track record for reducing injury and has  been tested for years by carpenters and woodworkers in all types of conditions.

Rob Robillard argued with me to put down my Tinker DIY hammer, that I have used for 5 years,  and replace it with a Stiletto hammer . Well he was right in all categories, the Stiletto is a perfect fit and swings easily and naturally.

Final Thoughts – Hammering It Home

The more we set up these head to head tool evaluations the more we quickly realize it’s nearly impossible to compare products purely from a specification perspective. Every manufacturer is looking for their “signature” and special feature that sets them apart from the competition. This constant battle results in tools that are similar, but seldom matched up very well on the specification sheets. These hammers are a great example of the wide ranging features and specifications that exist in a small sample size of the hammers on the market.

If you strictly look at the “test” data that we performed you might decide which hammer is best purely on those results. If you look at the crew picks you’ll see an overwhelming support for the Stiletto hammers in both categories even though they performed “worse” in the test rig. What I’m driving at here is the fact that personal preference likely is far more important than our thoughts and certainly the specifications. I think it’s also fair to say that hammers are quickly evolving into far more sophisticated tools than their predecessors and each of us users benefit from those advances.

Right now I’d have to say that Stiletto is the clear champion when it comes to the personal preference of our testing crew. We’ve all used these hammers on the job site and they really speak for themselves. The Stiletto hammers come at a premium price and that may put them out of reach for some users. The good news is there are some great hammers out there at very competitive price points.

The DEWALT and Estwing hammers got really good reviews from our crew and definitely impressed us. The Powerstrike hammers are also really impressive and pushing the boundaries of design, but those hammers come at a very high price tag.

About the author

Todd Fratzel

Todd Fratzel is the Editor of Tool Box Buzz and the President of Front Steps Media, LLC, a web based media company focused on the Home Improvement and Construction Industry.He is also the Principal Engineer for United Construction Corp., located in Newport, NH. In his capacity at United he oversees the Residential and Commercial Building Division along with all Design-Build projects.He is also the editor of several other sites including: Home Construction & Improvement and Today's Green Construction

@tfratzelTodd Fratzel

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7 Comments

  1. Bill Ryan

    Great way to compare the hammers. Jeff Williams test rig is a good way to put the hammers to the test. Good info. Thanks!

  2. Matt

    First let me just say I love the title. Next, I actually found this really helpful. I’ve been in the market for a hammer for quite a while (mainly due to the fact that I’m lazy) and finally decided on one after reading this article. Thanks for the great breakdown.

  3. […] overall view of what is going on with hammers on today’s jobsite, take a look at Todd Fratzel’s Head-to-Head Hammer Time article. For the purposes of this review, I’m going to focus on Powerstrike […]

  4. […] single hammer reviews to our comprehensive and grueling head to head multiple hammer review we call HAMMER TIME!   Hands down we have crowned Stiletto titanium hammers the champion of […]

  5. […] single hammer reviews to our comprehensive and grueling head to head multiple hammer review we call HAMMER TIME! Hands down we have crowned Stiletto titanium hammers the champion of […]

  6. Michael H.

    I’ve only been working vocationally as a carpenter for a year. Initially I swung a 22oz Estwing, and it wasn’t long before I developed nearly debilitating pain in my shoulder and elbow. I fought through the pain for several months, but it was so bad I considered quitting carpentry. However, following the advice of my co-workers, I bought a Stiletto, 14oz with a hickory handled. The pain is gone. The Estwing now feels like a boat anchor and I laugh whenever I pick it up because I was so foolish to have swung it for so long.

    The Stiletto can drive a nail pretty much as well as the steel Estwing. However, since the lighter 14oz head relies on swing speed for driving power, it can struggle in tight spaces where you can’t get a good back swing. Another negative is the weakness of the wooden handle at the head. I have not broke a handle yet, but I hear they break easily. I rely on my cats paw for any pulling and prying. Other than that I can’t think of any negatives, and in light of the significant positives, the negatives are slight.

    The Stiletto is everything it’s cracked up to be. I highly recommend it.

  7. Richard

    Vaughan & Bushnell quit making hammers, I don’t think so.

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