Tool Tutorial: Hammer

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Suitable for grades:
Tools & Materials
Material List
  • scrap wood, 2x4 or similar
  • five or more 1 1/2" to 2" common nails
  • optional

  • ~3"x3" corrugated cardboard pieces
Tool list
  • safety glasses
  • ear protection
  • 7oz claw hammer or "finishing" hammer

    What's a hammer used for?

  1. Claw hammers, also called finish hammers, are commonly used to drive small nails into wood. A nail may be used to fasten two pieces of wood together, and driven in until the head of the nail is flush with the top piece of wood.
  2. You can also use a hammer to drive nails part-way in, leaving the heads sticking up. You may want to hang an object from a wooden frame, or make a project like the wooden loom, and wrap string or yarn around the half-driven nails.
  3. Claw hammers also have the “claw” end, which allows you to pull nails out of wood, as well as pry pieces of wood apart. You may need to remove a nail that accidentally bent while you were hammering, or you may want to pull nails to salvage wood for a new project by taking apart an old building or structure.
  4. Different hammers are used for different jobs

  5. A “beater” or sledgehammer is used by an ironworker to drive metal pins into holes in big metal beams, fitting the pieces of a big bridge together, for example.
  6. A ball peen hammer can be used in metalworking: the flat end of the head for hitting punches to make holes in sheet metal, and the rounded “peen” end for smoothing the sharp edges of rivets, for example.
  7. A framing hammer is used when nailing together pieces of wood such as 2x4s while building the frame for a house.
  8. A mallet is used to tap the end of other tools to do the work. For example, you can tap the end of a chisel to drive it into wood and shape detailed cuts, or hit a punch to make a mark in the surface of wood or metal, etc.
  9. A “dead blow hammer” has a heavy, weighted, plastic head that you can use to knock pieces of wood into place without damaging the wood.
  10. A chipping hammer has a narrow head and can be used for removing slag and spatter from welds, as well as for demolition purposes.
  11. Safety considerations

  12. Always wear eye protection while you or anyone nearby is using any kind of hammer. Nails can go flying, as well as small pieces of metal.
  13. Wear ear protection while hammering; the noise of a hammer connecting with wood or metal can be loud enough to cause hearing damage.
  14. Inspect your hammer for any damage, and check that the head is securely attached to the handle.
  15. Check your surroundings before you begin: make sure you have room to swing your hammer, and that nobody is in your way. Give the same space to others who are hammering.
  16. Operating the hammer

  17. Before you begin, remind yourself that learning a new skill like this will take practice, and that making mistakes is OK. Even professionals will miss the mark and send a nail flying or make a dent in the woodwork below. Be proud of yourself for working hard to learn something new; know that with practice, you can get good at this!
  18. Secure your wood piece(s) with a clamp if necessary.
  19. Check your surroundings to make sure you can swing your hammer freely. Place your wood on the floor if your worktop is unstable or flimsy.
  20. Grasp the hammer in your dominant hand, your fingers near the end of the handle, the face pointing down.
  21. Set the nail

  22. Grab a nail with your non-dominant hand. Place the tip of the nail on the mark where you want to drive it. Angle the nail straight up from the surface of the wood.
  23. Rest the face of the hammer on the head of the nail. Holding the nail in place, lift the hammer about 1”, then allow it to drop onto the head of the nail. Repeat this tapping until the nail is standing on its own.
  24. Helpful hints

  25. Instead of holding the nail with your fingers, you can push your nail through a piece of cardboard and hold the cardboard instead as shown. Pound the nail in until it is secure, then rip the cardboard away.
  26. If you need some practice with aiming your hammer blows before you are comfortable setting the nail with your fingers, ask someone to set a few nails for you to practice hitting. When you are confident that you can hit the hammer in the same spot consistently, try setting your own nails.
  27. Drive the nail

  28. Let go of the nail and hold the wood piece steady. Bend your elbow to swing your hammer up about 10”, then down at the nail head in a controlled arc.
  29. Try to keep your shoulders relaxed. Brace yourself and your work by holding the wood with your non-dominant hand.
  30. Continue swinging the hammer and hitting the nail head until it is flush with the wood.
  31. Pull a nail

  32. Hammer a nail halfway into your wood, so the head is sticking at least ½” above the surface of the wood.
  33. Align the hammer head with the length of your wood, then hook the claw over the nail. Hold the wood down with your non-dominant hand on the wood in front of the claw.
  34. Move the hammer handle down, driving the claw upwards to reverse the nail.
  35. Try slotting a scrap piece of wood underneath: this will protect your project and can also give you more leverage.
  36. You can also try turning the hammer 90° (but pushing the handle in the same direction as before, along the length of the wood) to remove a stubborn nail.
Extension Challenges
  1. Make some string art: Take a piece of 2x4 and write your name in big block letters (make your letters large, but leave at least ½” of bare wood along each edge). Hammer 1" nails into your letters, anywhere the lines change direction, stopping when the nail is still sticking up by about 1/2". Wrap yarn or string around the nails to complete the letters and spell your name!
  2. Try making a wooden loom, which will give you practice with hammering nails flush, as well as driving them partway in.
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