What is a Claw Hammer?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

A claw hammer, also known as a nail hammer, is a tool used to both drive nails into wood and remove nails and other fasteners from wood. It's the type of hammer most people are familiar with. It has two parts: head, usually made of steel, and a handle, made of a metal, wood and sometimes coated with rubber to help the user grip the tool. The handle is generally grasped with one hand and swung through the air to pound nails. To remove nails, the hammer is placed with the nail in the middle of the v-shaped claw and pressed against the wood in a levering motion. There are framing claw hammers for heavier work and finishing claw hammers for lighter work, while various weights, materials, and head and handle designs adapt the basic two types to different uses and users.

Claw hammers are the most common type of hammers.
Claw hammers are the most common type of hammers.

Most claw hammers have the same design. The handle of the claw hammer is centered under the head, with the cylindrical pounding surface of the head extending to one side and the claw extending on the other side. More recently, a framing hammer design referred to as the “weight forward hammer” has been developed. It has an off-center handle that is much closer to the striking surface, which barely extends beyond the handle at all.

There are two types of claw hammers with respect to the claw of the hammer. The straight claw hammer has a relatively straight claw. The curved claw hammer is probably the most familiar form of claw hammer. The curved nature of the claw is typically better at pulling nails, especially long nails, out of wood.

The framing hammer style of claw hammer is also called a rip hammer. In comparison with a finishing hammer, it usually has a longer handle, a heavier head, and often, a flatter claw. A framing hammer’s handle may be made of wood, fiberglass, or steel, or alternatively, the entire hammer may be made of titanium, with a steel cap on the striking surface.

The striking surface of a framing hammer often comes with a choice of a smooth finish, a milled surface, or a waffle face. Both the waffle face and the milled surface are made to better grip the nail. The waffle face has an indented surface, similar to that in a waffle iron, while the milled surface has protruding diamond-shaped points. Unlike the waffle face and smooth finish, a milled surface can mark the wood. A smooth finish, however, is more likely to slide off the nail head being hit.

Framing hammers may have some special features. A nail start — a recessed, magnetic holder to help get a nail properly placed — may be built into the head. The head or handle on a framing hammer with a wood, fiberglass, or steel handle may be replaceable. Titanium hammers, on the other hand, may be designed to allow the owner to change the steel cap that fits on the striking end of the head, allowing a switch between a smooth finish, waffle face, or milled surface. Additionally, a worn surface could be replaced.

The finishing hammer type of claw hammer is the usual choice for household tasks and when driving small or thin nails. A finishing hammer typically has a wooden handle, a smooth face, and a light head. In most cases, it has a shorter handle than a framing hammer, and a claw with a greater curve. The standard defining feature of a finishing hammer, as opposed to a framing hammer, is that a finishing hammer weighs less than 20 oz (567 gm) and is less than 16 in (40.6 cm) long. Variations in finishing hammer designs include the long neck and trumpet-shaped head of the so-called “Japanese finish hammer” and miniature claw hammers, or non-marring hammers, that may be 7 in (17.8 cm) long or less.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


@raynbow- For the work that you want to do, I don't think that you will need a very large claw hammer. Though a larger hammer would be more powerful, it would also be awkward. This would not make pounding the small nails necessary for trim pieces very easy to do. The same would be true for hanging paintings on a wall, because you wouldn't be using very large nails for that job, either.

I think that a medium sized hammer will work perfectly for you. Look for one that is between 12 and 18 inches long with a durable head. Always make sure that any hammer you are planning to purchase seems as if it is well made, too. You don't want it to fall apart after pounding several nails into a wall.


I am not very handy with tools, so I am looking for some advice about the best size of claw hammer for simple jobs. For example, I have some wall trim to install, and I want to hang some paintings on the wall. I don't think I would need a very large hammer, but I don't want to purchase one that won't work very well.

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