No matter what your level of expertise is with construction, carpentry or home improvement, chances are you’re going to pick up a hammer at some point. It’s one of the most basic tools known to man. Pick up a club shaped object and start smashing stuff with it. That controlled act of violence creates something almost chemical in our brains that says I’m going to pick this tool up and hit something really hard with it. It’s incredibly satisfying. Unfortunately, it’s also hell on our bodies. Just like shoes, cars and beers, there’s a reason why something costs more and gets labeled as a “premium” brand. It generally has to do with improved safety or better performance (unless it’s beer, then it’s just tastier). In this case we’re talking premium framing hammers from trusted brands like Stiletto, Hardcore Hammers and Vaughan Tools. After putting these blunt force objects to the test, I can tell you any upgrade that makes my arm hurt a little less the next day is worth the money, especially if I was swinging hammers for a living (mad respect to those who do it for a living).
After contacting close to a dozen hammer manufacturers we landed on seven top options for our test from Hart Tools, Stilletto, Hardcore Hammers, Vaughan Tools & Dead On Tools. Our team used them over several days on projects around the house, work and shop to see how each hammer performed. We then brought them back to Lazy Guy DIY HQ and drove 3-1/2″ and 3-1/4″ 16D nails into pressure treated 4×4’s and stacked 2×6’s for a final head to head. In order to qualify for the shootout the hammer needed to have a milled face, weigh under 25 oz. and be considered one of the flagship models of that particular brand. There’s obviously a significant price difference in some of these hammers, but what’s important is that each brand feels that this is the best representation of what they offer. It’s up to you as the consumer to figure out which model is the best fit for your level of use and budget. So with that said… on with the show!
*Affiliate Links Marked
The Retro Innovator
Hardcore Hammers was founded by two brothers who had an idea of what a premium framing hammer should be. When weighing in on cost, durability and function they decided to break the mold and come up with their own concept. What you’ll find is a hammer striking surface that’s unlike anything you’ve used before. Instead of a milled face that extends the entire surface, there’s inset milling that is more durable and won’t damage the area of impact. The smooth outer rim then allows you to use the surface for finishing and oh yeah… won’t mince your fingers in case of a miss fire.
This might look like a hammer your granddad would be swinging in his shop with the 18″ curved hickory handle with a gun stock stain, but with the 19 oz. cast steel head and magnetic nail set, this is a modern twist on retro inspired style.
Who This Hammer Is For
The Hardcore Hammer has one of the smaller striking faces we tested. My first few swings were glancing blows to start, but as Steve, one of the founders told me, this is a hammer made for someone who uses one everyday. It’s for the carpenter that can drive a nail blindly with muscle memory. With that said, a few swings later to get a feel for the weight and balance and I was easily driving nails home. The hickory handle is thinner than the others we tested, but the curved, “California” contour keeps a strong grip. So not the manliest sounding compliment, but this is also a hammer that would work well for someone with smaller hands. In all honesty, if I were gifting a hammer to someone, say like my dad who has been swinging a hammer for years, this is exactly what I’d give him. It’s the equivalent of a single malt whiskey. Old school cool that sets the standard for what other hammers want to be like.
Buy Directly From Hardcore Hammer or Visit Amazon*
The Premium Rock Star
Chances are if you ask someone in the industry what’s the most coveted hammer on the market, 9 times out of 10 they’ll tell you it’s a Stiletto. More specifically they’ll be lusting over a Stiletto TiBONE TB-II Titanium 15 oz. hammer. This is the pinnacle sports car in the garage. The ultimate tool to hang from your tool belt. You get the looks, the feel, the technology and the price tag that goes along with it. Clocking in as the most expensive hammer in our test, it also happens to be one of the best hammers (if not the best for you) you can swing… and for good reason.
After decades of playing sports where I constantly injured myself throwing or hitting, I can tell you after several days of swinging these hammers my elbow was ready to tap out with each painful nail I drove. That is until it was time to use this Stiletto. With an ultra light titanium frame and a replaceable 15 oz head, this hammer drives nails like a sledge with barely any vibration. I might have cried a little out of joy each time this hammer came up in the rotation. Swings with this hammer were effortless. The over-sized milled face never missed the mark. Nails were obliterated. The legends are true.
Who This Hammer Is For
This is the epitome of a “pro-grade” tool. You get the highest quality, the highest comfort of use and a durability like no other. You pay more because it’s worth it. If you’re on the job site all day smashing nails for hours at a time then this is the tool you save up for because it actually exceeds the hype. Your arm will thank you. Believe me. If a hammer is normally an extension of your arm in every day use then this is the one you’ve been dreaming of.
Buy Directly From Stiletto or Visit Amazon* or The Home Depot*
The Modern Classic
How do you follow up the Stiletto TB-II with another hammer and expect it to get a second look? The answer is to go with the Stiletto 16 oz. Titanium framer with an axe-style hickory handle. This is what a traditional hammer looks like… but not what it feels like.
Once again, this is where Titanium makes a huge difference in the industry. With its stout handle, it feels like a big hammer in your hands and it strikes even harder. Which is an odd sensation since it weighs next to nothing and the Titanium dampens the impact significantly. I honestly like the feel of the hickory handle when swinging better than its metal brother. It’s strictly a preference.
Who This Hammer Is For
Just like its big (but lighter) brother, the Stiletto 16 oz. Titanium hammer is a pro-grade tool. This is for someone who uses a hammer as an extension of their hand. However, it does have a slightly lower price point which means if you’re the type that likes to use a high quality tool, this is absolutely a hammer to pursue. It’s big, it’s bad and it’s beefy… but only beefy in looks. It’s a featherweight powerhouse that will save you the impact pain a steel head hammer will be sure to give you over time.
Buy Directly From Stiletto or Visit Amazon*or The Home Depot*
All blacked out, the Dead On Tools 21 oz Investment Cast Hammer is a brute. This hammer throws blunt force hurtin’ bombs. Weighing in as one of the heaviest hammers in the competition, the Dead On gives you the same strike results that the lighter hammers are using technology to achieve. It’s not about frills with tools from Dead On, it’s about strength and durability the hold up to everyday punishment.
It’s a big hammer, but it’s supposed to be. If you saw my Heavy Hitter Hammer review last year, you’ll remember my oddball from the group was the Dead On Annihilator. It knows what it is and it’s proud of it. Same with the this hammer. Your buddies on the job site will immediately recognize the black on black design with an angry skull and crossbones. If there’s a hammer that’s specifically here to kick ass and take names, this is it. The team did note that the grip zone on the handle is thick when you swing this hammer, so you might have issues if you have smaller hands getting a firm hold.
Who This Hammer Is For
Sometimes a tough guy rides a Harley because that’s what he does, sometimes a normal guy rides a Harley to look like that tough guy. My point is that the Dead On Investment Hammer is a tough guy hammer, but it’s priced well within reach of anyone that wants to take it for a swing. DIY’er or laborer, this is a statement hammer that wants to build muscles and bust down walls (or build them).
Buy Directly From Dead On or visit Amazon*
One of these things is not like the other and that’s the Vaughan 18 oz. Rip Hammer. From head to toe, this hammer is different in every way from the other hammers in the competition and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes when everyone else turns left, you’re better off taking a right.
While the straight hickory handle might be the first thing you notice, it’s the head that differs the most from the pack. The striking surface is horseshoe shaped rather than a traditional circular impact zone which I was concerned about before I even took a swing. Vaughan uses a patented deep “V” head design that’s supposed to swing faster and provide greater power at the point of impact and breaks the mold for what a framing hammer is “supposed” to look like. This hammer was actually the biggest surprise of the entire competition for me and the team. Nails literally disappeared. I’m not talking crazy miss-hits where nails go flying out into the abyss of the shop. This hammer actually required less strikes on each nail each time it was tested.
Who This Hammer Is For
Falling smack in the middle of the competition in terms of price, the Vaughan Rip Hammer is a great option for anyone looking to upgrade their current hammer to a premium model. You’ll notice I haven’t said “framer” though, that’s because this model hits like a framer but is also great at demo and nail pulling with it’s design and reinforced handle. So yes, it’s not a traditional framer like the rest, but it absolutely falls in the same level of use. If you’ve got a long list of projects ahead of you or you do this for a living, the Vaughan is a good fit in your hands.
Buy Directly From Vaughan or visit Amazon* or The Home Depot*
The Mini Sledge
The heavy hitting Hart Tools 21 oz. framing hammer is the other big boy of the group. It’s the only fiberglass handle out of the competition with a non-slip surface that makes sure you’ll never send this brute flying on an errant swing. The slightly angled face takes in account the weight behind your swing and gives you an optimal impact angle (but makes it tough to have similar staged photos). It’s a budget friendly job site favorite that will take all the abuse you want to throw at it (or smash it into).
The balance on this hammer is a little top heavy, but for good reason. In addition to the normal striking surface and a side mounted nail pull, the Hart 21 oz hammer also comes with a strike surface on the side. If you’ve ever turned your hammer sideways and smashed the side into a stubborn nail or board when you’re low on space but high on ambition… don’t. That’s a common failure point for a lot of hammers. But in the case of the Hart 21 oz. go right ahead. It’s made to take that specific abuse. Like the other heavy hitter in this competition, this hammer swings heavy and gets the job done with authority.
Who This Hammer Is For
The Hart 21 oz. framer is a great option for someone looking for a little more oomph in their swing but not break the bank. It comes with a bag of tricks that firmly established Hart as one of the top innovators in the market that others now try to imitate. The handle is fairly big on this model, so if you have smaller hands you might want to consider our next Hart entry instead.
Buy Directly From Hart Tools or Visit The Home Depot*
The New Kid On The Block
Launched only a few months ago, the Hart Tools 16 oz. QuickStrike Steel framing hammer shows that Hart still has a few tricks up its sleeves. Where the other guys drop the weight by using different materials, this hammer uses steel I-Beam construction that swings like a hammer twice its weight but forgets to bring the painful impact vibrations along with it.
Unlike its big brother featured above, this model drops additional weight by hollowing out the side nail pull and combining that area with the side strike zone. Don’t be fooled by the price point, this hammer swings and feels like a hammer that costs a lot more. The contours of the handle are more aggressive and the impact angle is tilted a little bit more than the rest of the competition. What you get is a different swing experience that shows how Hart continues to reinvent itself.
Who This Hammer Is For
Given its price point, you could easily overlook this hammer (if you can actually get your hands on one) while looking in your local hardware store. Don’t be fooled though, you get a lot of bang for your buck (literally). Out of all the hammers in the competition, this is easily the one that will meet the needs of all skill levels.
Buy Directly From Hart or Visit The Home Depot*
So What’s The Verdict?
After a week or two of recovery from the testing process (I didn’t realize what a pansy I’d become), I went back to the shop to this impressive collection of premium hammers and wanted to figure out which model I gravitated towards the most. It’s too easy to say the Stiletto TiBONE, given it’s one of the best hammers ever. The Vaughan impressed me a lot in terms of straight performance. In the end, there are two hammers I find myself reaching for…
It was love at first sight with the Hardcore Hammer. It appealed to me right away. The design. The feel. It’s different than the masses and that’s a good thing. But, I’m also not swinging a hammer everyday, so I haven’t gotten the most out of this hammer yet (be patient, I will). So ultimately, if I’m not trying to spend more quality time with the Hardcore Hammer, I’m reaching for the Stiletto 16 oz Titanium. It fits into my hand like it’s always been there. It’s an extension of my own arm. Driving nails was truly effortless. If someone asked me if it’s truly worth spending more than $15 for a hammer at their local hardware I’d slap this model down into their hands and so you tell me. They’ll know. They’ll know.
But ultimately, those are the hammers that fit my hands the best and my swing. Each of these hammers were incredibly capable and worth a look at. If a buddy has one give it a try, it’s one of those things where you don’t truly know until you try it yourself. Or even better, the brands who have participated in this challenge have all agreed on doing a giveaway as well. So make sure you’re following me on Instagram @LazyGuyDIY and YouTube so you can be on the look out for a chance to win some bad ass tools!
~ Lazy Guy
*All hammers in this challenge were donated by the brands who participated. There was no compensation in exchange for time or opinion. We did this because we wanted to know which hammers were truly best. Our opinions are our own.