How to Swing a Hammer

July 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm
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Using a hammer is one of the most fundamental techniques used by the DIYer and tradesman alike. Knowing how to get the most out of your hammer can prevent a sore and tired arm, and can make the difference between a good finish and a really great one by preventing hammer marks where you’ve missed the target!

Understanding which hammer to choose for each job can also make a massive difference to the level of finish on your project. You can read more about the difference between each type of hammer here.


Something to hit!


  1. Before you start, try to give yourself plenty of room to work in. It’s not always possible if you’re working in a tight space, or the nail is in an inconvenient location, but you will find it easier if you can swing unimpeded and you won’t risk damaging things (or people) around you.
  2. If the surface that you’re hammering into isn’t secure, then place your work against something that is secure and will not move. It’s not only more efficient (if it can move, the energy that you transfer from the hammer will move your work, not drive a nail into it), but it’s less likely to cause you or anyone else injury by flying off when struck.
  3. Think about where you’re standing. Right handers will want to stand slightly to the left of the nail, and left handers vice versa, as this will help give your swinging arm freedom to move and mean that you’re less likely to hit yourself on the backswing.
  4. Grip the hammer towards the end of the handle. The power in your swing is loosely based on the lever principle, so the longer the placement of your grip can make the hammer handle, the more power and accuracy you’ll be able to deliver to the head of the nail. Plenty of power transferred to the head of the nail means fewer strokes, so that’s less effort for you, meaning that you can keep hammering much longer. Fewer strokes also means that you’ll have fewer opportunities to miss the head of the nail, protecting the surface that you’re hammering into. So don’t ‘choke’ the hammer by holding it close to the head.
  5. Don’t hold the nail near the surface that you’re driving it into. If you miss and hit a finger, you’ll crush it badly. Hold the nail higher up, so that if you do hit a finger there’s room for it to move away, lessening your injury considerably. 
    •  To prevent hitting your fingers, you can use a nail gripper to hold the nail for you. A cheap alternative is a section of cardboard. Simply push the nail through the cardboard and use that to hold the nail in place before you begin. Once the nail is secure, just tug the cardboard away from the nail.
  6. Drilling a pilot hole and lubricating the nail with beeswax or similar can help prevent wood from splitting. You should consider this if you are driving nails in near the edge of the wood. You may consider abandoning the hammer and nails altogether in some scenarios, opting for drill and screws instead.
  7. Let the weight of the hammer do the work for you. If you’re having to really work to drive the nail home, then you might need to examine your technique, as well as the surface that you’re driving nails into, as you should almost be just guiding the head of the hammer to the nail and letting the weight of the head do all the work.
  8. It’s ok to change your technique as you go! When you’re starting the nail, you’ll find it easiest to swing from the wrist as this will give control. Once the nail is secure, you can swing from the elbow to give the power to drive home the nail in just a few swings. 
    • Don’t make the mistake of holding the hammer close to the head and moving the position of your grip as the nail becomes secure, when you should be adjusting the swing from wrist to elbow. Gripping too close to the head compromises your accuracy, often resulting in hitting (and damaging) the surface instead of the nail.
  9. Keep your eye on the head of the nail. Look at the place that you’re aiming to hit, don’t watch the hammer for maximum accuracy. Just the same as watching the golf ball, not the golf club, or the ball not the racquet in virtually every racquet sport.

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