Most carpenters will tell you a hammer is for driving nails. But watch them work and you’ll see that they hardly ever whack nails. Air nailers—fast, lightweight, reliable and cheap—have changed all that. But that doesn’t mean carpenters don’t sling hammers around anymore. They’re still indispensable for an incredible number of tasks, including driving the occasional nail.
The vast majority of carpenters prefer hammers with a straight “rip” claw over “claw” hammers, which have curved claws. That’s because they use the ripping end nearly as much as the pounding end. At least I do. Here are just a few of my hammer feats over the years, most of them accomplished with the rip end of my trusty framing hammer.
Need a 2x2 when all you have are 2x4s? Or need to clean out a crude dado? Or hack off a projecting piece of framing for the drywall to fit flat? Grab your rip hammer and whale away.
Most of my electrician buddies don't like tape measures, so I guess that's why they use their hammers to position outlet boxes. A hammer's length from the floor to the bottom of the box is about right. It's not so important how high the boxes are, just that they're all the same height.
Anytime there's demo work on my plate, I grab my flat bar, recip saw, sledgehammer and, of course, my rip hammer. I use the claw to pull off corner beads, drive through plywood, pry studs apart—just about anything that needs destruction. If I had to, I could demo a whole house with a ripping hammer. (Or at least I could in my 20s.)
Can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten a caulking gun and needed a little dab or two to seal up a hole. That’s when I shove the handle down the tube and force out some caulk with my “hammer gun.”
Say you find yourself sliding down the sheathing of a new roof. On your way to the precipice, you have the presence of mind to pull out your hammer and slam the claw through the plywood to arrest your fall. Sound farfetched? Well, I have two friends who have pulled off this stunt. Of course, if they had any brains, they wouldn’t have been in that slippery situation in the first place.
About every third time I use a recip saw, the blade gets jammed and bent. So I grab my hammer and straighten it out with the claw. You could also lay the blade flat on a 2x4 and beat it.
Sometimes I think I’ve spent half my life on extension ladders. In spite of that, I’ve never taken a fall. That’s because I’ve always made sure the ladder feet were anchored in little pockets dug into the ground, especially in the winter. Didn’t matter if the ground was frozen or not; the rip claw on my hammer would dig through anything. It also works great for prying rocks out of the hole when you’re digging.
I live in Minnesnowta. And with our infamous winters come ice dams, sometimes monster ice dams. I’m an old hand at dealing with them, and I always use my rip claw for the job. I’ve broken up ice dams that were the size of bathtubs. It’s just the right tool to chunk up the bergs without wrecking the roof.
Don't try this with your nail gun!!
So Who the Heck Uses a Claw Hammer?
Everything a claw hammer can do, a rip hammer can do better. And there are many things you couldn’t do with a claw hammer—like most of these tips! So what good are they? Claw fans argue that they excel at pulling nails. So what? I pull nails all the time with my ripper. If I need more leverage or working room, I slip a chunk of wood under the hammerhead. But usually that’s not even necessary.
I do actually own a claw hammer. Maybe I’ll sharpen the claw and use it for a fish gaff.