A hammer’s a hammer, right? Not really; even standard claw hammers aren’t standard. Weights vary, claws may be curved or “ripping”; handles can be wood or metal, grips rubber or wood. Considering how indispensable it is, you should buy a good one.
A 16-ounce claw is a good start for light finishing work and some framing. But if you do a lot of framing, a 20-ounce or heavier framing hammer is better. The longer handle and greater weight deliver more momentum, so driving nails is easier. And the straighter ripping claw helps with heavy work.
The best heads are high carbon steel, but no matter what kind you have, clean the hammer face regularly with fine sandpaper to minimize mis-hits.
Some carpenters prefer the flexible feel of wooden shafts to metal. Look at the bottom of the shaft; a fine grain running parallel to the head means less chance the shaft will break. Wrap the shaft with electrician’s tape near the head to add strength. And pull nails properly: pry using the hammer as a lever, rather than pulling straight up.
Some other handy hammers:
Tack: Small magnetic head and light weight let you drive tacks too small to hold. Ideal for upholstery.
Ball peen: Heat-treated steel head good for hitting hardened metal tools, like wrecking bars and masonry chisels, and the round ball can help shape metal.
Single jack: Sort of a mini sledge hammer, handy for driving spikes.
Rubber mallet: Good for driving delicate tools like wood chisels, or knocking wood into place when you don’t want to damage the surface.
Sledge: The “persuader” can take out a wall or break up concrete (and your back if you’re not careful). Bend your knees as you raise the hammer and as you bring it down.