Claw hammer is the most versatile for household jobs

Q: How do you pick out a hammer? There are so many choices.

A: A claw hammer is the most versatile type for everyday use. One with a curved rather than straight claw will give you more leverage in prying out nails.

John D. Wagner, a green building consultant and writer from Montpelier, Vt., recommends a 16-ounce claw hammer. For light use such as hanging pictures, a hammer with a hickory handle is fine, he said. For heavier use, however, he recommends spending more for a hammer with an ergonomic, vibration-absorbing handle.

Other nice-to-have features, if you're willing to pay the extra cost, are a curved handle and a magnetic nail holder, he said. The latter allows you to start nails without holding them in place with your fingers.

Don't pay more for a triangular head, designed for use in corners. "It really doesn't work," Wagner said.

In an article he wrote for "This Old House" titled Hammer Time, Wagner recommends buying a hammer with a smooth rather than checkerboard face on the hammer head. The checkerboard face — also called a mill face — is designed for framing and can leave marks on the surface.

If you want to expand your toolbox, you can choose a 13-ounce hammer for trim work and a 20- or 22-ounce hammer for framing, he said.

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