Looking for advice on buying a new hammer? Everyone has an opinion on what features are most important when buying a hammer. Some prefer a 16-oz. model with a short handle; others want a 28-ouncer with a long handle. For a select few, the big question is “Can I get it in pink?” Why yes, you can, if you feel you must… For many buyers looking to get hammered, though, the key issue is milled face vs smooth face – which is better?
A milled face, also called checkered face or waffle face, is a pattern on the striking face of the hammer. Different brands use different patterns, but the idea is to provide a bit of extra gripping surface to catch and sink nails. Patterns vary from a mellow set of concentric rings, which some may not consider a true milled face, to seriously sharp tiny pyramids, patiently waiting to turn your fingers to mush. A smooth face is, hopefully, self-explanatory.
One thing pretty much everyone agrees on, thankfully, is that the best brand is Estwing. Or Hart. Or Vaughan. Or Stanley. Or Dead ON. Or Dalluge. Or Stiletto. Or DeWalt. Or Milwaukee. Or (INSERT FAVORITE HAMMER NAME HERE). Now that that’s settled, you just need to decide on the best handle material, which is obviously titanium. Or graphite. Or fiberglass. Or steel. Or hickory. See how easy that was?!
Milled Face vs Smooth Face: What’s The Point?
We’ll leave the debate over the best brand for another day; we’re here to focus on the face. Everything else being equal, either one will do a good job of propelling a nail through a slab of wood. It really comes down to what you’ll be using the hammer for.
If you’re a framing carpenter, the waffle-headed hammer might give you a bit of an edge if you’re trying to do a lot of toenailing, or your hammering skills suck and you can’t seem to hit the nail dead on. The caveat? Every time you smack a nail down flush, whatever design is on the hammer’s face will be neatly imprinted on your work piece. For this reason, you won’t find many finish carpenters with a milled head hammer.
Whichever face you choose, spend a few dollars extra and get a contractor-grade hammer. When I started work as a framing carpenter a long time ago, I bought a cheapo 16-oz. hammer with a hollow handle. It lasted about a week, until I missed a nail (a fairly common occurrence for me) and managed to seriously dent the handle. I then invested in a solid-handle 22-oz. Estwing, which is still going strong today.
In Your Face – The Milled Face vs Smooth Face Hammer Contest Comes To A Head
So, in the Milled Face vs Smooth Face Hammer debate, which wins the Golden Hammerhead Award? My old Estwing has a smooth face; I don’t even know if they made a milled face back then. My nail-smacking skills eventually improved, and over the decades, the Estwing has buried many a 16D sinker. The smooth face has always done a very respectable job sinking big nails, and has whacked in its share of finish nails as well. The ability to do so without leaving a pulverized piece of trim in its wake makes the smooth face my hammer of choice.
Anyone who does strictly framing carpentry may prefer a milled face. The aggressive pattern can be helpful when toenailing, and for the occasions when you don’t hit the nail dead on. Although I’m sure those occasions are extremely rare. The other upside is that if you happen to miss the nail, and smack the hell out of your thumb, you’ll have an interesting pattern to look at to accompany the interesting adjectives you’ll be shouting.
Still can’t make up your mind? Search out a hammer with interchangeable faces, so you can have a baby-smooth face one day, and make a sporty design on your thumb the next.
Whichever face you prefer, other useful features to look for include a side nail puller and a magnetic nail starter. Before making your investment, your best bet is to head to your local hardware store or home improvement center, and try out several models. Find one with a comfortable grip, and a face you can love for a lifetime, and go smack the poop out of something. And if YOU have a preference in the milled face vs smooth face hammer debate, weigh in on the smackdown debate in the comments section below!