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!
14 thoughts on “Milled Face vs Smooth Face Hammer Smackdown!”
Simple invest in both. Framing decking roofing go with milled face. For finished work molding anything where u don’t want to mar the wood chance of leaving the milled pattern on the wood. I say Get both 19 and up Milled. 12 to 16 finished
Good job on the article especially the entertaining smarty pants delivery. I have an ancient smooth face 16 oz. and a 24 oz. waffle face. Homeowner, not pro but I have been involved in building 2 churches from the ground up which is where I was given those two hammers by an old guy who retired from building houses. Also, wood handles don’t get hot or cold and absorb much more of the string shock. And handles can be replaced, althogh good hickory is getting hard yo find.
In my youth I got a job with a framing crew in Colorado who all used 320z waffle faced framing axes. I only had a 28oz smooth face axe and had to strike a 16p nail three times to sink it compared to their two blows. It was hard to keep up with them. One day I was driving 8p nails on some roof sheeting when the nail shot out sideways and hit the guy next to me in the temple. The foreman commanded me “Either get rid of that sissy hammer and get a 32oz waffle face or don’t come back!” After about a week to adjust to the extra four ounces, I was able to keep up and never had nails glancing/shooting again.
Hah – you don’t often hear a 28-oz. hammer referred to as a “sissy hammer” – unless it was pink?! You should have told the guy to be happy he just got hit with a “sissy” 8d nail, and not a 16d sinker. But glad to hear the waffle face worked to stop the shooting nails, and as a bonus, you probably ended up with pretty beefy muscles in your hammer-swinging arm!
Yeah, my forearm hurt like hell for a while but then it felt like all I had to do was let the hammer fall on the nail to sink it. Also had a lot less nails getting bent if I didn’t hit them dead on. That also reduced the number of bent nails and I learned how to straighten and sink a badly bent nail with the next blow. IMO, that is only really possible with a waffle face hammer which grips the nail head and pulls it up straight as it sinks it. Since I only occasionally bang nails for Habitat these days, it always takes a while for me to get my muscle memory honed again. Being able to straighten and sink a badly bent nail in the same stroke always get the attention of my fellow framers who still use light weight smooth face “sissy hammers”. It’s what we used to call “driving the nail” and not just hammering the nail. And yes, I made an interesting impression on my thumb, and my coworkers memory, just last week with my waffle face in the first couple minutes of learning to get my groove back. I had to apologize to all the Church people working on the Habitat house who were subjected to naughty words. But, now having learned to use a heavy waffle face hammer for framing, I will never choose a light smooth face. That foreman was totally righteous.
Thanks for sharing the story – and we hope your coworker survived the ricocheting nail incident in one piece!
That was possibly by far the best and most entertaining article on hammers I’ve ever stumbled across. Cheers to you for your insight and your IPA choice.
Thank you, Katie, for your kind words – and Cheers to you for your discerning taste in beer!
Been using milled face hammers for 19years as a rough framing carpenter they really get it done ?.
They will smooth out with time and still work ok. Not for finish trim work however.
As a former framer, I prefer waffle face for everything except trim work. I really think it’s an advantage, because you really don’t land that many perfectly dead on blows, even when you do it all day every day. It’s the difference between consistently sinking the nail in a couple shots and having the too frequent bent nail, or zinger.
I hear ya, Keith. I’ve used a smooth-faced hammer for decades, but now that I have one with a milled face, I do find myself grabbing it more often when there’s framing to be done…Thanks for your comments!
I always wondered why someone would want a waffle faced hammer. Thanks for the insight.
I prefer a milled face hammer. My job requires me to hammer in rounded heavy duty staples. I threw out my smooth faced hammer the first day on the job.
Having the right tool for the job is a beautiful thing…!