Hammer and Nails: What You Should Know About Hand Tools

Many people, such as myself, often complete DIY projects in and around the home without giving it any thought. Not everyone can afford to hire someone else to do the job; therefore, in an attempt to save money we opt to just to it ourselves. Depending on the task at hand, this is generally ok; however, you should be well advised to follow some important guidelines before jumping in. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself at risk for potential accidents and wind up with an embarrassing story to tell.

I consider myself to be a relatively smart woman, and I take pride in the many DIY projects with which I have successfully completed. Yet, if stupidity was a gift, I could surely take top prize. I had noticed a broken footboard in the girls’ room one night. It was late; I was tired, so I decided to take care of the problem the following morning. After the kids left for school, I went to the bedroom to assess the damage. The brace had come loose from each of the side posts. Thinking this would be an easy enough project to undertake and being the intelligent woman that I thought I was, I chose to insert a screw into each bedpost to secure the brace, since it didn’t seem to want to stay in place on its own. My first task was locating the screws and a drill. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the drill (red flag). So I improvised. I grabbed a four-way screwdriver and decided to insert it manually. I quickly found that this wasn’t going to be as easy as it had first appeared.

The wood was hard, the screw kept slipping, and I couldn’t get a hole started. I became frustrated. Again, I improvised. I got the hammer (a 16-ounce) and successfully sank a nail into the first post. I then pulled the nail out and popped the screw in, twisting and turning until it was securely in place. Beginning to feel confident again, I boldly went on to repeat the process with the other post. I picked up the hammer and gave it a swing. The nail bent. My patience was being tested at this point. I tried to straighten the nail; it didn’t work. I made the choice to pull it out. I tugged on the nail with the hammer. No luck. Was it mocking me? I was becoming tired, and my back and legs were aching so I squatted down (another red flag). Unstable and teetering, I kept twisting and pulling at the nail with all my might. Finally, with one last jerk, I fell backward onto the floor. My eyes began to water, and I became disoriented. The hammer whacked me in the face along the bridge of my nose. How could I be so stupid? I felt about as bright as a burned-out light bulb. Apparently, this project turned out to be far more arduous then I thought; nonetheless, I went on to finish the job with a swollen nose and blackened eyes.

The point to this story is simple. Hammers might appear quite harmless in relation to most other hand tools; however, if they are handled improperly or without forethought, they can be extremely dangerous. So if you happen to be one of those people who may be considering taking on a DIY project, there are a few precautions you should take note of. First, before jumping into any project, carefully assess the task at hand. Make sure there is adequate working space and avoid clutter which could be potentially hazardous. Most importantly, have everything you need readily available and use the right tool for the job. Don’t try to use tools for purposes other than what they are intended. Substituting tools (improvising) can significantly increase your chances of becoming injured.

Something I didn’t know (but I do now) is that a hammer’s weight should match the job as well as the individual using it. For example, a common 16-ounce claw hammer is ideal for most jobs around the home; however, a lighter weight (10- 13-ounce) hammer would have proved easier for me to handle as I am a small person, only 4 feet 11 inches. The heavier the hammer, the more stress on your wrist and worn out you become. Also, consider the right hammer for the job as there are several types to choose from, all with different purposes. I didn’t know this either; I always thought a hammer was just a hammer. Once again, I was wrong. Choosing the right hammer is not only safer but can get the job done quicker. My morning task ended up taking all day. So how do you choose the right hammer? The following descriptions should help:

Ball-Pein Hammer: riveting, center punching, bending or shaping metal
Brick Hammer: cutting and setting bricks or breaking off mortar
Carpenter’s Mallet: furniture assembly, shaping sheet metal
Common Claw Hammer: carpentry work and nail pulling
Drywall Hammer: drywall work, marking wallboard and making cutouts
Finishing Hammer: cabinet making, finishing, and light carpentry
Hand-Drilling Hammer: working with masonry nails, steel chisels, and masonry drills
Rip Hammer: more tedious carpentry work, such as framing or ripping
Soft-face Hammer: furniture and wood projects
Tack Hammer: driving small nails

You should also consider practicing safety guidelines before beginning any project. The project may require some type of safety gear such as goggles, back braces, gloves, etc. Anytime you are using a hammer, wear safety goggles (I wish I would have) as nails can bounce up in your face. You should be careful when pulling nails as well. Both the hammer and the nail can fly up once the nail comes loose, as in my situation. Additionally, if nails are stubborn, use a pry bar. You should try to maintain good posture and balance (no teetering like me) as well. This lessens stress on muscles and helps eliminate injuries associated with swinging a hammer. Don’t use hammers that have a wobble in the head or loose handles. Don’t use ordinary steel hammers on metal, concrete, or stone surfaces. And last, but not least, if you are working with wood, use a drill to make a pilot hole rather than using a hammer and nail.

Always assess the risks involved with undertaking a DIY project. It could turn out to be something more than what you, alone, can handle. Either you know what you’re doing, or you don’t. Is the task worth the potential risk? I could have easily gotten someone else to fix the bed; all I had to do was ask. If I hadn’t been so hard headed, I could have saved myself a broken nose. Avoid the pitfalls of stupidity; accidents can and do happen so don’t attempt a project by yourself unless you know exactly what you’re doing and practice safety precautions.

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