Yes, I get the gist of it. The hand goes on the handle and you hit the nail or whatever object with the head (of the hammer). So... not this:

How not to use a hammer

Image from ShutterStock

I am referring to both the action of seating nails and removing them. When I am removing nails from pallet boards I hit all the nails out and then flip the board to I can pull them out.

Eventually this repetitive action is going to start to hurt and obviously that is going to happen regardless. However I wonder what I need to know to hold it off as long as possible.

Does something simple like my thumb position play into account? Should I be giving a thumbs up or making a fist when holding it? Could this just be a matter of whatever feels comfortable?

What do I need to know to use my claw hammer effectively so as to not cause unneeded stress on myself?

  • Well-asked question. Could you specify the hammer or hammers you're using? It makes a difference with regard to how best to pull nails. Also a claw hammer is not the only tool for pulling nails, and maybe not the best one, if doing this a lot. Do you use anything else, like the claw-foot on a prybar, nail pincers? – Graphus Apr 18 '16 at 15:25
  • where is it hurting? wrist? elbow? thumb? – costrom Apr 18 '16 at 15:31
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    Good question. However, I think the answer is going to be "it depends". I think there is so much difference between us that what works well for you may not work at all for me, and what worked for me at age 23 may not work so well now at age mumblemumblemumble. I do get that you're looking for some general pointers, and that a list of things to try may be useful for when pain or exhaustion does set in. – FreeMan Apr 18 '16 at 15:47
  • @Graphus I suppose claw hammer specifically. I have other tools that I use that really help: Long pry bar with claw foot, Impact nail puller (which is awesome) and even pliers which can help sometimes. Issue is those tools are inconvenient when I am working on a table or bench. They are better when I am standing over the work. I found it easier to use the hammer when on the bench. Hammer the nails out. Flip the board. Finish the pull. – Matt Apr 18 '16 at 16:00
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    @FreeMan I am mostly trying to come up with content for the site. I do sometimes get surprises for things from time to time so I figure "what the hell. Ask a simple question". I expect things like make sure the work is clamped down or otherwise immobile so the energy is not wasting moving the board around. – Matt Apr 18 '16 at 16:02

Whether pulling or pounding nails the foremost concern is leverage - this means grip the handle as far from the head as possible.

Thumbs up, thumbs down depends on the where the nail is in relation to your body and how you can best achieve maximum mechanical advantage (least effort to get the job done). Personally, I think that if I were dismantling a pallet, I would lean the boards containing the nails against a table, pound them through as you indicated, then seat the claw so that I could pull the handle downward such that body weight could help provide some of the force.

Always seat the nail as far into the space between claws as you can - keeps the hammer from slipping off and increases mechanical advantage. If the nail is too far out to get a good grip near its head, place a block of wood against the nail and then place the claw on the shaft of the nail. See below which is also a slick wayy to ease the damage done to the board.

enter image description here source

Of course, one of the big problems with removing nails is gaining a purchase on the nail head. If you can drive the nail out from the other side far enough to attach the claw, then no problem. But what do you do when you have a 16 penny sinker holding together a couple of two by fours? Almost impossible to do without messing up the wood. First see whether the nail head is totally sunk, if not, with little effort you might be able to get the claw to get a grip. If the nail has been driven home (or beyond) your best bet is find a way to pry the boards apart (think crow bar, pry bar, or even the claw of your hammer). If these don't do the job, then you resort to solutions that are beyond the scope of this question and perhaps even for another site.

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    If you have a damaged nail head and a hard time to get a grip you can hit the hammer on the face with another hammer to make the claws dig into the nail. – LosManos Apr 19 '16 at 4:59
  • Note that leverage applies to driving nails too. Hold as far back on the hammer as you can and still hit the nail accurately. "Choking up" toward the head may improve accuracy but the reduction in force is quite substantial -- I've seen the same nail take a novice four ot give strokes and someone who was on practice two, and it wasn't all strength. – keshlam May 19 '16 at 1:37
  • Do not hit the face oif one nailing hammer with another hammer. Hammer heads are designed to hit softer metals like nails, and only when those are being driven into wood. When two hardened heads kit each other, it is possible for one of them to shatter, throwing sharp pieces of metal in unexpected directions, potentially into your eyes. If you must do this, use a separate nail pulling claw, made of a more ductil!e metal designed to be struck without causing this hazard. – keshlam May 20 '16 at 2:34

If you're concerned about the ergonomics of repetitive nail pulling, I'd use a tool designed specifically for that job that is long enough to give you the leverage you need to pull the nail without pounding on the handle (or pushing unsafely hard).

If I were breaking down pallets, I would definitely avoid using a hammer for pulling nails. I'd say the claw is more intended for pulling the occasional half-hammered nail that bent on the way in.

Something like this that's of suitable length is going to be a lot more comfortable for extended use:

enter image description here


Claw hammer doesn't describe one particular design of a tool. There are different dimensions and materials they are made out of, so the weight and leverage can vary. Some are curved claw, others straight claw, some have sideways pullers also. There are several types of nail pullers, tack pullers, ripping bars, etc., because none of them give you the perfect position to access a nail in all situations. Same goes for claw hammers. I sometimes use four tools to pull a nail so that it goes better over all. The technique depends as much on the tool, as for which is more effective, or whether you're demolishing something versus preserving the rest.

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