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A sledge hammer seems like a pretty simple piece of equipment – until you start shopping for a new one.
It turns out there are all sorts of sledge hammer options on the market today. There are different materials to choose from, different head and handle combinations, different weights, and prices that run the gamut. Unless you're a demolition expert, choosing the right sledge hammer is a surprisingly complicated task.
BestReviews was created to help resolve this type of shopping dilemma. We run in-depth investigations of a product's pros and cons to help customers make the right buying decision. We refuse to accept manufacturer samples because it might lead to bias. Instead, we buy items with our own money and, where feasible, donate them to charity when we're done. Our impartiality enables us to provide readers with honest, unbiased product recommendations and reviews.
The five sledge hammers in the product matrix at the top of this page are those that passed our rigorous standards. If you’re in the market for a new sledge hammer, we invite you to check out those options. If you’d like a little more information, the shopping guide that follows discusses the elements you will want to think about when choosing the best sledge hammer for your own needs.
There aren't many components to a sledge hammer: just a handle and a head. Nevertheless, the composition of those two items varies enormously and has a massive impact on your decision.
Wood is the traditional sledge hammer handle material, particularly ash and hickory.
You don't always need the biggest sledge hammer. Using a 20-pound tool on drywall is overkill. A three- to five-pound tool will do the job more quickly, and you'll use less energy.
Fiberglass is often touted as a lighter, tougher alternative to wood – but if you’re considering this option, it's important to check the actual weight of the handle first. Cheap fiberglass handles can actually be heavy.
Steel is an extremely durable material, and it has come a long way from being a big old rusty metal bar.
The modern steel sledge hammer handle is very strong and resistant to damage. Most are covered with some kind of rubber or nylon that may be sculpted for better grip.
Advanced models are constructed from numerous bars bound together, or laminated, reducing the weight. Some even have built-in shock-absorbing systems.
Steel-handled sledge hammers can be extremely tough, but “unbreakable” claims should always be taken with a grain of salt.
High-tech sledge hammer handles are expensive.
Many sledge hammer handles have what's called overstrike protection. Overstrike protection usually comes in the form of a reinforced area just below the head. The area is designed to absorb impact in the event that you overreach and bring the handle down on the target instead.
In general, sledge hammer handles are 36 inches long. It's a length that suits most people. If you want a shorter handle, some high-end manufacturers offer 24-inch and 30-inch alternatives. These are also available from suppliers of replacement sledge hammer handles. If you're working in a confined space, a small sledge hammer with a 12- or 15-inch handle may be a viable alternative.
Surprisingly, sledge hammer heads are not all same the shape. Some have a flat face, which is good for knocking in fence posts but not so good for breaking concrete. Some are slightly domed, making them more dual-purpose in nature. And some have two different faces — one flat and the other wedge-shaped to focus destructive force.
Never use a sledge hammer with a damaged handle, no matter how minimal the damage might seem. Replace it immediately.
Almost all sledge hammer heads are made of forged or drop forged steel. The handle is made by pounding a basic lump of steel into shape with huge hammers or presses. In the process, it becomes very hard – about 30% harder than cast steel.
Some sledge hammer heads are coated in urethane or a similar plastic material. The purpose of this coating is to make the sledge hammer safe to use in areas where sparking could be a concern.
They also come in a variety of colors for greater visibility. Notably, the color of a sledge hammer head does not reflect how well it works.
Never bang hammer heads together. The heads could crack or shatter.
Sledge hammer heads come in lots of different weights. In this way, you can buy a tool specific to a particular job.
Small, light-duty sledge hammers are available with heads weighing around three pounds. If you're cracking off tile in cramped surroundings, a head of this weight could be very useful.
A sledge hammer of eight to ten pounds is suitable for home use. It’s light enough for most people to swing yet heavy enough to knock in fence posts or break up moderate areas of concrete.
Sledge hammers of 20 pounds and up are considered "professional" tools. They're hard work to use, but they demolish quickly and efficiently.
Check your sledge hammer before each use. Is the head firmly fixed to the handle? Is the handle free from damage?
We would avoid the cheapest sledge hammers for safety reasons. Due to poor construction, the handle could split or break too easily, and in rare instances, the head could shatter.
You can get a good, durable sledge hammer of three to five pounds for $15 to $20.
A high-quality, 10-pound sledge hammer from a well-known brand will likely cost you from $50 to $70. In this price bracket, you have an enormous choice, from traditional hickory-handled models to those with built-in shock-resistance and alternate faces.
Professional-grade sledge hammers in the 20-pound range can cost upwards of $150. If you’re going to use it a lot, however, it's probably a worthwhile investment. High-quality tools of this nature will give a lifetime of service in very tough conditions.
When you're shopping for a sledge hammer, you face an almost bewildering selection of weights, sizes, and materials. If you’re struggling to make a choice, remember that it all boils down to a simple question: what job do you need the sledge hammer for most of the time?
If you're taking out an old kitchen or doing modest remodeling inside your house, a three- to five-pound tool with a handle length between one and two feet will cope with most close-up tasks, and you'll be able to manage it for reasonable periods of time.
If you're doing more serious demolition or simply want a general-purpose sledge hammer, an eight- to ten-pound model with a three-foot handle is a good all-rounder.
If you need to knock down a brick garage or break up large areas of concrete, you need plenty of weight and a good length of handle to deliver as much destructive force as possible.
Follow these tips to optimize your sledge hammer strikes:
Keep both feet at the same level, and place your left foot slightly in front of your right.
Concentrate on where you want to strike. Focus on the target, not the hammer head.
Think about swinging the head onto the target in a smooth arc.
Don't “choke” the hammer by placing your hands too close to the head.
Don't try to drive the head. Instead, allow its weight and momentum to do the work.
If you can't hit the same place twice, you're probably forcing it. Try to relax.
Always wear gloves and protective goggles when demolishing with a sledge hammer. Wear a face mask in dusty environments.
Make sure you've got plenty of room to swing your sledge hammer without obstruction – and make sure the area is clear of children and pets. A distraction could cause serious injury.
Never over-stretch. If you're struggling to reach your target, you are off balance and could hurt yourself badly.
Never practice swinging a sledge hammer on an old tire; the recoil could surprise you and cause serious injury. It's a training method used by bodybuilders, but it takes practice.
To judge the correct distance to the object you want to strike, rest the sledge hammer head on the target and move back until you have a comfortable grip on the handle.
Most sledge hammers need little maintenance, but always follow manufacturer's instructions.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.