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3 min read

Tips for Volunteers: Hammer Time

Tips for Volunteers: Hammer Time

Guest blog by CJ Fitzsimons, Women Build Regular Volunteer and Women Build Steering Committee Member

Hello, Twin Cities Habitat community. My name is CJ, and I’m here to share hammer tips and tricks for volunteers. No experience is needed to volunteer, and our friendly site supervisors will provide training. However, these tips will help you nail it!

Four volunteers smiling and holding hammers

Hammering nails seems simple, but some volunteers have never used a hammer. In that case, “hit the nail on the head” becomes literal. If that’s you, don’t worry. Here are some rules of thumb (so you don’t smack yours):

Select the Right Hammer

Common hammers include the following:

  • Claw hammer: Shorter, lighter, and easier to use. The curved fork on the back is better for pulling out nails. You may need to make more strikes with this hammer since it has less leverage.
  • Framing hammer: If you’re more advanced, consider this hammer. It has a magnetic nail starter for one-handed nail setting, a milled face for less slippage, and more leverage. However, it’s longer and heavier, so missing the mark will leave a print on the surface.
  • Bonus—sledgehammer: This hammer is mainly used for demolition, but sometimes volunteers use it to set erected walls. 

Tip: Choose the hammer and weight you’re most comfortable holding for the best aim and control.

Safety First

Check your hammer and make sure the handle is intact. Loose or damaged handles can possibly injure you or someone else. Look around your work area before nailing to ensure no one is in your “swing zone.”

Set the Nail Before You Hammer

  • Hold the nail close to the head with your non-dominant hand, making sure the nail is vertical.

Tip: Grasping near the top decreases your chances of a finger injury if the hammer slips for this step.

  • Next, grab the hammer in the middle of the handle.

Tip: Move your hand toward the hammer’s head (“choking up the handle”) to help your swing.

  • Lastly, give enough light taps so the nail can stand alone. Then let go of the nail.

Pound Away

Volunteer hammering a nail

Let momentum do the work—no need to use the force of Thor and his magic hammer. Proper hammering is about technique and practice. For best results, grab the hammer closer to the end of the handle. Bend your elbow to pull the hammer back, slightly bend your wrist, and lightly rotate your shoulder. Swing your shoulder forward and extend your elbow. Once you hit the nail head, snap your wrist forward.

Tip: How far back you swing or how hard and fast you hit the nail is about your comfortability with the hammer’s weight. The bigger and more forceful the swing, the less swings needed.

Removing a Nail

No matter how skilled you are, eventually you’ll need to remove a bent, broken, or misplaced nail at some point. Here are some ways to do so.

  • Hammer’s claw, with or without a block: This is usually the easiest option. Rest the hammer’s head on the wood, slide the nail into the “V,” and pull straight back. Repeat as necessary. Using a block gives leverage and protects the surface.
  • Side pull: This works well for stubborn, bent, long, or headless nails. It’s the same as the claw pull—except you’ll pull the hammer sideways. Reset the hammer and pull in the opposite direction, repeating until the nail is removed.
  • Cat's paw toolCat’s paw: This is best for sunken nails and uses a tool called a cat’s paw. Position the tip of the cat’s paw at an angle to the nail in the wood. Use the hammer to pound it into the wood, catch the nail head, and pull back. Once the nail is exposed, extract it with any other method.

Bonus Tips

  • Your elbow and shoulder will do most of the work; the wrist snap uses the hammer’s momentum. Relying too much on your wrist means more inaccuracy—and wrist stress over time.
  • Keep your non-hammer hand away. Remember, hand-eye coordination is important. Always focus on the nail. If you’re looking at your hand, that’s where the blow will strike. (I’ve been there, broken that!)

Ready to start hammering? We’re looking forward to seeing you onsite! Explore volunteer opportunities or learn about becoming a Winter Warrior. If you’re curious about joining me on the Women Build Steering Committee, email Lizzy at lizzy.reilly@tchabitat.org. In the meantime, check out Women Build opportunities in the off season.

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CJ FitzsimonsCJ Fitzsimons is a Women Build Regular volunteer. She also serves on the Women Build Steering Committee. 

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