Checked and updated on March 3, 2021 by Aaron Barnett
The best ball peen hammers are debated to have either a steel or wooden handle. The great thing about steel handle ball hammers is that they are much more durable and can be expected to last a lot longer.
Some people like the feel of a wooden handle, as it takes impact well and it’s lighter making it easier to use.
If you are delicately shaping metalwork a wooden handle will give you a little more control. But for bashing and smashing, a steel handle can last a lot longer without breaking in your workshop and still gets the job done comfortably.
People like to get a ball-peen hammer set. It can be handy to have a variety of different sizes and weights for different types of jobs.
Best ball-peen hammer (12-ounce)
#1 Best light steel ball peen hammer
Estwing ball-peen hammer, steel handle, 12-ounce
#2 Best light wooden handle ball peen hammer
Estwing ball pein hammer, wood handle, 12-ounce
Heavy ball-peen hammer (24-ounce)
Heaviest ball-peen hammers
Small ball-peen hammers (8-ounce)
Ball-peen hammers have a flat face and a ball or peen at the opposite end of the head. They are commonly used for metalwork, including shaping and making copper art, and are often referred to as “machinist’s hammers”.
The heads of most ball hammers are harder than the heads of claw hammers. This makes them less prone to chipping, which is a fairly common occurrence with many hammers.
Ball-peen hammers were traditionally used for riveting. Metalworkers first used the flat side of the head to drive the nail through. The ball end was then used to “peen over” the other end of the rivet.
They can also be used to fold over corners of sheet metal after cutting with your best nibbler drill attachment.
Although pneumatic rivet guns are more commonly used nowadays, ball-peen hammers are still used for peening and shaping metalwork. And are even used for some smaller metalworking jobs such as jewelry design, and model making.
Parts on a ball-peen hammer
Ball-peen hammer size and weight for specific jobs
Ball-peen hammers come in various sizes and weights. Their flat faces are typically large enough to hammer chisel handles for punching work. The ball or peen side of the head is just large enough to round off the edges of rivets.
Ball-peen hammers are ideally suited for making gaskets. For such applications, the ball face is used to tap around the edge of the gasket material. The peened end should, therefore, be large enough to effectively perforate the material.
Ball-peen hammer-heads typically weigh four, eight, sixteen, and 12 ounces. However, there are heads that can weigh as much as 32 ounces.
A heavy head comes in handy when you need to drive cold chisels and punchers. But if you are using your ball-peen hammer to shape metal, a lighter head is the better choice. You could scar or warp the material if your hammer’s head is too large or heavy. Conversely, a hammer with a small and light head will give you more control over shaping your metalwork.
What size ball-peen hammer do I need?
Ideally, you will want to have a ball pein hammer set with a good range of sizes to suit whatever job you are working on.
Eight and 12-ounce hammers will probably get the most use among DIYers, but you may also find two- and four-ounce hammers useful on occasion. If you regularly do cold chisel or punching work, a dependable 12-ounce hammer could be the only tool you need.
If you can only get one ball-peen hammer, I recommend going for a 12-ounce model. This should provide the weight and power you need for most jobs. If you can afford to get two hammers, I strongly suggest adding a 16-ounce model for even more power, and a lighter one for your small detailed metalwork.
Wooden handle vs. Steel handle
Most ball-peen hammer handles are made of wood or steel. Each type of material has its , and the choice depends on the application and personal preferences.
Wood is obviously lighter than steel. Hammers with wooden handles are better suited for delicate jobs. Wood also absorbs impact more effectively than steel, so you can work for longer periods with less pain and discomfort.
The main benefits of steel are strength and durability. With a steel-handled hammer, you can pound on almost anything without worrying about your hammer breaking apart.
The downside is that much of the force of impact is transferred to your hand, wrist, and arm. This makes steel-handled hammers less than ideal for long hours of work, but better if you want a tool that lasts a lifetime.
What about fiberglass handles?
If you’re thinking of getting a ball-peen hammer with a fiberglass handle, just don’t. Fiberglass can become brittle and break up over time, especially with prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light. Fiberglass handles are also more difficult to replace than wooden handles, and can’t be modified to fit your grip. I strongly advise going for a wooden or steel-handled hammer instead of one with a fiberglass handle.
What is the best wood for a handle?
Hickory is the most commonly used type of wood for hammers. It is reasonably lightweight but strong and durable and can be modeled and shaped easily to conform to your grip.
If you opt for a wooden-handled hammer because of its ability to absorb impact and recoil, it would be best to get one with a handle made of hickory. Just like what you would expect with the range of Estwing claw hammers.
Picking the best ball-peen hammer
#1 Best 16 oz metalworking hammer
The Estwing 16-ounce ball-peen hammer is an excellent choice if you want the power to handle heavy-duty jobs. From chiseling to riveting, this powerhouse model delivers the performance and durability that you expect from a state-of-the-art ball-peen hammer.
It is especially capable of shaping sheet metal, punching through dense material, and peening rivets.
The one-piece forged steel construction gives the Estwing 16-ounce unparalleled durability and strength. But it is versatile enough to be used for all types of mechanical work, as well as most DIY tasks. The handle makes it an absolute joy to use, with thick padding that effectively reduces shock impact
#1 Best 12 oz metalworking hammer
The Estwing 12-ounce ball-peen hammer is forged from a single piece of steel, making it one of the most durable striking tools on the market. It is well-equipped to handle any task you throw at it, from shaping sheet metal to striking punches. It will even handle most of your chiseling and rivet-peening needs.
Estwing Ball peen hammers are intended specifically for pro metalworkers and machinists, so you can expect the 12-ounce model to handle DIY work without a hitch. Even though it has a solid steel handle, it remains comfortable during use due to its ability to reduce impact vibration by as much as 70%.
How did ball-peen hammers get their name?
Over the years, many theories have been proposed as to how ball-peen hammers got their name. One unlikely story goes that the tool was invented by a metal worker in France named Jaques Balpien. Another claimed that ‘peen’ stems from the pain caused by hitting the thumb with a hammer.
Still another story states that ‘peen’ is derived from the sound made by the head when it hits the metal.
As colorful as those stories are, the truth is really much simpler. Ball-peen hammers have traditionally been used for ‘peening’. This is the process of bending, shaping, or flattening metal.
Tips for using a ball-peen hammer
Ball-peen hammers are pretty straightforward and simple to use, but you do need to keep a few rudiments in mind.
When gripping the hammer, place your hand about two inches up from the bottom of the handle. This will give you the most leverage.
If you are shaping metal, tap the area lightly instead of pounding it. When the metal starts to bend, you can gradually increase your tapping strength.
Work slowly around the metal’s surface, tapping each spot carefully for a more even finish. If necessary, cover the metal with a piece of cloth to prevent dents and over-shaping.
Ball-Peen hammer comparison
|Estwing 12-ounce (steel)||Estwing 12-ounce (wood)||Vaughan 12-ounce||ABN 12-ounce||Estwing 16-ounce||Real Steel 16-ounce||Vaughan 16-ounce||ABN 16-ounce||Estwing 24-ounce||Vaughan 24-ounce||Klein 32-ounce||Vaughan 40-Ounce||Stanley 8-ounce||Vaughan 8-ounce|
The Estwing 12-ounce ball-pein hammer is an excellent all-arounder that is capable of surprising power and performance.
It is light enough that you won’t mind pulling it out for day-to-day jobs, but it handles most striking punching and peening tasks like a champ. This is easily one of the best ball peen hammers on the market.
The Estwing 16-ounce ball-peen hammer is an excellent choice if you want a more powerful tool for demanding jobs. Although it is still lightweight and very manageable, the 16-ounce weight gives it an added edge for more heavy-duty work.
What about claw hammers? Information on the best framing hammer can be found here.
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