The best sledgehammer

Bob Beacham

Although most sledgehammers are multipurpose tools, if you’re specifically looking for a demolition tool, choose a small face (some have a wedge on one end). For driving, choose a broader face, which makes accurate contact easier.

It's easy to think that a sledgehammer is among the most basic of tools -- a big heavy lump of steel for maximum destruction. In fact, the term sledgehammer covers a wide range of different models, with various characteristics and constructions.

We've been looking at the entire family, and the following guide discusses all your options. We've also made a few recommendations. Our favorite is the Wilton BASH. It's an absolute monster of a sledgehammer, capable of delivering immense driving or destructive power.

Considerations when choosing sledgehammers

The main points you need to consider are weight, shaft length, and materials.

Sledgehammer weights range from two to 20 pounds. If you're looking for a demolition tool, you might be tempted to go for the heaviest, but that's not always the best choice. If you need to break up concrete slabs, fine -- but bear in mind that swinging a heavy hammer can take a lot out of you. On the other hand, if you want to tear out drywall, a two- or three-pound hammer is a better idea. If you need to drive in fencing stakes, a 10-pound sledgehammer is a good compromise between usability and outright force. Some mid-range models have a wedge-shaped face which can deliver as much destructive power as a heavier but flat face.

Shaft length varies from about 10 inches up to 36 inches. A long handle allows you to impart lots of energy as you swing but is impractical in tight spaces. A handle that's too short can make the tool feel unbalanced and might not let you generate enough power. We would look at 14 inches as a good minimum in most cases, but again, it depends on your needs. Fortunately, there's a lot of variation. It has little impact on price, so you can pick the length that suits you best.

You'll want to look at the materials for both the head and shaft. Almost all sledgehammer heads are made of steel, but not all steels are the same. Cheap sledgehammers can have surprisingly soft heads that can distort with heavy-duty use. Look for drop-forged, hardened steel, or steel heads that have a Rockwell hardness rating (RC or HRC) if you want high durability. The exception to this rule are dead-blow sledgehammers (no bounce back), which have a hard plastic covering and a head filled with steel shot. They are something of a specialist tool, used for driving rather than breaking, and in situations where generating a spark could cause problems.

There are three materials used in shafts. Hardwoods are the traditional choice. They feel good in the hand and have a certain natural spring that reduces the impact forces and vibration transmitted to the user. It's also the least-expensive type of shaft, and the only one that's easily replaceable. Unfortunately, wood isn't very durable if left in the elements, and it can split under heavy stress. Fiberglass is a lightweight material unaffected by weather and also doesn't conduct electricity. It's tough, but in extreme cases can shatter. Steel is the strongest material used in sledgehammer shafts, and to make it comfortable to hold, it usually has rubber grips. It's all but indestructible, but can be bent if you leave it lying around and someone runs a truck over it. It's also the most expensive.

Sledgehammer prices

You have a wide choice of tough, durable two- to four-pound sledgehammers from as little as $15, rising to about $30. In the six- to 10-pound range you can spend as little as $30 for a traditional model with an ash handle, up to about $110 for high-quality tools that will probably last a lifetime. Really heavy-duty sledge hammers -- 12 pounds and up -- cost from $50 with a fiberglass handle to close to $200 for those that can justifiably claim to be unbreakable.


Q. What safety precautions should I take when using a sledgehammer?

A. Before you start, confirm the head is firmly attached. No wobble. Check to see that the handle isn't split or cracked. If it's damaged, replace it. Wear gloves so you've got a good grip. Make sure people and animals aren't going to stray into your work area.

Q. I'm having trouble being accurate with a long-handled sledgehammer. Do you have any tips?

A. There's no substitute for practice -- choose an area of hard-packed ground, an old stump, or fence post. Rest the hammer head on the object. Stand with your arms extended but relaxed. Don't stretch. Set both feet level, shoulder-width apart. Focus on the strike area, not the hammer and swing slowly -- the head will do the work, you don't need to force it.

Sledgehammers we recommend

Best of the best: Wilton 20-pound BASH Sledgehammer

Our take: If you've got to break up some tough stuff, this is the tool.

What we like: Very hard steel head for serious demolition work. Steel-cored shaft is virtually unbreakable: if it breaks under normal use, Wilton will pay you $1,000. Rubber grip for secure hold.

What we dislike: Handle won't break, but can bend under extreme stress. Considerable physique required to swing this thing.

Best bang for the buck: Fiskars Pro IsoCore 10-Pound Sledgehammer

Our take: Excellent general-purpose hammer provides superb value for money.

What we like: Twin-face design for breaking or driving. Multilayer handle is almost indestructible and reduces impact shock. Lifetime warranty. A quite outstanding tool.

What we dislike: Nothing. It's that good.

Choice 3: Neiko Fiberglass Shaft Sledgehammer

Our take: High-quality 3.3-pound sledgehammer for light demolition jobs.

What we like: Ideal for tasks such as breaking up drywall, and equally useful for small but difficult hammering jobs. Lightweight "shatterproof" fiberglass shaft. Comfortable rubber grip insulates user from impacts. Low cost.

What we dislike: Grip can come loose (can be glued back). "Shatterproof" shaft is not truly unbreakable.

Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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