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Went to my local DIY store last week to get a hammer (somehow managed to lose my tried and tested hammer over the winter).

I had a rough idea a new hammer was going to cost me £10 to £15. When I saw their range I saw prices of £35 to £55.

Just before fainting on the spot, I saw their cheaper items on a lower shelf and picked up a hammer for £9.

My nine quid hammer is nice and solid and heavy and isn't going to wear out or fall apart. But now I'm curious. How does an item as basic, durable and uncomplicated as a hammer vary so much in price? And what are the pros getting for their fifty odd quid?

All the hammers on show had the same shape, size and similar kinds of handles.

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quality, comfort, balance, weight, extra features (magnetic nail holder for example). One thing that is really hard to see when comparing hammers, is the alloys used to make the hammer. –  Tester101 Jan 9 '12 at 17:20
    
Use one for a living and you will find out that there is a difference. Comfort and performance. –  shirlock homes Jan 9 '12 at 23:16
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2 Answers

Here in the U.S., hammers start as low as $5 and can go up to $75+. I have a nice Kobalt fiberglass-handle framing hammer that I bought on special for $6 (bought my father in-law one as well). I also have a bamboo-handled claw hammer that is much more basic but pretty solid, and it cost $9-ish. Beyond that, there's a significant jump in price to your $20 hickory or steel-handled hammers, and then from there to "designer" hammers specialized for various tasks.

Unlike many things, where you can obviously see that you're getting what you pay for, tools are often harder to distinguish. Hammers, screwdrivers and other basic hand tools in particular have high variances in features and build quality at almost every pricepoint. However, the main sources of cost are much the same as any other mass-produced item:

  • Materials/Build cost - Fiberglass and FRN are pretty cheap materials, compared to anything else you'd use for a hammer handle/shaft. Hardwoods and cast iron/steel are generally going to be more expensive, however the finished product can generally be less bulky than a plastic-handled hammer of similar strength. The bigger the hammer, the more material is needed, no matter what that material is. Now, these various materials change in price depending on availability; at one point it was cheaper to mill a wooden handle than to mold a plastic one of the same strength. It's possible that can change again; bamboo is becoming popular as a general-purpose material, and its price is coming down as the costs to develop the various bamboo composites have been recouped, and the bamboo itself is losing its novelty.

  • Labor - This has two main components; the time it takes to make one hammer, and the rate at which you're paying your workers for that time, or for that one hammer. Fiberglass and FRN designs are, again, among the easier materials to work with; inject nylon plastic into a fiberglass mesh matrix and you have your hammer handle. Wooden handles require milling and shaping of a raw wooden block, while steel handles are either extruded through a die or sand-cast and then further shaped and ground to spec; both of these are more labor or automation-intensive. For any of these methods of manufacture, you'll pay more for one guy in the U.S. than a dozen guys doing the same thing in China, BUT you have to figure in additional shipping costs of the finished goods halfway around the world.

  • Design/Features - Despite the very obvious purpose and basic design of a hammer, many companies, especially those making tools domestically, are adding value through innovative design features. Changes in handle shape, weight distribution, head design, the inclusion of nail-setters above the hammer head, etc etc are overhead that must be recouped in the cost of the product(s). A lot of your "high-end" hammers have a significant portion of their unit cost in R&D.

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The range is actually broader than that. You can get a Stiletto for about $200 US.

The difference between the cheap one and the expensive one depends. Cheaper ones may have handles that go into a head, while more expensive ones may have a cast handle that extends all the way to the base of the grip. Some of the ones that are more expensive and just have a head attached to a handle will actually be made out of composite materials that are designed to absorb the force of repeated nailings.

Cheaper handles that are one cast piece will generally be made out of brittle or light-duty metal. This will not be your father's hammer, and might (literally) shatter if you hit something too hard or wrong with it.

Personally, I never buy cheap tools. They always let me down... or worse, injure me. All of my hammers are Estwing brand with the rubber shock reduction grip. It's worth the money for an expensive hammer if you ever plan to use it all day. Otherwise, a cheap one is fine, just be careful what you hit with it lest the handle crack.

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And on the bottom end of that range, you can get a hammer from Home Depot for under $5 (about £3). homedepot.com/Tools-Hardware-Hand-Tools-Hammer-Mallets-Sledges/… –  Ben Hocking Jan 9 '12 at 18:44
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I imagine warranty would factor in too. –  pdubs Jan 9 '12 at 19:34
    
I have 4 Estwing hammers, but did you know that their framing hammers have been banned by several unions because they are supposed to not absorb shock and cause wrist problems because of the full metal one piece design. Banned in Ct. for all state workers. Interesting fact, but I still love them. –  shirlock homes Jan 9 '12 at 23:12
    
Didn't know that, Shirlock. That's interesting. I personally have no problems with my Estwings, and there are days I literally use them for ten or twelve hours straight. –  Karl Katzke Jan 10 '12 at 1:43
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