The Ultimate Guide to Hammering and Countersinking

Even the most experienced homeowners could use a refresher on the basics. Nail this skill to conquer all future projects.

man working on patio sliding door

Driving a nail appears easy — until the hammer is in your hand. To turn the odds of success in your favor, take this quick refresher course in hammering and countersinking. You’ll learn how to speed up the construction of wall framing, choose the right hammer for drywall, and handle a hammer with skill.

Finish nailing of jambs and moldings requires more finesse. But you’ll learn techniques that help you conquer splits, and you’ll learn how a simple jig can virtually banish hammer tracks from your woodwork. You’ll also see how countersinking is a gentle art that is made much more difficult and risky than it needs to be.



When you’re framing a wall, speed the job by upgrading to a 22-ounce hammer instead of the usual 16-ounce head. Grip the handle near the end and generate power with a sweeping arc of your arm. Brace the other end of the wall against a fixed object; you’ll transfer more energy into the fastener instead of scooting the assembly across the floor.

Split Wood


If the wood splits as you’re driving a finishing nail, stop! The split will only widen when the larger diameter of the head meets the wood. Work a little bit of glue into the split before pulling the nail. Relocate the fastener, avoiding the split grain line. If you must drive a nail close to an end or edge, drill a pilot hole to minimize the danger of splits.

Using a Nail Set


Don’t reach for your nail set until the nailhead is no more than 1/8 inch above the surface of the wood. The set’s diameter should not overlap the head and should engage it without slipping. Hold the set firmly against the nail’s head, then give it a square blow to drive the head 1/32 inch below the surface.

Proper Countersinking


A nail that’s countersunk properly makes a hole that’s easy to fill. If the set slips off the nail, examine the tool’s hardened tip for mushrooming or any other signs of wear. If you find wear, buy a new nail set.

Drywall Hammers


A specialized drywall hammer features a domed face to drive the nail below the surface but leave a cavity that’s easy to fill with joint compound. Don’t over-drive the nail, or you’ll risk breaking the drywall’s paper surface. The checkered pattern on the face transfers to the cavity, helping the joint compound grip the paper.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here