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Prefinished siding and trim – whether fiber-cement, plastic, or wood – are becoming more popular. Factory-applied finishes are hard to beat, and it's great not to have to schedule another sub or deal with weather-related painting delays. For the best look, matching color-coated nails should be used, and care must be taken to protect both the heads of these nails and the adjacent material surface. We found polyurethane Protect-O-Cap hammer caps at the request of one of our testers and gave him some to test. Here are his results.

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Fitting these caps to your favorite trim hammer might be a challenge. I prefer trimming with my 16-ounce curved claw hammer, but the caps don't fit tightly enough over its face. Even with the provided shim sleeve installed, a cap will skew, loosen, and pop off unless I shim it on with soft flashing tape and wrap it securely with nonmarking white electrical tape. I found tight fits with an Estwing 20-ounce rip claw hammer and an older Stiletto 14-ounce model. Heating up the plastic parts helped ease a very snug fit; otherwise, the plastic shim sleeves sometimes split when pounded over the hammer face.

Once in action, I was glad to discover that the Protect-O-Caps work. However, I was not impressed with their longevity, especially for those of us who hit pretty much dead center all the time. Although they do a good job of maintaining the paint coating on the nail heads, they become a real pain if not replaced soon enough. The polyurethane material softens and turns into hamburger quickly, at which point the nail heads sink into the caps and stick. Hitting a knot can also ruin a cap.

For pounding nails, Protect-O-Caps should be treated as a short-term consumable accessory like a utility knife blade or a drywaller's screw-gun bit. Expect anything more and you'll be disappointed. Three of us went through about 18 caps while trimming a complex 3,300-square-foot house, driving about 20 pounds of 2- and 2-1/2-inch nails. But for nonnailing uses, where a cap on your hammer would take the place of a nonmarring mallet, Protect-O-Caps would probably last a long time.

The plastic caps absorb a lot of the hammer's impact energy, so it takes six to eight blows to sink a nail that three to four hits would sink with a bare metal face. We drive the last 1/8 inch with a flat drift punch – just one tap – which doesn't take the paint off.

The Verdict

Even though they proved to be less durable than I'd hoped, I'm probably going to keep using Protect-O-Caps, because the end result is exactly what I envisioned: unmarred white nails driven flush to a white finished surface. The caps do the job, but I can't help wondering if a higher-durometer plastic would work even better by lasting longer. Also, offering spacer sleeves of various thicknesses – to allow the caps to fit a wider variety of favorite hammers – would be a nice option.

John Spier owns Spier Construction on Block Island, R.I.

Trim Hammer Cap
PRICE: $2 each in multiple packs
803-370-3329
www.protectocap.com