Some bars are bred for wrecking, scraping, demolishing, stripping, razing, and smashing (my favorite part of construction), which some now call "deconstruction." Others are born with a gentler side, excelling at salvaging, de-nailing, pulling, lifting, and dismantling. While you may lump all these tasks into an all-encompassing "Demolition" line item on a budget, in reality there are many very specific tasks to tackle when tearing into a building. And when you start talking about the tools best suited for the mission, the list looks endless: wrecking bars, pry bars, crowbars, pinch bars, ripping bars, flat bars, demolition bars. Some are aggressive, while others are gentle; some are crude, others are precise. Grabbing the right tool can mean the difference between frustration and success, extraction or destruction.
So we set out to examine bar choices, and their function and suitability for each task at hand. Along the way we discovered a wide range of designs and more tools than we could possibly review in one article. So we chose a broad sample of the category, 18 bars that offer a mix of time-proven designs, task-specific tools, and some new cutting-edge devices.
The Big Bars
When the primary goal is to bust it down, tear it off, or rip it out, you need to get a handle on leverage. There's enough backbreaking work in construction, so when it comes to demolition, let the tool do as much of the work as possible. Just remember, the force developed by the length of the bar gives you plenty of mechanical advantage, so make sure you can control the tool if what you're pulling on lets go.
Standard gooseneck wrecking bars like Great Neck's WR30 30-inch J-style bar are fine for tearing apart framing and pulling out nails. The offset pry end wedges and separates wall plates, double studs, and joists.
Fulton's 36-inch The Wrecker T-style bar has two pry/pull ends mounted to a bent shaft. The offset gives you two angles of attack, both with plenty of leverage to dismantle framing or extract spikes. The opposite tapered head is ground to a sharp edge that scrapes and wedges. This bar, also available in three other sizes, is great for yanking down ceilings either by swinging the T into the surface or just letting the bar's mass drop through your hand. These cost-effective prying machines will never go out of style.
The original Gutster Demo-Bar won't pull nails or treat anything gently. It's made for ramming beneath and behind to tear things apart. Two 1-1/4-inch-wide steel plates spaced 2 inches apart are sharpened to slide behind siding, roofing, flooring, subflooring, drywall, and anything else you want to pry off. The tubular steel shaft/handle is offset for comfortable hand position at a variety of postures. The 9-pound mass is plenty to drive the head deep under materials, and the padded hand grip cushions the shock (and minimizes blistering). I found the dual-blade arrangement great to straddle floor joists when popping up subflooring, studs, and ceiling joists when ripping off plaster, and deck joists when tearing off decking.
Forrester's Duckbill Deck Wrecker does just that –removes deck boards. The reversible head has two prying flanges spaced 3-1/4 inches apart to straddle single and double joists. The handle is set for upright operation (read: no backbreaking bending necessary). With a pop of the pin, the head can be repositioned for forward or backward decking removal so you can stand on the deck instead of the bare joists. The Deck Wrecker is more than a one-trick bar: I used it to pull furring, lath, and plaster off ceiling joists. This is a task I often smash at with wrecking bars, but the long rubber-grip handle and upright orientation of the Deck Wrecker made it easy to pry down ceilings without breaking a sweat or climbing a ladder. It also worked well at removing plywood and old plank subflooring and wall sheathing.
The 30-inch Demo Dawg Big Dawg is a lightweight yet capable tool that combines a sledgehammer on one end of the head with a ripping blade on the other. It has a D-handle grip that spins so you won't raise any blisters generating an inertial swipe to knock studs and plates apart. You also can pulverize plaster and drywall with plunging jabs of the Dawg's wide base. And the generous radius of the curved head gives you inches of leveraged lifting force for pulling nails, stripping lap siding, or yanking wood flooring without bending over. The 90-degree orientation of the ripping blade doesn't lend itself to stripping roof shingles effectively, but it works great as a grub hoe for chopping tree roots and picking out a trench through hardpan.
Twist & Pry
Stanley's Fubar looks more like a cartoon character than a demolition tool –until you put it to use and see that it's all heart. The business end has double-throated jaws with teeth to grip lumber firmly. The wrenching torque of the 18-inch bar is enough to twist studs from walls and rafters from roofs without pounding them to pieces. I dismantled lumber from a roof and gable walls for reuse on another project and only split a few boards in the process. But when I did need to take a swing at something, I didn't have to reach for my hammer; there's a hammer face on the back of the Fubar's jaws. Just make sure your aim is good when you use the striking face, otherwise the 4-pound mass of the Fubar will take it right out of your hand. The handle is encased in rubberized plastic and has a pry end with a shallow-angled nail-pulling slot and groove that grip even decapitated nails. The Fubar isn't just for demo work, either: The same jaws that twist framing apart can gently rotate a warped joist or rafter straight into place.
Vaughan's Superbar has been a regular in my truck's toolbox for years. The flat spring-steel blade scrapes, pries, and pulls, and I've done just about every demolition task you can imagine with this tool, from stripping shingles and siding to chiseling brick and tile. The 15-inch bar doesn't have the leverage advantage of the larger wrecking bars and demolition tools, and it's not practical for clearing off squares of roofing or siding, but it does offer more control for disengaging flashings, pulling errant nails, and stripping back small sections. The lobed curled end has tremendous prying force but flexes under the strain, so if I need more power I turn to the 18-inch Ripping Bar. The thick hex shaft on this tool doesn't flex and it exerts precise force. I use it when I have to use a hammer to pound the blade behind tile or brick. The heavier steel transmits the force with less vibration. And Vaughan recently introduced the Superbar XL, which at 21 inches has extra leverage and reach.
Both the flat- and hex-style bars have a slot at each end as well as a tapered groove at the flat end. I frequently carry a Superbar in the belt slot of my tool pouch, even when hanging drywall or doors. The flat blade works great as a foot-operated lift to boost a sheet of drywall or a door blank up an inch or two. And it's great for tweaking a window around within a rough opening until the shims are set.
I'm not much of a trim carpenter, but I know when I'm remodeling an old house that it's nearly impossible to match the antique moldings. So I take extra care removing and storing them for reuse. Pulling them gently off the walls is a task for wide-blade prying tools like the 16-inch Estwing ProClaw PryMaster RSC or the 9-3/4-inch Vaughan Bear Claw Scraper Bar. Even though the blades are ground to a fine edge, I file them a little sharper to split the paint joint cleanly on entry behind casing, base, and crown. Both the face and back of the prying blades on these tools are polished smooth so you won't bruise the wall finish or damage the wood. And the nail-pulling slots are keenly designed to grab small-shank finish nails and pins. The nail-pulling heads are also finished smooth to minimize wood damage. These tools are built to perform framing, roofing, and siding prying and nail-pulling duties, as well, so don't hide them in the finish box.
When you need leverage with a gentle hand, look to the Dalluge 4420. With 2-3/8-inch-wide blades at each end, you have options for getting just the right angle on the work, and at 24 inches long, it has the controlled power to pop trim without giving you a workout.
For lighter prying work, my favorite flat-style bar is Vaughan's Mini Bar, a 5-1/2-inch version of the Superbar. I've had one living in my tool pouch for more than 15 years. While it's not much good for demolition, it's handy for tweaking and small pry jobs. It also doubles as a screwdriver, crude chisel, finish-nail puller, paint-lid popper, and door-strike adjuster.
Wrecking bars and pry bars can all pull nails provided they aren't embedded. I often recycle old timbers, planks, and dimensional lumber from my demo jobs, but re-sawing the wood is hazardous business and I like to minimize the risk to expensive saw blades by removing as many buried nails as I can. One of the first tools I bought when I began in construction was a cat's paw nail puller. It was crude, but it dug out errant framing nails pretty well.
Today's thinner-head Japanese-style nail pullers like the Dalluge Tri-Claw 4000, the Estwing ProClaw PC 300, and the Stiletto Clawbar With Dimpler have in-line and 90-degree nail slots and are all about digging nails out of wood. Featuring streamlined heads with finely ground slots and a pounding surface opposite the claws, these tools are easy to drive deep into the wood to grab and extract even beheaded nails with ease. The Dalluge has two identical 90-degree heads, which moves its pounding point up the shaft a little.
The Stiletto is made of ultra-strong, unbelievably light titanium –so light that I didn't notice it in my tool pouch. This tool's standout feature is the "Dimpler" cone on one side of the head, a great innovation that minimizes the amount of digging you have to do to expose the nail head. Just whack the Dimpler over a nail to depress the wood surrounding it just enough to engage the pulling slot.
The 20-inch IPA Indexing Pry Bar has a single, adjustable nail-pulling head that indexes over five detents from 80 degrees to 0 degrees (straight) so you can choose the optimum angle of attack for extracting. The Indexing Pry Bar is great for pulling headed nails but has a flat claw and no pounding point on the back of the head, so it's not effective at digging out embedded nails. The long handle grip has the leverage for all-day nail pulling without unnecessary effort.
–Mike Guertin is a builder and remodeler in East Greenwich, R.I., and is a member of Hanley Wood's JLCLive! and The Remodeling Show construction demonstration teams.
Opening the Artillery Pry Bar System case on the job, I felt like a secret agent. My target: horse-hair plaster, two layers of linoleum, hardboard siding, a section of roof framing, and a bunch of studs.
But first, a little back story: Joe Skach wasn't satisfied with the tools he had available to remove siding, so he put his 25 years of experience as a toolmaker to work and came up with his own pry bar system that is like nothing else out there. Instead of a single tool that's adequate for a number of tasks or a bunch of job-specific tools, the Artillery Pry Bar System is a collection of handles, extensions, fulcrums, and blades that you can arrange to target each demolition task with pinpoint focus, including 3/4-inch, 1-3/4-inch, 3-inch, 6-inch, 8-inch, and spike-puller blades –more than enough to meet the needs of most users.
I tried the 8-inch-wide blade mounted to the standard fulcrum, regular 27-inch handle, and the 15-inch extension to rip roof shingles. The regular handle and fulcrum with 6-inch blade worked great on sidewall shingles and exterior trim. The mini fulcrum and the short handle popped out doorframes and pulled nails out of rafters and studs quickly. And with the 90-degree decking fulcrum and fulcrum extensions, I ripped off decking without bending over. The only thing lacking here is a cat's paw–like nail-pulling blade, but that's one of the additions to the system Skach is thinking about. I don't think it will be long before he has a blade, fulcrum, and handle for every possible deconstruction task in the book.
Sources of Supply
Artillery Pry Bar System: $295–$350, depending on options
4420 (24"): $30
Tri-Claw 4000: $25
Big Dawg (30"): $60
ProClaw PryMaster RSC: $21
ProClaw PC 300: $18
Duckbill Deck Wrecker
The Wrecker (36", TW36WB): $30
Great Neck Saw Mfrs.
WR30 Wrecking Bar (30"): $12
Innovative Products of America
Indexing Pry Bar (20", 007879): $55
Stiletto Tool Co.
Clawbar With Dimpler: $84
Gutster Demo-Bar: $70
Vaughan & Bushnell
Superbar (15", B215): $10
Ripping Bar (18", RB18): $15
Superbar XL (21", B215L): $12
Bear Claw Scraper Bar
(9-3/4", BC/SB10): $13
Mini Bar (5-1/2", 222): $4