Tools with heads that hit things. Unglamorous but necessary everyday tools, mallets and hammers have important design features and particular functions required for woodworking.
Tools to hit other tools
The classic joiner’s wooden mallet is used to strike and drive chisels. The model shown above weighs about 20 ounces, which delivers good energy to the chisel without having to swing the mallet overly fast and thereby reduce control. The large, flat faces allow you to reliably strike the chisel squarely. The angle of the faces facilitates this without having to awkwardly raise your shoulder or elbow.
A round mallet creates the risk of glancing blows that can damage the work and you. Preferences vary but I feel the turned round type is better suited to carving where it can impact gouges held at many different angles.
The small brass mallet has a 14-ounce head and packs a surprising punch. The unusually shaped handle nestles in the palm of the hand as fingers surround the head. This allows for a compact, efficient swing almost entirely from the wrist.
I prefer the brass mallet for chopping dovetails and other small-scale work, which I can do comfortably while seated. The flat end of the head works best to strike the rounded top of a bench chisel, while the rounded end is handy for certain situations in carving. The joiner’s mallet is a better choice for chopping a mortise and other heavy work that requires a larger swing using larger muscles while standing.
A tool to hit the work piece
A dead blow mallet delivers an amazingly powerful punch for assembling or disassembling parts of a project. The secret is in the hollow head that contains lead shot or sand. When the head hits its target, it does not bounce back at all but instead the contents of the head deliver an extra load of energy. What’s more, the rubberized head will not mar the wood.
At 28 ounces, with a fiberglass handle, this is a tremendously tough tool. A rubber mallet is a poor substitute because it bounces back after the strike and delivers much less energy. Another unsuitable substitute is shown below.
A woodworker’s hammer for nails
Nails are not typically associated with fine woodworking but if used in appropriate building situations, they should not be thought of as cheapening the work. The nails are mostly small brads for which this Warrington pattern hammer with a 10-ounce head is ideal.
The narrow end of the head works well to start a small brad as it is held between the fingers. The other end delivers the power to drive the nail and has a convex face to help avoid marring the wood as the nail is pounded flush.
Hammer for adjustments
Plane irons in most wooden bench planes and in some specialty planes must be adjusted partly or entirely with gentle taps using an adjustment hammer. This Japanese hammer has a 185-gram (about 6.5-ounce) octagonal steel head. One face is convex, the other flat. The flat sides specifically facilitate tapping the chipbreaker in a Japanese plane but are also handy for tight spaces in other planes.
Some woodworkers prefer a brass hammer for this task because it better avoids distorting the corners of steel blades, but I have not found this to be a significant problem with my steel hammer. In any case, I believe a metal hammer gives better sensory feedback when making fine blade adjustments than does a wooden hammer.
What do you need?
If you are just starting out and want to economize, you could get by with a 16-ounce carpenter’s hammer from your DIY home tool kit. However, you’ll soon want to get real woodworker’s tools and these are inexpensive, so start with a wooden joiner’s mallet (you might even want to make your own) and add the other ones as needed. Also, don’t underestimate the value of the dead blow mallet, which also makes a great DIY tool to have around.
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