Woodworking Hand Tool Buying Guide #7:

Mallets & Hammers (Part 7/13)

By Joshua Farnsworth

Mallets and hammers aren’t as exciting as most of the other tools in this buying guide. But they are necessary. Below you’ll see which whacking devices you’ll need and when.

1. Urgent Mallets & Hammers (Make or Buy These First)

©  Joshua T. Farnsworth

Mallets for Striking Chisels

©  Joshua T. Farnsworth

There are several mallet styles for striking your chisels. A metal mallet should not be an option, unless you want to break the wooden handles of your chisels. Wood is the best option for striking wooden mallets. Here are two popular styles:

Buy or Make an English-style Chisel Mallet (i.e. “Bench Mallet” or “Carpenter’s Mallet”)

©  Joshua T. Farnsworth

(pictured above): Because of its size, this is my favorite style of mallet for cutting dovetails and chopping mortises. I bought this Crown Beechwood Mallet on Amazon for under $20 and have loved it. If you feel confident enough you can easily build your own wooden mallet. You can also find plans & tutorials all over the internet and in many books.

Buy or make a Carver’s Mallet

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This smaller round head mallet is popular for carving and joinery. I use my carving mallet for more delicate work.

Buy a Wood Handled Claw Hammer

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It’s really nice to have a metal-headed claw hammer for when you need to drive traditional cut nails into chest bottoms, etc. I like the feeling and traditional look of a wood handle. Plus, there is less shock to my hands. You can find vintage wood handled hammers with this ebay link.

Buy a White Rubber Mallet

©  Joshua T. Farnsworth

If you use a dark headed rubber mallet to assemble your furniture you’ll soon realize that it leaves black marks. So a white mallet is pretty essential, but also inexpensive. I bought this white rubber mallet on Amazon for under $9 and it has held up just fine.

Buy a Small Cross Peen Hammer for Adjusting Planes

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The lateral adjusting lever on hand planes is a bit brutish. Making micro-adjustments with a small cross peen hammer gives you more control. A little to the left…a little to the right. A “Warrington” hammer like this also enables you to adjust “cutters” (i.e. irons/blades) in wooden hand planes and molding planes.

©  Joshua T. Farnsworth

Chris Schwarz talks about cross peen hammers in this article and about his favorite cross peen hammer in this article.

2. Semi-Urgent Mallets & Hammers (Make or Buy These Next)

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Buy a Dead Blow Mallet

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Rubber mallets rebound, which can be inconvenient when you you’re trying to get a workpiece to fit together. A dead blow mallet has metal BBs or sand in the head, which drives more energy into the swing. So I recommend buying an inexpensive dead blow mallet (like this one) for those situations.  I wouldn’t pay more than $15-ish. 

Make a big Mallet Cut from a Log

©  Joshua T. Farnsworth

If you have access to a small section of a harder log or large branch (I used dogwood) you can make it with a chainsaw (or even a handsaw) and hatchet. I found this video that should show you how easy it is (exactly how I made mine):

Just make sure that you leave the bark on the mallet’s head for a couple weeks, and also use yellow / wood glue on any areas that are prone to splitting. Let it dry slowly outdoors or it will crack big time. This type of mallet is also perfect for a froe (for splitting wood).

Make a Froe Mallet

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If you want to use a froe to split green wood, then you should make a froe mallet. See the above section titled “Mallet Cut from a Log”.

Make  a Large Mallet for Riving

 ©  Joshua T. Farnsworth

If you want to rive boards from your own logs (best method for most stable wood) then you should make a longer beefy mallet, similar to the froe mallet (see above).

©  Joshua T. Farnsworth

Check out my Mallet & Hammer Pinterest Board:

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Next I’ll talk about hand drills & braces…