INTRODUCTION TO BUYING WOODWORKING MALLETS AND HAMMERS
By Joshua Farnsworth
Looking for a wood mallet or wood hammer isn’t quite as exciting as most of the other tools in this buying guide, but they are necessary, and there are some tips that you should know before you buy any wood mallet or wood hammer. Below you’ll see which whacking devices you’ll need and when. Just don’t use the wrong whacking tool to whack your tools, or you may need to buy new woodworking hand tools!
A. Urgent Mallets & Hammers (Make or Buy These First)
Below are my recommendation for types & brands of mallets and hammers that you will likely need right at the start of your traditional woodworking journey. If you’re on a really tight budget, don’t fret. You can use your judgement to narrow down this list and make due without everything at first…but just make sure that you buy fewer tools at first, rather than lower quality tools. I guarantee that you’ll have to buy a better replacement down the road. But you can often find the highest quality antique tools for less money than poor quality new tools.
Make or Buy a Wooden Joiner’s Mallet (for striking chisels)
There are several mallet styles for striking your chisels. A metal mallet or hammer should not be used to strike a chisel, unless you want to break the wooden handles of your chisels. Wood is the best option for striking wooden mallets. Most traditional woodworkers correctly use a larger English-style “Joiner’s Mallet” for hitting their chisels.
These mallets should be made out of a hardwood (above is a maple mallet I built). Paul Sellers shares a really detailed 3-part video tutorial on how to make a joiner’s mallet that you should watch if you want to make a joiner’s mallet:
But if you don’t feel comfortable making a joiner’s mallet yet, then here is a great mallet that you can purchase, which I’ve used in my workshop extensively:
This mallet is very suitable for cutting dovetails and chopping mortises. It’s a good size for most people – not too large and not too small. You can purchase this Crown Beechwood Mallet on Amazon for under $30.
Buy or make a Carver’s Mallet
Many new traditional woodworkers mistakenly purchase these smaller, more delicate mallets for using to chop with their chisels. This type of mallet can certainly be used for more delicate chisel work, but carver’s mallets are intended for use with carving chisels. Carving tools are covered in more detail in the carving tools buyer’s guide.
It’s really nice to have a claw hammer for when you need to drive traditional cut nails into chest bottoms, etc. I like the feeling and traditional look of a wooden hammer handle. Plus, there is less shock to my hands than with fiberglass or metal handles. You can find vintage wood handled hammers at this eBay link.
Buy a White Rubber Mallet
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
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.
Below are my recommendation for types & brands of tools that you will need fairly soon after you get started in traditional woodworking. You may discover that you want to make something early on that requires some of the below tools:
Buy a Dead Blow Mallet
Rubber mallets rebound, which can be inconvenient when you’re trying to get a difficult 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. Just make sure you put a piece of wood between your furniture and this black mallet to prevent black or orange marks. Dead blow mallets run around $15.
Make a Froe Mallet and Large Log Riving Mallet
If you want to use a froe to split green wood, then you should make a froe mallet. If you want to rive (split) your own lumber from green logs, and you want to use wooden splitting gluts / wedges (I use metal and wood together) then you should make a larger version of the froe mallet, which I simply call a large wooden log riving mallet. These mallets are made the same way, but just on a different scale.
If you have access to a small section of a harder log or large branch (I use dogwood or maple or something) 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):
If possible, try to leave the bark on the froe mallet’s head for a couple weeks (I leave it on until it falls off), and also use yellow / wood glue on any areas that are prone to checking/splitting on both sizes.
Let it dry slowly outdoors (or in a trash can with shavings) or it will check big time. I also carved a handle to keep my hands from slipping when swinging this big mallet:
Continue to Hand Drills, Braces, & Bits Buyer’s Guide (#8)…