Hammers and Mallets

Tools that can give and take a good beating

Hammers and mallets are so Stone Age simple that they’re often taken for granted. But just try working without them sometime. The simplest woodworking chores–chiseling a mortise or tacking on a piece of trim–would be a real challenge, if not impossible.

While you might think that “a hammer is a hammer” (and the same thing for mallets), good reasons exist as to why these strikers are available in so many sizes and configurations. But figuring out which varieties you need and choosing the best one for the job at hand is not always as obvious as you might think. For example, a simple claw hammer that’s great for general nail driving can damage the tool or workpiece it’s striking. Even the size of a hammer or mallet can affect your ability to wield it effectively in a particular circumstance.

To work safely and efficiently, consider fleshing out your current arsenal. Here’s a short list of the tools you need and a few reasons why they deserve a place in your tool cabinet.


Keep your 20 oz. claw hammer in your toolbox. It may be a perfect nail driver when building walls and decks, but it’s overkill for furnituremaking. A 16-oz. claw hammer is much better for general shop work, including banging together country-style furniture, tacking on cabinet backs, assembling jigs, and removing finishing nails. For driving short finishing nails and tacking together smaller workpieces, you’ll find that a lighter, 12 oz. claw hammer offers a bit more finesse.

For tapping in tiny brads, treat yourself to a wood-handled Warrington, or cross-peen, hammer. While it can’t pull nails, its tapered-peen end is configured to allow starting thin brads without smashing your fingers in the process.

An upholsterer’s tack hammer comes in handy for much more than just sinking upholstery tacks. Most tack hammers sport magnetic heads that are useful for holding nails and for safely retrieving sharp tacks and tiny wire nails.

Woodworking often involves metalworking operations. Use a ball-peen hammer for straightening hinges, shaping metal parts, and driving punches.

Warrington Hammer, 12 oz. #404698, $22.99

Ball-Peen Hammer, 24 oz. (The Home Depot #346104 - $29.99)

Claw Hammer, 12 oz. (The Home Depot #334553 - $19.99)

Upholsterer’s Tack Hammer, 5 oz. (The Home Depot #806666 - $6.96)


For persuading ornery project or machine parts into place at assembly without denting or marring the surfaces, mallets are often more helpful in the shop than an extra set of hands.

A basic rubber mallet is useful for aligning parts or tapping joints closed. (Choose a white or gray head to avoid leaving scuff marks.) However, a shot-filled dead blow hammer (technically a mallet) delivers more force with less bounce-back. Dead blow hammers are available in a variety of weights. A 28-oz. head can be handy for knocking together large mortise-and-tenon joints, but a lighter 10- or 14-oz. head is more convenient and less tiring for making minor adjustments, such as tweaking the alignment of your tablesaw top.

Wooden mallets with flat faces are not only handy for joinery but also for tapping chisels and drawbore pins. A few of the largest mallets have square-cut ends, but most have angled faces, which are easier to use because they factor in the arc of the mallet swing.

Taking a cue from carvers, some woodworkers prefer using a roundheaded mallet for striking chisels. The tapered cylindrical head of a carver’s mallet allows you to tap a chisel, gouge, or other tool without worrying about properly orienting a flat-faced mallet. While wooden carver’s mallets are traditional, modern urethane-headed mallets are less expensive and less likely to suffer splits or dings. 

Wooden Mallet, 14.5 oz. #08G09, $70.99

Urethane Mallet, 18 oz. #141039, $38.99

Solid-Wood Mallet #404693, $24.99

Dead Blow Mallet, 28 oz. #15F18, $20.99

Non-Marring Rubber Mallet, 18 oz. (The Home Depot #542201 – $17.84)

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