Are Wooden Mallets Necessary? Yes (2 Explained)

Wooden mallets are extremely important to woodworking and deserve a place in your work shop. They won’t damage chisels and work pieces like a steel hammer will. They’re a nice easy project to make especially if you have scrap wood lying around. I have provided 2 videos on how to make each type of mallet with very thought out plans to go about making each type.

Advantages Of Using A Wooden Mallet

Wooden mallets aren’t necessary but they’ll make life a lot easier. They’re valuable to woodworking for various reasons. If you use chisels such as mortise or carving chisels wood mallets give more control over a steel hammer.

They also protect the butt end of chisels from being damaged especially if the chisel handle is made out of wood. They won’t mushroom the end of a chisel that’s made from steel either.

They won’t leave dents or mar your projects when used to connect dovetail joints together like a steel hammer would. Mallets are designed so that all of the energy upon impact is transferred to whatever is being struck, like a chisel.

When chiseling you want nice long shavings. Steel hammers bounce back when the chisel is struck and doesn’t transfer the energy that a wood mallet does. Plus the head of a steel hammer is much smaller than the head of a wood mallet.

They’re great for tapping in dowels into work pieces because they won’t split or mushroom the head of a dowel. They work very well for pounding in nails into a wall so pictures can be hung. With a steel hammer you run the risk of missing the nail or fastener and putting a hole in the wall which I’ve done on several occasions.

Wooden Mallets Hardwood vs Softwood

Hardwood Mallets: The best wooden mallets are typically made from hardwood such as ash, oak or maple. Joiner mallets are mostly made from this type of wood because they’re dense and heavy woods and can stand up to heavy blows for a long period of time.

The good thing about wooden mallets is you don’t have to keep buying them when they break or wear out, you can make your own and it’s pretty easy to do, you just need the wood for the head and the handle. When the head wears out, just replace the head instead of buying a new one.

What type of wood is a mallet made from is entirely up to you as long as it’s a hardwood. Use what you got, it’s not uncommon for mallets to be made from firewood.

If you’re in a pinch for finding a type of hardwood, then what I would do is find a pallet and use the 4X4’s because those are oak. Imagine all the mallets that can be made from those.

Making Your First Wooden Mallet

Make A Joinery Mallet

Softwood Mallets: The only thing that softwood mallets are good for is putting together projects that are made from softwood such as pine. They won’t dent or scratch as you strike the wood. Other than that I wouldn’t attempt to make mallets out of softwood for a few reasons. 

They’re not very heavy types of wood to deliver a satisfactory blow to a chisel. They also wouldn’t be near as strong as one that is made from hardwood. You’ll find that they’ll wear out pretty quick or split down the side of the mallet head after repeated use. 

Why Are Carving Mallets Round?

Carving mallets are round because they increase the surface area that’s used to strike a chisel. It doesn’t matter the position of the mallet, you’ll always be hitting with the same face. You’ll use these types of mallets when doing fine detail work such as carving.

Round mallets weigh much less than a joiner’s mallet so that you won’t deliver too hard of a blow to a chisel which can result in unwanted deeper cuts into the wood. Another added benefit of round mallets is the handle is much shorter than a joiner’s mallet which provides better accuracy. 

The weight of the carver’s mallets is split between the head and handle to give it a good balance which provides comfort.

The reduced weight and the absence of square corners gives more control as you lightly tap the carving chisel around corners. Carver’s mallets can be made easily if you have a wood lathe or have access to one. You can make them any size you want to fit your needs and comfort.

Round Carving Mallet How To

Making A Carver’s Mallet

Is A Mallet Stronger Than A Hammer?

In a physical sense, a steel hammer is much stronger than a wood mallet. A hammer is mostly used for pounding in fasteners, nails or removing them if it’s a claw hammer.  A question that gets asked from time to time is “can I use a hammer instead of a mallet?”

Nothing’s stopping you from using a hammer instead of a mallet. So why use a mallet instead of a hammer? There’s a few reasons, you’ll take a big chance of destroying your chisels over time. Plus you run the risk of denting projects when putting them together. 

Your First Wooden Mallet

Your first wooden mallet, if it’s a joiner’s mallet, should be one that doesn’t cost a lot of money especially if you plan on making your own in the future. It should be made from hardwood so that it lasts a long time. An important tip is that it shouldn’t weigh too much or too little. Of course this part is different for everybody. It needs to be comfortable, one that’s too heavy will wear you out in a hurry especially if you’re cutting a lot of mortises.

How Big Should A Wood Mallet Be?

How big a wood mallet should be depends on a few things. If using it to chop out mortises or putting together furniture, you’ll want one that weighs roughly 28 to 30 ounces.

Anything much heavier than that is overkill in my opinion. You’ll suffer from fatigue from prolonged use as well. This type of mallet should be at least 12” in overall length to deliver that solid heavy blow for mortises.

When tapping dovetail joints together, you’ll want a mallet that’s smaller in length and weight. A round mallet that weighs 12 ounces works well for this application. The shorter length and weight gives better control to get those dovetails to join together in just the right way.

An advantage of using the round face versus the square face is you don’t have to pay much attention to the position of the mallet when using it. A square faced mallet you do or you run the risk of damaging your project because you hit the work-piece with a sharp edge or corner which would most certainly leave an unwanted dent or mark.

References

More info on mallets https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mallet