Toolbox Show and Tell: Hammers and Mallets
Four Fine Woodworking staffers show off their favorite whacking implements in their toolboxes.
These are the hammers that get the most use in my shop.
- Dead-blow mallet—I use this all the time for assembling and disassembling parts. I never have to worry about it leaving a mark.
- Japanese 13-oz. hammer—I use this with my Japanese chisels as well as when I’m driving pins.
- Lump hammer— I like this for driving stock through a dowel plate where the extra mass is useful.
- Claw hammer—I pull this out for any metal-on-metal work such as setting nails or using a center punch, number punch, or circle punch.
- Small tack hammer—As the name implies, it’s nice to have around for driving brads and tacks.
Like Mike, I’ve assembled my favorite whacking implements.
- 16-oz. Estwing Claw Hammer—This lives in my toolbox for working on the house. But I am certainly glad that box lives in the shop. I mostly use it with a punch for setting nails.
- Crucible Lump Hammer—It’s extravagant, but it’s beautiful. I use it for persuading two parts together or apart. Other than putting a smile on my face, it doesn’t do anything a small sledge can’t.
- 16-oz Dead-blow—Don’t use these in extreme cold… and now you know what the inside of a dead-blow looks like! One day I’ll bite the bullet and buy a new one, but for some reason I can never justify it. This one will limp on for awhile.
- Estwing Double Head Mallet—I mostly use this for fretting ukuleles, but I have been grabbing it often when I need to hit something and leaving marks isn’t an option.
- Vintage tack hammer—I always thought this was a small machinist’s hammer, until I read what Mike wrote above. Oh well… I use it all the time for delicate tasks.
- Lee Valley plane hammer—I used to keep this one on my apron and it saw constant use–from moving a stop block a quarter of a millimeter to actually adjusting a plane iron. Now that it’s stored on the wall, I rarely use it. I need to put it back on my apron!
- Carver’s mallet—Chris Gochnour gave me this mallet a couple of years ago. I really only use it when I’m chopping dovetails, but like the others, it always puts a smile on my face.
The hammer is one of my favorite tools. A good one works like a natural extension of your hand. Really, it’s what you would do with your hand, if it didn’t hurt.
Here’s a photo of my favorites from the shop. Starting at the top and going clockwise:
- Maple mallet—Based on my first woodworking mallet—a Crown Tools 20-oz. Beechwood mallet—I made this one from curly maple and added leather to one side to knock together joinery.
- Marble sculpting hammer—Made by Demetris Hatzis in Tinos, Greece. He put a few different ones in my hand and nodded his head when I held this one. The olivewood handle is rough and wears to your hand as you use it. It’s designed for marble sculpture, but I use it for woodworking whenever I can find an excuse.
- Hammer—The one you see a picture of when you look in the dictionary. I bought this at a hardware store when I first got married. Solid oak handle and a 20-oz. head. This one probably has the most miles on it.
- Estwing 16-oz. claw hammer—Great for tapping in wooden pegs or finish nails and the leather handle feels great.
- Nooitgedagt carpenters mallet—There’s not much of a story on this one. I can’t remember where I got it and have rarely used it, but I like it. I think it will be great for knocking in pegs on a timber-frame project I hope to finish one day. I looked it up and it’s made in Holland.
- Some kind of plastic mallet—I used to use this for knocking together joinery when I didn’t want to dent surfaces too much, but it actually dents surfaces too much. I think it may have gotten harder with age. Since adding leather to one side of my Maple mallet (#1), this one has been collecting dust.
- Small ball-peen hammer—When I add hammered copper details to projects, this little guy makes just the right size dimples. I think it’s about 6 oz., or maybe 8. It’s also my 6-year-old daughter’s favorite when she’s in the shop knocking things together. Its last use: hammering countless finish nails into the top of a 4-in.-round piece of pine (painted purple) to represent candles. A tiny birthday cake for her mom.
- Bronze Magnetic Hammer—Used for upholstery tacking with one side having a magnetic tip. It’s not used very often but excels at its job, and I like that it’s made out of bronze.
Barry NM Dima
These aren’t all my hammers, but they are my most-used ones.
- Lixie 200L dead-blow mallet— Sure, I use it as a dead blow, where its extra leverage is a huge boon. But it’s main purpose is to quietly smack holdfasts in my apartment wood shop so I don’t annoy the neighbors. Thanks to Brendan Gaffney for recommending the brand. I snatched one as soon as I saw it in a local second-hand shop.
- Japanese hammer—Got this one off of eBay. Ended up replacing the jacked-up handle with an admittedly clunkier one. It’s my all-rounder. Although recently, I’ve come to love it for chopping, especially mortises. It’s tied for my most-use mallet, along with my…
- Carver’s mallet—Like Ben’s, this was a gift from Chris Gochnour. It’s masterfully balanced and fantastic to use for all smacking. I even like it for my more delicate carving. And just like it does for Ben, this mallet makes me smile every time.
- Joiner’s mallet—One of the first tools I made, and you can tell. It’s being phased out—the rope handle sometimes slips around the dowel within—but for wood-on-wood wailing, I still grab it. Nostalgia, man.
- Wood Is Good MA-20 mallet—This one’s my go-to for heavier carving. It’s length translates to extra swing, and the size of its head proves helpful. I’ve tried slimmer, all-wood ones, and they just don’t do it for me.
- Wee cross-peen hammer—The handle’s kind of loose and the head’s cocked at the wrong angle, but I don’t care. It was my grandfather’s, and it’s handle is too wonderful for me to lop off and try to remake. It’s perfect enough for the small tasks I use it for.
What smashers do you have in your tool cabinet? Share your collection below!