What makes a good mallet?

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Blog entry by Karson posted 02-14-2008 03:05 AM 8586 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

People post blogs and projects about mallets.

I don’t have one but I’d like to make one. Do I want one small and knimble (Brass etc about 1 1.5lbs) or a 3 – 5 lb clunker.

It seems that the one’s I’ve seen shown here are either square with a sloped face and a handle or a round one with an oval shape.

I currently use a blaock of Osage Orange that is a cutoff from a gavel that I made. It’s about 3” long and 3” across (round) and no handle. I use it to lightly pare mortise and tenons. The mortises are cut with a mortise machine. And the tenons are cut on the table saw/bandsaw.

What do others find useful?

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

15 comments so far

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 4242 days

#1 posted 02-14-2008 04:17 AM

I have the one in my avatar which I carved from a piece of dogwood recently, which I intend to use with my chisels, but haven’t had a lot of chisel work since I made it, so it is still to be tested. It will probably be “adjusted” some as it feels a little top heavy (weighs in now at about 40 oz, but doesn’t feel like “part of my hand” yet so the bottom of the head will be cut back ‘til it feels right). I decided to make it when I destroyed a head on my “go to” mallet when chopping out blind dovetails in 2” white oak for a work bench. My “go-to” wasn’t heavy enough for the job. My “go-to” mallet is the square head sloped face type which is made from a 100+ year old slab of white oak I got from the wall of the coal bin in the house I grew up in. I am now on my third head for it (first one made 20 years ago and only have enough left for two more heads). I use it for chiseling mortises to dovetails, persuading parts together on tight glue ups, and a multitude of other things (the handle is wedged in, not sliding taper as some models). It has a 6” wide (top) by 3 1/2” tall by 2 1/2” thick head with approx 7 degree slopes on the faces and a 12 1/2” handle (total length 16”). It fits my 60 yr old hands and has the right balance. total weight is about 28 oz (just weighed both on LOMLs kitchen scale). I sloped the heads so that they just line up with the tops of my knuckles when I grab the handle about 1/2 hand-width from the end. this seems to be for me the right angle to intuitively anticitpate the head striking a chisel handle, etc. as it just is an extension of my hand.

Good subject. I await to see others preferences.


-- Go

View Karson's profile


35194 posts in 4855 days

#2 posted 02-14-2008 04:39 AM

Thanks Gofor.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 4238 days

#3 posted 02-14-2008 04:46 AM

Slight tangent: Why are there round mallets anyway? I guess if your chisel handle has a square top, then a round mallet would be okay, but if you have rounded-top chisel handles, a round mallet would seem a poor choice.

Along those same lines, I’m thinking of chopping off the ends of my (pretty new) Irwin handles, or at least pounding on them with a hammer to flatten the tops.

-- Eric at

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4549 days

#4 posted 02-14-2008 06:20 AM

Eric, I can’t be sure if this is accurate or not but it seems to me that if the mallet is round, the user has to concern himself less with hitting the other tool a the right angle and more about the force of the blow and being “in the neighborhood”. Whereas the flat face, although with more surface area, requires more mental awareness of the angle at which the other tool is being struck. I also think the flat mallet is less effective if you choke up on the handle than the round mallet (in the case of more delicate blows). My two cents…

As for your Irwins, I don’t have a set of those but would do the cutting you mention. I’ve also read that as a suggestion in numerous places online and in print.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4629 days

#5 posted 02-14-2008 06:46 AM

The round mallet is a carver’s mallet. The round aspect of it allows you to strike the chisel, as Jeff said, while focusing more on what the sharp end of the chisel is doing and less on what part of the mallet is striking the chisel.

The square, slope-faced mallet is traditionally called a joiner’s mallet (or jointer’s mallet – I’ve heard it called both). I’m guessing that has something to do with using it for joinery (such as chopping mortises) vs. carving. With that, you’ll want a little more force behind the blow, and that shape allows you to strike the chisel with more power.

I have the Irwin/Marples blue handle chisels, as well, and they definitely benefit from some roughing up of the ends of the handles.

I believe Frank Klausz even recommends cutting off or filing off about 1/4” or so, leaving a flatter end on a slightly shorter handle.

-- Ethan,

View tcb16's profile


1 post in 4218 days

#6 posted 02-14-2008 07:13 AM

Hi Karson,

I dont have any tech info, but I sure remember the difference in feel using a flat mallet vs a round faced when carving. I felt like I needed to be more direct with a mallet strike with the flat face, and the round face I wasn’t quite as worried, and it felt a little bit more evenly distributed. I hope this helps, Tim

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4329 days

#7 posted 02-14-2008 02:20 PM

I’ve made a couple out of oak cut-offs that I find very useful. One of them is three 3/4” laminates (the head is about 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 by 4”) and the other is five laminates (about 3 3/4 by 3 3/4 by 5).

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6866 posts in 4434 days

#8 posted 02-14-2008 04:33 PM

Hi Karson;

Great topic.

I was making mallets as gifts for other woodworkers for a while. I saw a design in one of the woodworking mags, shop notes I think, Where the mallet is filled with lead b b’s.

The faces are covered with leather to avoid maring the work. The lead is very effective in making this a dead blow mallet.

I have a Walnut one in the shop, I made about ten years ago, and it’s used very often. It’s gotten kind of beat over the years, but still works quite well. I’ll try to remember to take a picture and post it this evening.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 4242 days

#9 posted 02-15-2008 04:01 AM

One other difference between round and flat faced. Most flat faced have the end grain to the face. The round mallet has the grain running vertical on the face, so there is less chance of splitlling when hittin a square- edged object like a squared off chisel handle.


-- Go

View sIKE's profile


1271 posts in 4209 days

#10 posted 02-15-2008 06:19 AM

I have made a couple for gifts and have a third in progress. I found the plans in an issue of Shopnotes. It is a laminated type mallet. The issue provides plans for both a Carvers Mallet and a Joiners Mallet. I have made the Joiners mallet. I made the mallet heads out of Dark Walnut and Hard Maple, and the handles are made from 7/4 Hard Maple. When I get back home I will get some pics posted of that project. Both my Father and Father-In Law love them.

-- //FC - Round Rock, TX - "Experience is what you get just after you need it"

View bloggstein's profile


11 posts in 4209 days

#11 posted 02-15-2008 04:38 PM

I have several that I’ve made for myself, and have made a handful more for other woodworkers. I have an angled-face, square headed mallet made from hard maple with a walnut handle. There are a couple 5/8” holes drilled out of the head, filled with lead shot & epoxy or CA, and plugged with padauk, but I would still say it’s medium to lightly weighted. I also have square-faced, round headed one where the entire mallet faces were parted off, a large hole was drilled back into the head and filled with shot. This one would probably be my go-to mallet, except for my design is not yet quite perfect and I don’t think it’s going to hold up quite as well as I’d hoped. I should have that fixed for the next version, however. Lastly, I have a couple big round carving mallets with fairly heavy weight, as well as a couple very small mallets of the same design that are only a couple inches long that I can use for adjusting planes and other gentle work. They’re made of walnut to try to prevent damage to anything.

Of all of them, the square-faced round headed one would probably be my favorite if not for the fact that I’m worried I’m going to break the faces. Because of that, I don’t use it on chisels, but it’s great for assembly and other general pounding. My big angled-face one is probably my next best bet.

Here’s a couple pictures, unfortunately I don’t have any of my nice round headed one available at the moment:

Traditional Carving Mallet in bubinga sapwood

Angled face mallet & another carving mallet

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4329 days

#12 posted 02-15-2008 09:56 PM

Karson, I find that the most important thing is the feel of the handle and how it makes you want to use it. I also read somewhere that it should rest on it’s face and the tip (bottom end) of the handle should just touch the bench at the same time. That gives you an idea of proportion and angle of face. Thats how I designed mine and it works great.

-- Happy woodworking!

View Critterman's profile


601 posts in 4265 days

#13 posted 02-16-2008 03:37 PM

LOL, Karson I was going to stay quiet because I really wondered myself. I use a small hammer like mallet from Harbor Freight. Has a plastic head on one side and rubber on the other. The rubber is great for setting pieces together and the plastic works great with my Marples chisels. It is light so I have good control, the handle is a little small, but that’s OK (Oh and it’s cheap). I’ve wondered about the big wooden ones everyone makes/uses. Me? What I have works so for now I’m sticking to it I guess. You do a lot more work than I do though. I just thougt these guys used them because they like making them…LOL

-- Jim Hallada, Chesterfield, VA

View RobS's profile


1334 posts in 4761 days

#14 posted 02-16-2008 05:56 PM

Thanks for that tip Blake, it makes sense, cause mine, while I love it and use it all the time, is actually more comfortable to strike an object using the back side as opposed to the larger front. I’d say I hit with the back almost as much as the front, especially if i need a little more control for the strike.

In the pictures, you can clearly see the back lines up with the handle more along the lines as mentioned in Blakes point above.

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View sIKE's profile


1271 posts in 4209 days

#15 posted 02-25-2008 05:00 AM

I have posted a project showing my mallet.

-- //FC - Round Rock, TX - "Experience is what you get just after you need it"

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