Hammer vs Mallet – What’s The Difference?


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While some people often confuse the terms hammer and mallet, there is a clear distinction.

A hammer, typically with a metal head and a claw or peen, is used for driving nails and forging metal. A mallet, with a larger, softer head made of wood, rubber, or plastic, is used for gentle strikes in woodworking and chiseling without damaging the surface. Also, many hammers have one side of the tool designed for prying or clawing nails, whereas mallets have a flat surface on either end. 

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of a mallet and hammer so that you can see the difference.

claw hammer on the left and wooden mallet on the right
Claw hammer (left), wooden mallet (right)

You get many different types in each of the two categories, and it is vital to know the use of each kind of hammer or mallet to get the best out of them. A good collection of various hammers and mallets is crucial to your woodworking toolbox.

However, we do not go into the different types of hammers or mallets because we have covered all those aspects in other articles.

Hammer vs. Mallet

The main difference between a hammer and a mallet is that a hammer has different parts. A mallet, however, consists of just two parts – a head and a handle. The variation of the components of a hammer distinguishes it from a mallet. Here, we take a closer look at both these tools to understand them better.

What Is A Hammer?

Hammer
Hammer. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A hammer consists of a weighted head, usually metallic, and a handle that may be metallic or non-metallic. We use a hammer to drive fasteners like nails into soft materials like wood and drywall to join various pieces together. You can get different types of hammers. The head of the hammer usually defines the specific use that a particular kind of hammer serves.

Parts Of A Hammer

Face

The flat part of the head makes contact with the surface upon which you apply a blow.

Eye

The eye serves a critical purpose in a hammer. It is a hole, typically square, rectangular or oval in cross-section and usually tapered. We insert the hammer handle through the eye to attach it to the head. The handle has a split at the top, and we embed a wedge into this split to force it open. This action makes the tip of the handle extremely tight inside the eye, and it prevents the hammerhead from slipping off the handle while swinging the hammer.

Neck

We call the narrow part between the face and the eye the neck. The neck does serve any specific function, and however, the shape of the neck can vary according to the particular type of hammer.

Handle

The main grip of the tool depends on the construction of the handle, which can be metallic or non-metallic (usually wood or rubber).

The structure of the handle is critical to how effectively you can use the hammerhead. A hammer handle is usually made of wood, but it can also be rubber, nylon, or any other similar composite material.

Claw Or Peen/Pein

A hammer usually has a claw on the end opposite to the face. The V-shaped claw serves the purpose of removing nails from wood or other soft surfaces. Some hammers have a rounded end opposite the face called a “peen.” We call such a hammer a peen or pein hammer. The peen is usually spherical but may be flat in some cases. The shape of the peen will define the particular function that it serves.

What Is A Mallet?

Mallet
Mallet. Image Credit: Smabs Sputzer

A mallet resembles a hammer, but the difference lies in its non-metallic head. We use mallets to strike a tool or job softly. The purpose of a mallet is to strike a blow but on soft material, taking care not to damage the job. Unlike the metallic heads of hammers, mallets have heads made of various materials, depending on the purpose of each type.

Why Use A Mallet vs. Hammer?

As we mentioned above, the soft material of a mallet head prevents it from damaging the soft material upon which you are working. We use a mallet to shape objects, and we also use it to hit something soft like a wooden or plastic chisel handle. You can also use a mallet for hitting different parts to position them together, where they would likely be damaged if hit by a hammer.

The head of a mallet is almost always the same on both sides. The construction is like this because the purpose of a mallet is always to hit a surface. A mallet never has multi-functions like a hammer, and we never use it to pry or extract nails. Unlike hammers, we generally use moderate force while using mallets. Due to this reason, the handle of a mallet is often glued to the head. We rarely use a wedge to secure the handle to the head of a mallet the way we do in the case of a hammer.

When To Use A Rubber Mallet?

You can use a rubber mallet to deliver a blow even softer than a wooden mallet. These mallets find wide use in forming sheet metal and in upholstery work. Here are a few practical uses of rubber mallets:

  • Tapping ceramic tiles into position
  • Using laminate flooring
  • To fix tackless strips onto carpeting
  • Checking the depth of an invisible space by tapping on a pipe or behind a wall
  • Working on PVC and CPVC joints for tapping the male and female parts together

What Kind Of Wood Are Most Mallets Made Of?

The wooden mallets that we usually see in the market are of various types of hardwood like rose, walnut, maple, and ash. There is a lot of controversy over the perfect wood for making mallet heads. In the UK, the traditional wood for making mallets is beech.

However, customized mallets seem to be a popular concept. If you go onto woodworking forums, you will come across people who have made mallets from various wood types. The consensus seems to be that the wood that makes up a mallet should be neither too hard nor too soft.

What Is A Joiner’s Mallet?

Joiner's Mallet
Joiner’s Mallet. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As the joiner’s mallet enjoys a prominent status in woodworking operations, we felt it fit to give it a mention. However, if you are interested in further details about mallets, you will find everything you need to know in another article we posted.

A joiner’s mallet is made entirely of wood, and its head is typically square-shaped. We can make good use of a joiner’s mallet for assembling projects, and we can also use it to assist with dowel insertion, chiseling, and general pounding. The joiner’s mallet is very kind to sheet metal and delicate surfaces, presenting less risk for damage.

 

Image by Pikrepo