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Hammers & Mallets Buying Guide

The hammer is possibly the very first tool ever used by man. In its most basic, conceptual form a hammer was simply a rock used to crush, pound or chip another material. Hundreds of years later, the addition of a handle gave the user greater leverage making each hammer blow more effective. Although hammers and mallets have developed over the centuries, incorporating new materials and designs, this simple concept has changed little over thousands of years.

Anatomy of a Hammers & Mallets

Anatomy of a Hammers & Mallets

Despite the numerous designs and head shapes, there is very little difference between the anatomies of hammers and mallets. Both feature a shaped head mounted on to a wooden or metal handle. Looking at the head, the part of the head which is used for striking is called the face. This may be domed or angled to facilitate a more accurate blow and to prevent glancing blows that do not transfer energy efficiently or may cause a nail to bend.

The sides of the head are called the cheeks and the hole in the centre of the head that accepts the handle is called the eye.

Some hammers feature a claw on the opposite side of the head to the face. This is used for extracting nails. The shape of the claw varies from hammer to hammer; framing hammers tend to have straighter claws than the finish hammer. The straighter claw offers less leverage than the curved claw on a finishing hammer but allows the claw to be used to pry pieces of wood apart. The handle of the hammer or mallet should be fitted tightly to the head to avoid any accidents. There is a direct relation to the length of the handle and how hard the hammer or mallet will strike; the longer the handle the harder the head will strike as the longer handle gives a greater swing. ©

Types of Hammers & Mallets

Framing Hammers

Used for timber framing and other heavy duty hammering applications, framing hammers have heavy heads with milled faces. The milling on the face provides friction between the nail head and the hammer preventing the hammer from skidding off the nail head at impact. This allows more of the force to be transferred from the hammer to the nail. Framing hammers feature longer handles which allow a greater swing and therefore more force to be generated. This style of hammer has a straighter claw than a finishing hammer. ©

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Finishing Hammers

Lighter in weight than the framing hammers, finishing hammers have smooth, slightly domed faces that are designed to strike the nail head without damaging the surrounding surface. The shorter handle restricts the power delivered in each blow but gives the user much greater control and accuracy. The claws on these hammers are curved to give optimum leverage when removing nails without marring the surface of the wood. ©

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Japanese Hammers

Japanese hammers or "Genno" differ greatly to those hammers we are used to in the west. Instead of having fully hardened heads, the heads are hardened on the faces only leaving the main body of the head much softer than the striking face. This means that on impact, the softer core of the head absorbs much of the recoil shock meaning less is translated back to the user for greater comfort in use. The Japanese use their metal headed hammers for everything from driving nails to striking chisels and even for making adjustments to the blades on their woodworking planes. ©

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Round Headed Wooden Mallets

Wooden mallets are used for driving chisels and carving tools. The round headed wooden mallet is a favourite for these tasks as, due the the shape of the head, the correct part of the mallet face always strikes the tool. As wood is softer than metal, the impact between mallet and tool lasts longer giving a less jarring effect when striking. This makes the mallet less likely to split the handle of the chisel and is also more comfortable for the user. Mallets have short handles and combining this with the lower force per blow allows the user maximum control of the cut. ©

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Square Headed Wooden Mallets

Square headed wooden mallets feature flat, angled faces on both sides of the head. The faces are angled to improve accuracy when striking a chisel or other similar tool. This shape of mallet is also used for tapping well fitting joints in to place. The flat wooden surfaces are not as likely to cause damage as metal or domed wooden faces. Like their round headed counterparts, square headed mallets deliver a longer impact when striking and feature short handles giving total control to the user. ©

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Brass Headed Mallets

With their brass heads, brass mallets deliver more force to a chisel or carving tool than a wooden mallet. The brass is not as soft as wood but is softer than steel allowing it to give a greater force to the tool with less chance of damaging it. The higher forces generated by such a mallet are preferable when cutting very hard and dense woods. Again, like the other types of mallet, these brass headed mallets have short handles giving the user complete control of the blow. ©

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Dead Blow Mallets

Dead blow mallets deliver high impact blows with virtually no recoil. Usually made from rubber or plastic, these mallets have a head filled with lead or steel shot and this allows the mallet head to deliver a non recoiling blow. Used, primarily, for knocking tightly fitting joints home, dead blow mallets will not mar or damage the surface of the work. ©

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Features to Consider When Buying a Hammer or Mallet

Features to Consider When Buying a Hammer or Mallet

1. Head Weight

There is a direct correlation between the weight of the hammer head and how hard it will strike. The heavier the head the harder the hammer is capable of striking. Hammers designed for heavy duty tasks such as framing have much heavier heads than those for finishing. Similarly with wooden or brass mallets, the striking force increases with the weight of the head. For this reason, carvers may choose a heavier mallet when working with very hard or dense woods. ©

2. Handle Length

The handle length of a hammer or mallet has a huge bearing on how hard the hammer head will strike. The longer the handle, the faster the head is capable of moving. The faster the head moves, the more energy the head has to transfer to the nail, chisel or other item being struck. However, a longer handle means that you hold the hammer or mallet further away from the head which gives you less control over where the head strikes. For heavy duty tasks where pin point accuracy is not so important, a long handled hammer or mallet is preferable to a short handled one. ©

3. Metal or Wooden Head?

The material a hammer or mallet head is made from affects how the tool performs. Metal heads are harder than wooden heads and deliver a short, sharp impact as opposed to a wooden head which, being softer, delivers its impact over a slightly longer period of time. This slower impact makes the wooden mallet the tool of choice when making precise cuts with chisels as the mallet blow does not jar so much as with a metal headed mallet. ©

4. Steel or Titanium?

Steel and titanium are two very different metals but both are very effective for hammer heads. Steel is much heavier than titanium making even a small hammer head capable of delivering very powerful blows. Titanium is much lighter than steel and is also a lot harder.

Combine a titanium hammer head with a longer handle and it is capable of delivering more power than a heavier steel hammer. The softer steel hammer will recoil much more than a titanium one; in fact around ten times more. For long or heavy duty tasks a titanium headed hammer is preferable as it puts much less stress on the users joints. ©

Tips From the Experts

1. When swinging a hammer or mallet, keep your wrist straight and swing from your elbow. ©

Head Weight

2. To get the maximum striking force from the hammer or mallet hold the handle at the bottom. Holding a hammer or mallet closer to the head restricts its striking force but allows it to strike more accurately. Holding the tool like this is known as choking. ©

Hammer Hold

3. When using a hammer or mallet, let the weight of the head do the work. ©

4. Always use the right hammer or mallet for the job. By choosing the correct one, the task will be finished more quickly and with less risk of damage to the work. ©



Dakota tools are sourced from some of the world's best tool manufacturers. Carefully selected by a panel of woodworking experts, each tool is inspected and rigorously tested. Only those tools that meet or exceed expectations are approved to bear the Dakota brand name. Offering a wide range of woodworking products, Dakota's mission is to provide high quality tools to all abilities of woodworker from the weekend home woodworker to the professional carpenter.

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Founded in Switzerland in 1902 Pfeil tools are widely recognised for producing the world's finest carving tools. Designed and developed using their vast experience of carving and feedback from some of the world's best carvers, Pfeil's range of carving mallets are shaped to give the user absolute control. Trusted by wood carvers all over the world, Pfeil make the best carving tools money can buy.

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Stiletto have been making premium quality tools since 1849. The company today places its emphasis on innovative tools that are light in weight, ergonomic in use and are aimed at the professional. Their titanium hammers are capable of producing as much striking force as a steel hammer but are only 55% of the weight. Titanuim also gives less recoil shock meaning that there less chance of developing work related injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis.

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Always check the fit of the head on the handle before use. A loose hammer or mallet head may detatch during use and cause an injury. ©

Check the head of the hammer or mallet for signs of cracking or chipping. If the head is damaged in this way, the hammer or mallet must be replaced. ©