Mallet vs. Hammer: When to Use a Mallet?

Hammers and mallets both form part of the hammer family. What’s the difference between these two, and can they be used interchangeably?

Difference Between Mallet and Hammer

A mallet and a hammer fall within the “hammer” family, but their purposes differ. A hammer typically has a smaller, harder head (usually metallic) and is used to drive nails, shape workpieces, and break objects. Conversely, a mallet tends to have a rounder, softer head (usually rubber or wood) that will not mar the workpiece surface. It is used for more delicate tasks, like assembling parts and chiseling wood.
A rubber mallet and claw hammer on white background
The distinction is not always clear-cut, and often there can be overlap. For instance, the brass mallet can also be called a brass hammer.

Note: The term hammer is also used for the part that strikes the anvil in percussion tools such as an impact wrench. In this article, “hammer” refers to the standard metal hammers like the claw hammer.

Hammer vs Mallet Comparison

Mallet vs Hammer

Shape & Design of Head

  • Hammer: Generally, hammers have a small, hard head that provides high impact. A typical hammer head will have a striking surface on one end and a peen on the other end. The peen may be tapered (straight and cross) or spherical shaped in the case of ball peen hammers.

    The popular claw hammers have a metal driving head on one side and a hook on the other. The driving head is meant for driving in nails, while the hook works to remove nails and leverage objects when needed.

  • Mallet: The mallets typically have a rounded, softer head for gentler work than hammers. Generally, the head is larger than the standard metal hammer and often slightly heavier. Some mallets have larger handles than metal hammers for a more comfortable grip.

Material and Composition

Hammers meant to drive nails have metal heads. The handle varies between metal and wood, and the metal handles are sometimes covered with a rubber grip for ease of handling. A heavy head and handle mean that hammers are comparatively heavier, which adds to the impact force produced while using them.
Other parts of the hammer, such as the peen or claw, may vary according to the type of hammer.

Mallet heads can be made of rubber, wood, plastic, and even softer metals, such as brass and copper. Their handles are generally made of wood or plastic but typically not metal. These handles tend to be sturdy but not heavy because mallets are meant for more delicate work.

Impact Force When Striking an Object

Metal hammers are built to provide a large striking force, which aids in driving nails, dowels, shaping metals, demolition jobs, etc. It saves time and energy if you can drive a nail in three blows instead of ten.

Blacksmiths use heavy-duty forging hammers that deliver extreme impact force for metalworking operations such as forging, which require a lot of force.

Mallets, on the other hand, aren’t meant to provide a tremendous striking force. They’re meant for gentle taps, as you would apply when handling a chisel or shaping metal. A significant impact force would damage the workpiece or even shatter it completely.

There is also a dead blow mallet or hammer, which has a special design to reduce rebound. You can see how dead blow hammers work and their uses here.


Hammers are typically far heavier than mallets since they’re meant to provide a sizeable striking force.

When you consider the overall weight of typical mallets, they are not as heavy as hammers since they’re not meant to offer a large impact force.


Hammers are mainly meant to deliver high impact force for operations such as shaping metals, driving nails, or demolishing objects. In short, they’re meant for hard work. Mallets, on the other hand, are meant to strike an object without damaging the workpiece surface.

If you face a situation where you must use a hammer to do a mallet’s job, place a relatively soft piece of wood between the hammer and the object. This would soften the blow and potentially save the workpiece.

Types of Hammer and Mallets

Different types of hammers and mallets
There are a wide variety of hammers and mallets on the market, each fit for a specific purpose.

Types of Hammers

Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Ball Peen Hammer: This hammer has a flat head on one side and a round head on the other. It’s traditionally meant for metalwork but can be used to drive a chisel or round off rivet edges.
  • Brick Hammer: The brick hammer has a flat head on one end and a chisel-like blade on the other. It’s meant to break off pieces of brick and stone.
  • Claw Hammer: This is the traditional hammer you’d typically use to drive a nail. It has a flat head on one side and a claw on the other. The head is meant to drive nails, while the claw removes nails from workpieces and breaks objects apart.
  • Electrician’s Hammer: This hammer is similar to the claw hammer. Still, it is made of insulated fiberglass and fitted with a rubber-coated grip. Since it’s made from insulated material, it can be used in electrical applications.
  • Framing Hammer: The framing hammer looks like the claw hammer but has double the weight. Its striking head has a waffled face, meaning nails won’t slip when struck. The additional weight allows workers to drive nails quickly, saving time on jobs.
  • Sledgehammer: Sledgehammers are meant for demolition work. They’re large and heavy, packing quite a punch in their blows.
  • Tack Hammer: The tack hammer is made specifically for upholstery work. This lightweight tool enables artisans to place and drive tack with high precision without damaging the often delicate workpiece.

Types of Mallets

The mallet is a hammer with a rounded head, meant to drive chisels and shape wood and metal. The most common types of mallets are;

  • Rubber mallets
  • Wooden mallets
  • Plastic mallets
  • Brass and copper mallets
  • Dead blow mallets (also known as dead blow hammers)
  • Mallets also have a use outside carpentry and metalwork: For example, percussion mallets are used in musical instruments, and some are used in the culinary arts to tenderize meat, grind the coffee, and crush herbs and spices.

Which One to Use?

In some cases, mallets and hammers can be used interchangeably. This is not always the case, though; it is necessary to understand each one’s intended purpose.

Mallet Uses

Mallets have various uses, depending on the material they’re made of. Typically, a mallet would be used to drive a chisel or shape wood and metal. In non-DIY circles, mallets are often used to crush herbs and spices or tenderize meat.

Hammer Uses

Use a hammer when you need to strike an object with force, and don’t mind marring the workpiece surface. It is used for forging, blacksmithing, driving nails, and removing them from workpieces. Some hammers, like the sledgehammer, are used in demolition.

Note: Do not use a hammer to drive screws (learn why).

Can a Mallet Be Used as a Hammer?

Yes, a mallet can sometimes be used as a hammer, although this is not advisable. Mallets have softer heads and could be damaged when driving a nail.

The softer mallet head would also not work well when trying to break an object apart or demolish it.

It’s always best to match your tools to the job.