Somewhere I read that you should use a round mallet to hit a square chisel and a square (I assume this means flat-faced) mallet to hit round chisels because otherwise when you strike the chisel you could hit it at an awkward angle and cause it to mess up the cut. Is this statement referencing the top (the face that you strike with the mallet) or the sides of the handle? Is there any objective evidence that it matters what kind of mallet you use?

  • Subjectively, I think it's subjective (no pun intended). Having used round and flat right-angled as well as flat skewed mallets, I stuck with the skewed one since it seems to make sense insofar as the skew accounts for the mallet's somewhat "circular" motion. But if I'm honest, I neither feel nor see any real difference to the right-angled one.
    – Damon
    Apr 9 '15 at 7:44
  • Hmm, I had assumed they were talking about the shape of the mallet's contact area with the chisel and the shape of the chisel handle's contact area with the mallet. I hadn't considered the possibility that they were talking about the shape of the sharpened edge, though it makes even less sense to me that you should choose the shape of your mallet based on the shape of your chisel's cutting edge.
    – rob
    Apr 9 '15 at 7:51
  • My point was that apart from being able to do "odd" hits (which personally I find easier with a round mallet, but that's a matter of taste), you always move the mallet in a somewhat circular path (even if you try hard not to, which is a very unnatural movement), simply because your anatomy is that way. So you always hit the chisel at a somewhat sheer angle, and a bit "downwards", which will cause it to rotate "upwards" on the blade side. A slanted mallet compensates that -- in theory. In practice, I think there is no real difference (not one that I can see, anyway). Hard to describe...
    – Damon
    Apr 9 '15 at 8:07
  • I'm not certain what is meant by the square chisel and round chisel in what you read. Like you my assumption was that it referred to the handle, except that there aren't any square-handled chisels AFAIK. Square-edged yes, but not square in section. So presumably it must refer to the cutting edge? But that doesn't seem right either, since woodcarvers from what I've seen use just the one mallet they favour, maybe two (often the same type though, just different weights and/or hardnesses), regardless of the type of chisel they're working with. So that seems to debunk it as a true statement.
    – Graphus
    Apr 9 '15 at 10:51

Despite my comment above, I feel this is a very valuable question:

Is there any objective evidence that it matters what kind of mallet you use?

I think you could find it, if you would accept anecdotal evidence, but I'm certain it would be contradictory. From everything I've read, going back to historical books and right up to modern Internet sources, and from what I've seen in various craftwork cultures (from Asia to Europe to the Americas) I think that what works best is primarily going to be a matter of individual preference. How each person arrived at those preferences is usually a melange of early experience based on what they were taught firsthand or read in a book, and then some amount of personal experimentation. This is the way it is for almost all handwork practice.

One thing is certain: what one person firmly says can't or shouldn't be used to drive chisels (be it a large steel-headed hammer or a rubber mallet or a deadblow) another person uses preferentially.

  • 1
    I think at the end of the day, if it doesn't mar, destroy or damage your chisels, go to town. Apr 9 '15 at 23:19
  • I agree. I find the mallet you use is based on preference, not on round vs flat. For an interesting take on choosing a mallet, check out this video from The English Woodworker
    – user234
    Apr 13 '15 at 16:10

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