The same Japanese hammer, and some of the tools that I have been striking.
I quickly learned to favor the use of hammers over mallets. When you’re chopping a mortise or rough hollowing a bowl your intention is that of removing wood, and as efficiently as possible. When striking the end of the handle, you are directing energy from yourself, through the tool, and into the wood being worked on. It’s that last clause that’s important. If you use a mallet energy is absorbed by the mallet head that could be directed into wood removal at the other end of the tool.

If you’re timid about trying this, proceed by experimenting with a cheap plastic handled chisel. Use it with a mallet, and then a hammer. Compare the results. Then give a try on one of your wooden handled chisels or gouges, with or without the steel rings. One important tip is that you must strike somewhere near the center of the handle end; never strike the arris of the handle end. That’s how wooden handles get destroyed.

You can use almost any hammer, even a carpenter’s nailer. I learned that I really like Japanese hammers. The dense heads pack a concentrated blow that’s easy to control. You can choke up near the head and tap very lightly, or slide back to the handle end and lay in more force. Also, one common characteristic is that these hammers have a flat face and a slightly convex face. That slight convex shape makes it easier to strike the center of the chisel or gouge handle end. After some practice you’ll do this almost automatically. The hammer handles, which tend to be somewhat thinner than those on western hammers, seem to be perfectly matched to the various head weights.

Japanese hammers are made in many shapes and sizes. For gouge and chisel work I like the barrel shaped, short, fat headed versions. They are available in 11 –26 ounce weights from any of the tool outfits that sell Japanese hand tools.

PS – I still use wood (and sometimes rawhide) mallets for tight assembly work, such as driving rungs into posts on ladderback chairs.

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