Ding-free Dead-blow Mallets
If you've ever tried to "nudge" a tight joint together with a hammer only to end up denting the wood, you learned the value of a dead-blow mallet. This indispensable striking tool features a one-piece, molded polyurethane plastic head and handle. Metal shot or sand fills most of the hollow cavity inside the head. As the mallet head strikes a surface, the filler material "sloshes" forward inside the head, providing a punch without rebound.
Pick your power
Mallets come in a variety of sizes and weights, photo below, so you can pick the power of persuasion that fits the job. They also come in various colors. The bright-orange model in our shop is easy to find on a cluttered bench.
Use it, don't abuse it
Besides seating dovetail joints, a dead-blow mallet can help align carcase pieces once you have clamps in position, photo below. They also help you break apart a glued joint, such as a tenoned chair-leg spindle.
However, avoid using the soft, non-marring surfaces for driving nails or punches. And although they work for driving chisels, the small striking surface requires a careful aim; that concentration would be better directed at the chisel's cutting end. A wooden mallet, photo below, makes more sense when it comes to chisels.
Other no-mar options
Some tools similar to deadblow mallets include mallets with soft rubber heads, left in the photo below, that provide soft blows, but lack the impact of dead-blow mallets. The non-marring rubber won't damage wood, but can pick up grit and dirt that can leave marks. Reach for this tool and a scrap of wood to close cans of finish or move stubborn shop fixtures or tool fittings.
Mechanic-style mallets, with plastic and rubber striking surfaces on the same tool, at center, work well with punches and other metal tools. The tips can be replaced if they become damaged or dirty.
A third option uses a tightly rolled piece of dried rawhide for the head. Often used by jewelers, they provide a delicate touch, such as when assembling small box joinery.