This ol’ hamma’

Rings like silver! Whacking, wellying, tapping, bashing, smashing, persuading, nudging – there’s a lot of tasks in a shop that need a good… problem solver. Let’s review one option; the Thorex 712R

Mallet, hammer, sledge – what ever gets the job done. When you need something to cooperate, what do you grab? Something you can use to smack things into coherence will always be needed. Chiseling would be hard without a mallet, unless you’ve got a horses’ hoof for a hand. Some plebs use a claw hammer for chisel work, but we don’t really talk about them. Shhh!

A good persuader is on the core tools list of any woodworker. A mallet or hammer that can be used for tasks where you need to hit, thump, tap, knock, welly, slam or whack something (or someone) in order to achieve a desired result. Perhaps the most important hit job is chisel work. A good mallet or hammer is key to chiseling out mortises. You need something with good balance, enough weight – and most important: a head that won’t ruin your good chisels! My personal choice is the Thorex 712R. I have used a wooden mallet previously, but the 712 is superior in so many ways!

Traditionally, the wooden mallet consist of a big head with faces that slope 5°. The balance point should be somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 the way up from the bottom. The head is usually rather big. This might not matter at all for general chisel work, but you cannot fit the mallet in tight spaces. The size of the head gets in the way, and you do need the size in order to get enough weight for it to be functional. Adding lead weight is an option, but complicates things a lot. In addition, you need a good piece of wood with the right composition so that it don’t split on you. When the faces wear you need to replace the mallet at some point as there are a limit to how many times you can “reface” the mallet. To me, a wooden mallet has a limited repertoire compared to the 712 both in use and longevity.

So what is the 712 then? The product number is 31-712R, the manufacturer is the UK based Thor Hammer Company Ltd. The hammer weighs 560 gram (19.75 Oz.), the face diameter is 38mm (11/2”) and the length is 305mm (12′). The faces screws on and can be replaced. The hammer comes with nylon and rubber faces as standard, and there are other alternatives available. If a face wears out or damaged, just unscrew it and replace.

While being a somewhat heavy hammer, it does not feel heavy in use. A lightweight hammer requires more force in order to deliver enough energy into the thing you want to move. To put it simple: you need to whack hard with a light hammer, as opposed to a small tap-i-tap with a heavy one. This means that you don’t have to use as much energy; just let the hammer fall. Since most of the weight is located in the head, the percussive energy is concentrated within those 38mm. A cylinder of uniform density has its center of gravity in the geometric center, halfway between the ends. In other words, the balance is perfect and the percussive force is delivered within the circumference. The center of percussion (and balance) enables you to grab the handle near the head and perform a strike much like a drummer using his drum sticks for a drum roll – only the fingers apply force. Grab the handle at the end, and you can get a good swing without using much energy.

A round headed mallet is preferred by many woodworkers. A leather version, as shown above, corresponds to the rubber face of the 712. Whilst a very good option and excellent handling characteristics, the round face increases the chance for a glancing blow. It also is prone to rolling off the work bench. For woodworking, I don’t see a round mallet as very practical (YMMV). It does have its uses, though – for example in carving.

I have two versions of the Thorex 712. One with nylon and rubbery plastic handle which is good, but the handle is not comfortable for woodworking tasks. I think it is best suited for car body work. The other has a wooden handle and feels MUCH nicer in the hand. I have a white nylon and a grey rubber face on both hammers. The nylon face is hard and will move things 10mm while the soft rubber face moves things 1mm. These numbers are illustrative only, of course. The point being that within one tool, I can apply two different level of force with the same amount of energy. The soft rubber face is great for nudging and it won’t dent or maul the work either. Unless you go whole Hulk, of course..

I looked through the images I’ve uploaded to the blog, and just as I found when I wrote the article about my Eclipse vise – I had almost no images that focused on the hammer itself. But I also noticed another thing: the hammer can be found in a LOT of images. Off to the side, in the background sort of stuff. This is of course to be expected, as I use it all the time. As one of the most important core tools, it always plays an important role – but seldom does it take center stage. Perhaps comparable to the drummer in a band. Always placed behind the leads, but without the drums there would be very little rhythm (albeit a good bass player can do a lot for the groove – just look at Dusty Hill in ZZ Top – what a machine he was!)

I did find one image where the hammer was the main focus. Here I am nudging two thin strips of white oak into alignment. I had planed them square on one side and wanted to plane them to width. While placing them in the vise, they shifted on me. The easiest way to fix that was to tap them with the hammer while feeling the underside for evenness. Your fingertips are amazingly sensitive – you can actually feel the height difference of the ridges in your fingerprints! Rub two fingertips very lightly together, and you’ll see.

By nudging the strips of wood with the hammer, I got them perfectly realigned with a few taps. Dead flat on the bottom, it took me a few swipes with the plane to get the two strips planed to identical width.

If you “choke up” on the handle, meaning you grip the hammer closer to the head, you can vary the energy you deliver, and it can increase control for fine work. I find the size of the handle and the diameter of the head very comfortable for my hands. By gripping the head of the hammer much like a pencil, I get really fine control.

Paul Sellers has an article where he re-shaped the handle somewhat. This is of course a personal thing, but well worth looking into if something doesn’t feel quite right. We should not be afraid to modify our tools to fit our own needs.

I found lots of other images where the hammer is placed somewhere near where work is being done. I’ll just put them up here for you:

Using a straightedge as a clamping guide for a small shelf.
Using clamps to hold banana shaped strips for planing.
Donkey work done, now to finish with a chisel!
Splitting dowel blanks
Layout work. A holdfast secures the parts.
A dado for the legs on my work bench.

To me, the 712 seems to be the perfect tool for twatting stuff. It is comfortable, does a great job and is small and nimble enough to not get in the way and to get into tight spots. I have used bigger wooden mallets in the past, and I did not like them even half as much as I do the 712. It really seems to be the perfect all-round tool for hitting stuff.

You don’t have to take my word for it – here’s two gentlemen with far more weight to their name than me in the woodworking community, and what they have to say about the 712:

As well as being gentle enough to assemble your work, a nylon faced hammer is excellent as a general woodworking mallet.

It excels for morticing, and as dirty and gruff as this sounds, it combines wonderfully with a chisel that has a plastic handle, like my Marples. Those two together allow you to dig like a Jack Russell.

Richard Maguire, The English Woodworker

My Thorex 712 38mm hammer is unchallenged for mallet work with my chisels and also assembly pretty well. It has pretty well replaced my wooden mallet versions though I will always love my hand made wooden mallets and for some work they are irreplaceable. The advantage of the two different hard and soft faces is density. The grey is soft enough for good and general assembly but not so good for chisel work. The white face is ultra kind to chisel handles yet still capably gives good delivery. The white face is also very good for assembly on hard and dense-grained wood too. Very positive in both delivery and feedback. Better than eBay!

Paul Sellers

I wholeheartedly agree. While an elaborate wooden mallet looks nice – especially on the tool wall display behind the content creators, next to the wall of red anodized squares – the look of the 712 is (in my opinion at least) not too utilitarian. Besides, I think that tools should be functionally over aesthetically pleasing. Preferably both but funktion über form, Herr!

Even if you have a nice wooden mallet, I would still recommend you to get a 712R. I am confident that you will enjoy it thoroughly.

If you cannot get hold of the 712, any auto body hammer with exchangeable head, weight and size comparable to the 712 will probably be a good choice as well. If at all possible, choose a wooden handle. A plastic handle, especially those rubberized ones where the rubber tosses in the towel within a year or two, is inferior to a wooden handle in feel and how well your hand maintain a good grip. I also think that we should reduce the amount of plastic, seen from an environmentally sound perspective. A broken wooden handle can be used for other stuff (shop made dowels, for instance), or at least for firewood.

While being a tool primarily made for working other things than wood, the Thorex 712R (and its brothers from other mothers) really excel in the woodworking world. A versatile tool around the shop indeed.

Certainly a tool that has hit the head of the nail in usefulness!

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