Working with leather often involves hitting or striking tools; for that job, a leather mallet, hammer, or maul can work great depending on the type of project.
A leather mallet, hammer, or maul each is a type of hitting tool used in leather working. They deliver concentrated force to a location, often a metal tool that is used in stamping, marking, or cutting the leather being worked on. These tools come in a variety of shapes, styles, and materials.
So which would work best for your project? Let’s explore each, and the types of work they’re most suited for.
What is a Leather Mallet, Hammer, or Maul?
Leather mauls, leather mallets, and leather hammers are tools used for a variety of impact tasks during leather working, the choice of which to use is driven by a combination of use and personal preference. Generally, mauls work well for punching and tooling. Mallets can be used with tooling and punching. Hammers work well for forming leather, especially in shoe making and saddlery.
When choosing a maul, mallet, or hammer, it’s important to think about how they’ll be used most. The biggest factor in selection is the combination of surfaces – the hitting surface, and the surface being hit. They are made with very different materials, and some can be maintained and parts replaced over time.
For example, hitting a metal punch with a metal hammer can damage both the hammer and punch. So for this use a nylon maul or a natural hide mallet (both softer surfaces than metal) would work. Let’s explore more about each.
Types of Leather Mallets, Hammers, and Mauls
Leather mauls are hitting tools that have a weighted head wrapped in a nylon cylinder. The softness of the nylon makes it suitable for hitting metal leather working tools, such as punches and stamps.
Since the nylon is dense, it provides a very solid and effective hitting surface that absorbs shock and delivers a steady hit. Since it is soft, it won’t damage the tools.
Mauls come in different sizes and weights. The heavier mauls will generate more hitting force, though will be a little heavier to hold/swing. It is very much personal preference as to the weight and style of the maul used.
A leather mallet is used mainly for striking/hitting other tools. They have a large, cylindrical head and can be made from plastic or raw hide. The raw hide versions usually have a rolled raw hide top, finished so it’s very dense while retaining some softness. This helps with shock absorption as well as the softer surface being less likely to damage metal tools when struck. The raw hide leather mallet is generally more expensive than the plastic versions. Often, the raw hide piece can be replaced when worn, restoring the mallet’s hitting surface to new condition.
Leather mallets need to be inspected frequently. With consistent use, the hitting surfaces can begin to show wear, cracks, or even start to chip off. This isn’t seen as much with nylon leather mauls. Here’s a video showing leather mallet selection and use:
Leather Tack Hammer
Leather working tack hammers are use frequently in upholstery work. They are thin leather hammers, usually with steel heads that have two different ends. A “starting” end allows the tacks to be placed and hit to be “started” into the material. This same end can be used, with its grooves, to pull tacks out. The other end has a small, flat hammering surface to hammer the tacks in.
Other versions of tack hammers include those used for saddlery. They also have thin, steel heads and work well for forming leather or performing tack work in difficult-to-reach areas. In this case their small size is an asset. Tack hammers come in maybe subtle variations and sizes, each with unique benefits specific to their planned use. Here’s one in use:
Leather Ball Peen Hammer
Leather working ball peen hammers are used mostly for smoothing out or pounding out seams on rawhide. They head is composed of a ball-shaped, rounded end, and a flat, hammering end.
The roundness of the ball helps it provide surface pressure to areas and in ways not always possible with the more standard flat end (although it has that too if needed). The denseness of the head material also delivers a lot of concentrated force. It can be a handy leather hammer to have if one does a lot of saddle work or sewing of thicker leathers. Here’s what they look like:
Leather Rivet Hammer
A leather rivet hammer is a specialized hammer used for rivet setting (securing rivet hardware onto leather material). They have a very well-balanced head that provides ample once in a comfortable way for securing rivets in place.
Rivet hammers are not wildly different than other hammers, though the personal preference for a weighted head just for this job might be appealing. For someone that does a lot of riveting by hand, a leather rivet hammer could be a helpful addition that makes the work easier.
Leather Tap-Off Hammer
Leather tap-off hammers are specialized leather hammers often used in leather tooling work. They have wide, flat heads made of steel.
Tap-off patterns are decorative leather design templates that can be hammered, or “tapped” into a leather piece. Rather then stamping or engraving similar designs by hand over and over, they can be made into a tap-off pattern.
Once this pattern is made, it can be laid onto a prepared leather surface, and them hammered across it’s surface to imprint that tap-off design into the leather below it. Since the entire surface is being hammered, a hammer with a wide, flat surface works great here. Thus, tap-off leather hammers are a great choice for tap-off work. As an alternative, shoemaker’s leather hammers can be used for tap-off work as well. Here’s a cobblers hammer used for tapping-off leather:
Leather Saddler’s Hammer
Leather saddler’s hammers are used to help form leather and hammer seams. The head is usually made of steel, with long, tapered ends. On end usually has a narrow tip, while the other is often a little wider and rounded. They are great choices when hammering in hard-to-reach places and for lighter hammering work. Here’s what a saddler’s hammer looks like:
Leather Shoe Hammer
Leather shoe hammers are used often for hammering over stitching, tapping through sharp folds, and securing glued leather pieces together. They feature a wide, heavy steel head that produces a deep, steady impact. Used frequently in shoemaking work, they are also a popular choice for those working in saddlery, luggage making, or making bags. Here’s one being restored, and what they look like:
Leather Fitting Hammer
Leather fitting hammers are used mostly for hammering seams and for flattening leather pieces. They look like a hammer head, without a wooden handle. They are made of steel, and the piece in between the two heads is where it is held.
One end is generally rectangular, narrow, and flat. The other end usually round, wider, and flat. If one pounds seams often and likes the feel of this handle style over a typical leather hammer, the fitting hammer might be a helpful leather working tool addition.
What is a Poly Maul?
When you’re looking for leather craft mauls, the poly maul is an option available that has a poly (plastic) surface that is used for striking. Since it is made from plastic, it is softer than metal, and won’t damage the tools it is being used to strike.
Also, since they have a plastic surface, in some cases they are less expensive than other hitting implements (such as hammers and mauls), making them a very usable and plausible option when starting leather craft.
Additionally, the balance they provide when striking can also be favored, making this a favorite type of leather maul. Here’s an example of the Craftool Poly Maul:
How do You Make a Leather Mallet?
A leather mallet can be made, in short, by tightly rolling and securing a piece of leather to make the hitting surface, drilling a hole for a handle, then inserting and securing the handle. Much easier to see, here is a video showing the process:
How do you maintain a mallet?
In general, like most tools, leather mallets should be cleaned after each use. Ensure to brush off any debris that might have accumulated during use. Check the mallet for any large scratches, or cracks, and see that is it good structural shape. Also, check to ensure the handle is securely attached.
You’ll likely not encounter any major issues often, they after all are mallets made for striking and hitting things, and usually last years reliably. Tighten the handle if it needs it, fill any gaps/chips in the striking surface if they develop over time, and overall ensure the tool stays in reliable working condition over time.
Mallets with a leather hitting surface might need to be conditioned over time, or broken in if new, so they don’t damage the surface being struck.
How do you break in a rawhide mallet?
To break in a rawhide mallet, generally, strike it onto a rough surface. This will help begin to roughen up the new finish and allow the softer leather of the mallet head show through.
Some water might help speed up this process, applying it to the striking head. Then, hit a solid, rough surface for a few minutes (such as concrete, a brick, outdoor stones) so the head begins to wear.
Ensure the rough surface is not very varied in height (so large dents and dings do not appear in the mallet surface), something like a sidewalk will be rough, though flat enough to be helpful. After a few minutes, the mallet should soften up some and begin to be broken in. Here’s a great video demonstrating how to break in a rawhide mallet:
A leather mallet, hammer, or maul is often a staple leather tool to have on the shop workbench. Often, after trying several out, the leather crafter will find one they really like the weight, balance, and effectiveness of, and that becomes their favorite go-to tool for striking. Hopefully you find yours and enjoy it over and over. If you’d like to see my overall leather tools list, click here.
How do you flatten leather seams?
Leather seams can be flattened but hitting them down with a leather ball peen, a leather saddler’s hammer, or a leather fitting hammer. The striking force will push the seams down and closer to even with the leather surface, flattening them.
How do you replace a rawhide hammer?
Replacing a rawhide hammer involves obtaining or making a new striking head/face, removing the old one, and fitting the new one properly. They will sit securely once attached. Specific approach might differ based on the exact hammer style used.