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Tool mallets come in different types, the most common of which are:
- Rubber mallets are used when a softer blow is called for than that delivered by a metal hammer. They are typically used to form sheet metal, since they don't leave marks and are softer, as well as for forcing tight-fitting parts together, for shifting plasterboard into place, in upholstery, and a variety of other general purposes, including some toys. It is a tool of preference for wood workers using chisels, with plastic, metal or wooden handles - as they give a softened strike with a positive drive. It is the most commonly used mallet.
- Wooden mallet, usually used in carpentry to knock wooden pieces together, or to drive dowels or chisels. A wooden mallet will not deform the striking end of a metal tool, as most metal hammers would, and it also reduces the force required to drive the cutting edge of a chisel. Hardwood mallets are also used to knock in cricket wickets.
- Copper, Brass and leaden mallets are typically used on machinery to apply force to parts with a reduced risk of damaging them and to avoid sparks. As these metals are softer than steel, the mallet is deformed rather than any steel object it is hitting.
- Meat mallets tenderise or flatten meat. Made from wood or metal, they are typically two-sided, one flat with slight bumps, and the other with more pronounced protrusions. Their use has lessened with the invention of cube steak machines and other electric tenderisers.
Less common mallets include:
- Rawhide mallets, which may employ rawhide covering a steel head, or simply consist of rolled-up rawhide, are used for leatherwork, jewellery, and assembling electric motors and delicate machinery.
- Plastic mallets, made of nylon, polycarbonate, or polystyrene are used especially in leatherwork and jewellery.
- Split head mallets, which have removable faces which can be changed to an appropriate material for the job.
- Beetle mallet, or a large mallet with a circular wood or plastic head, with rounded ends about 18 inches to 15 inched in diameter, with a handle about 3 feet (0.91 m) long. It is used by paviours for putting paving stones into position when bedding. Beetles are also used in jobs such as timber framing to shift the bases of large wooden posts, fit joints, and drive in pegs.
- Dead blow mallets, which have an internal cavity filled with steel or lead shot. This addition evens out the time-impulse curve of the impact, enabling a more powerful blow to be delivered without risk of marring the target.
Mallets used as drumsticks are often used to strike a marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, metallophone, or vibraphone, collectively referred to as mallet percussion. They usually have shafts made of rattan, birch, or fiberglass. Rattan shafts are more flexible than the other materials. Heads vary in size, shape, and material. They may be made of metal, plastic, rubber, or wood, and some are wrapped with felt, cord, or yarn. Heavier heads produce louder sounds. Harder heads produce sharper and louder sounds and generate more overtones.
Mallets are commonly used as children's toys. Lightweight wooden mallets are used for peg toys. Toy mallets are also used in games such as Whac-A-Mole. Another type of toy mallet is a plastic mallet made of soft, hollow vinyl, with bellows and a built-in whistle, so that when the mallet is struck, it produces a sharp, chirping sound.
The accidents received from mistreatment of wooden mallets in the workplace became a classic gag in the Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, Nickelodeon and Disney cartoons, including some more recent 3D animations. Characters like Roger Rabbit, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck and Tom and Jerry made use of mallets as part of their arsenal in the Golden Age of animation.
On the British Daytime show TV-AM and GMTV and in the spinoff children's shows hosted by Timmy Mallet, a game was played called "Mallet's Mallet" where you had to associate words in a certain time scale and then if not, you were hit on the head by Timmy Mallet, with a soft pink and yellow Mallet with black "Mallet's Mallet" writing on both sides. The person who got hit had a plaster affixed to their head by Timmy Mallett
- "The Truth About Cube Steaks - Pressure Cooker Knowledge". Missvickie.com. 2001-09-05. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
- An illustration of the mallet can be found in Charles F. Mitchell's Building Construction, 11th edition, printed in 1930 by B.T. Batford, Ltd.