Friction stir lap welds were produced in 3 mm thick Alclad sheets of Al alloy 2014-T4 using two different tools (with triangular and threaded taper cylindrical pins). The effects of tool geometry on weld microstructure, lap-shear performance and failure mode were investigated. The pin profile was found to significantly influence the hook geometry which in turn strongly influenced the joint strength and the failure mode. Welds produced in alloy 2014-T4 Alclad sheets by using triangular and threaded taper cylindrical tools exhibited an average lap-shear failure load of 16.5 and 19.5 kN, respectively, while the average failure load for standard riveted joints was only 3.4 kN. Welds produced in alloy 2014-T6 Alclad sheets and in alloy 2014-T4 bare sheets (i.e., no Alclad) were comparatively evaluated with those produced in alloy 2014-T4 Alclad sheets. While the welds made (with threaded taper cylindrical tool) in T6 and T4 conditions showed very similar lap-shear failure loads, the joint efficiency of the welds made in T6 condition (43%) was considerably lower (because of the higher base material strength) than those made in T4 condition (51%). The Alclad layers were found to present no special problems in friction stir lap welding. Welds made with triangular tool in alloy 2014-T4 Alclad and bare sheets showed very similar lap-shear failure loads. The present work provides some useful insights into the use of friction stir welding for joining Al alloys in lap configuration. © 2012 The Chinese Society for Metals.