I’ve spent a large portion of the last two years testing tools, rearranging my shop to accommodate that testing, and working on home projects. It occurred to me that I hadn’t made anything for fun in way too long.
At the same time, I’ve seen different makers creating some beautiful mallets on my social media feeds, so I figured I’d construct one out of the library of wood scraps I have lying around. What better project could there be to showcase on ToolGuyd than the making of a tool?
I decided on making a Carver’s mallet, because there isn’t any special joinery involved and it can all be done on the lathe. I didn’t have any plan for the mallet, just a general shape in mind. So before I ruined a nicer piece of wood, I made a quick prototype of the mallet head, to make sure it would work.
I created the head blank by cutting the corners off a scrap of 4×4, and then chucked it into my lathe. I first turned it into a completely smooth cylinder, and then I cut a pleasing taper into the blank. Finally, I rounded off the top and bottom.
Next, to drill the 3/4″ hole for the mallet handle, I had to change the way I mounted the mallet head in the lathe. To turn the head, I squeezed it between a spur center and a live center so both ends were secured. But for boring out the handle socket, I screwed the mallet head onto a face plate with a screw center and used a drill chuck to hold a Forstner bit.
With the test run successful, I turned my attention to wood selection for the “real” mallet head. I wanted a hardwood with some striking grain, so I chose a piece of Canary wood I purchased on a whim at Rockler. Once I glued up four pieces into a blank for the head, I knew I had made the right decision.
After waiting a day for the glue to fully cure, I chucked the Canary wood blank into the lathe. I mostly copied the prototype head, except I made the taper a little shallower. In other words, I thought the prototype head was a little too narrow on the bottom. In my mind I was trying to balance maximizing striking force and being able to hit a chisel straight on.
I was really pleased with the outcome, but I had a lot of trouble drilling the hole in the base for the handle. For some reason, I wasn’t able to thread the face plate into the top of the mallet head as I had done for the test piece; the screw just shaved the wood out of the hole rather than creating threads.
So to get the mallet head to spin so I could drill the hole on the lathe, I had to put an extra screw through the face plate into the top of the mallet head.
With just a little bit more sanding, I removed the cross grain scratches from sanding on the lathe. Then I cleaned the head with some mineral spirits to show how the grain would pop when it was finished. This also really made the long crack in the head stand out.
Somehow, one of the glue joints had separated slightly and created a shallow crack in the face of the mallet. If you look closely at the above photo, the crack is positioned right in the middle of mallet head, running from top to bottom. You can also see the extra hole I needed to get the head to spin while drilling the handle socket.
Cleaning the head with mineral spirits revealed another problem. I was originally going to turn the handle out of walnut, but I felt the walnut wouldn’t compliment the colors in the head. So instead I glued together a few scraps of Yellowheart, fitting in all 6 of my Bessey 6″ Clutch Clamps, to make the handle.
Before I turned the Yellowheart, I wanted to make a prototype handle from some scrap. Again, I had a shape in mind, but I wanted to be sure that it fit my hand well. I picked out a piece of 2×2 and created the above prototype handle. Satisfied with the general shape of the handle, I started shaping the Yellowheart blank.
I followed the general shape of the prototype handle, but I extended the base slightly and made the middle just a little thicker. Perceptive readers will notice that I used the Rockler Dust Right Lathe Dust Collection System (which I reviewed last December) for turning the handle. While it collects a lot of the dust, you can see that turning is still a messy business.
Also notice the Rockler Piston F-clamp in the photo above. This glueup didn’t require 2000 lbs of clamping force, but I haven’t found many uses for the piston clamps yet, so I’m using them any place I can.
After gluing the head on the handle of the mallet, I applied three coats of Minwax Tung Oil. (Strangely enough I don’t think it actually contains any tung oil.)
I think that the mallet turned out really well, and more importantly it made me excited to go down to my shop the few mornings it took to make. I haven’t struck any chisels with it yet, not that I’m afraid to damage it, I’m just happy to admire it for a little while longer. Plus, I have a perfectly functional prototype mallet to use too.
Sometimes you’ve got to go out and make something fun, and there’s something especially rewarding about making your own tools.