Ever since I got back into woodworking a few years ago, I’ve been using a dead-blow mallet for my chisels. And that’s been good enough. Eventually, I knew I’d need a wood mallet, but I figured I’d find an inexpensive one just like I had acquired my other vintage tools.
Why make my own?
What I found out was that finding mallets isn’t the problem. I see them everywhere including antique stores and flea markets. However, the ones I’ve come across suffer from the two Cs: Costly and/or crappy. One in decent shape costs more than I wanted to spend. And many, many of them have been beat all to hell, sporting missing chunks or chipped handles.
I’ve wanted to make my own mallet for a while, but I wasn’t confident in my mortising skills. One glance as my saw bench joinery would tell you all you need to know about that. Then there’s the issue of no lathe, no mortise chisels, blah, blah, blah.
Then I read a comment on www.Lumberjocks.com about a mallet thread. John was commenting on another woodworker’s mallet project:
“As far as gluing up the head it’s not a problem. I made a few mallets a couple of years ago with laminated heads and they are still going strong.”
Hmmm. A laminated head. That got me to thinking…and researching…and seeing how other lathe-less chaps had sidestepped the no turned handle issue.
What I realized is that basically, the “laminators” have borrowed the “Krenov technique”. A Swedish furniture maker by the name of James Krenov fashioned wooden hand planes by laminating two sides to a cut middle.
Ron Hock sells Krenov-style wood plane kits. Here’s a picture of one from his Website to better understand what I’m talking about.
Applying Krenov to mallets
I was taken by this mallet construction method.
I’d use a square handle with sloped sides at the top to hold the head in place. The plan was to cut the center laminate section (same thickness as my handle) to correspond with the handle slope. This process looked a whole lot easier than cutting a mortise out of a solid piece of wood.
I based the mallet dimensions and style on a basic plan available here.
After a bit of tweaking, here’s the plan I came up with.
For the two sides I used some cherry I had left over from a side table project. From a single board I cut two pieces with matching grain.
An oak remnant served as my center piece. I cut all three pieces to size being sure to leave the center oak piece a bit long on each end. This would allow me to cut “out” the piece to accommodate the handle and be able to tweak the slop of the interior cuts to fit.
Getting a handle on it
According to the plan, the top of the handle has a 2-3 degree slope. I guesstimated the dimensions (1 3/8″ wide at the handle top sloping down to 1″) and laid that out.
My Spear & Jackson tenon saw (filed rip) cut the sloped and straight handle cuts.
If you look carefully at the top-right picture, you’ll notice that it’s not my backsaw, but rather my Dozoki dovetail saw. The S&J tenon saw’s plate wasn’t deep enough to finish the cut.
I dressed the edges with my recently rehabbed Sweatheart #18 high-angle block plane. The project calls to chamfer the edges of the lower handle to that of a near-octagon shape. No sense putting in the effort at this point should I screw up a later operation. I recently learned (uh, re-learned) that lesson on my still-unfinished-frame-saw project.
Working the mallet head
I started by jointing one edge on each of the three laminate pieces and crosscutting them to length (leaving the center piece a bit long). Then I ripped them to width, jointed the ripped edges and flattened the surfaces so that the three pieces mated very tightly together. Because this tool will have to deliver a lot of jarring blows, I wanted to eliminate any gaps between the pieces that the wood glue would have to compensate for.
I laid out the center piece to be cut by marking a center line on it and carrying this over to each of the sides. Then using these as a guide, I affixed it to the handle along its penciled centerline using double-sided tape.
With the handle firmly on the center oak piece, I used my marking knife to scribe the outline of the sides.
Then I made each of the cuts with my crosscut backsaw. Here’s the dry fit.
Not spot on, but good enough. Certainly better than any of my mortises of late.
The glue up was straight forward. I laid an outside cherry piece on the bench and glued the cut oak pieces to it using the sloped end of the handle as a spacer.
After that dried, I glued the other cherry side to complete the basic build.
The next morning, I set my miter box to 5 degrees and established a kerf perpendicular to each face. Because my miter box doesn’t lock at the 5 degree setting, I used my fine-toothed crosscut backsaw to complete the cut.
The cut was just ok so I finished truing the mallet faces with my jointer plane.
Initially, I tried using my low-angle block plane but after a couple of swipes it clearly lacked the mass to carry it through a full cut . To prevent tear out I used one of the waste pieces from the 5 degree face-cutting operation as a backstop.
The handle was a tinsy (you do have a try-square graduated in tinsies right?) bit thick so a smoothing plane shaved off enough to allow for a tight fit.
Here’s what it looks like after seating the handle.
Next, I chamfered the mallet edges, used my block plane to give the handle a semi-octagon shape, applied two coats of BLO and waxed the surface.
Then it was time for the weigh in.
That’s pretty close to the “standard sized” (16 oz) mallet available at a Canadian supplier 🙂
Here she is all dressed up and ready to make mortises.
What’s great about this method is even though I was off a 1/32″ on the fit of the handle, it’s not an issue when in use. It yields a pleasing wooden whack when pushing my bench chisels through a practice mortise. Ah, miles to go before I sleep.