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The New Classic Mallet

One pattern that keeps showing up, is the basic Mallet made in three layers.   The result is pretty and as reliable as any mallet, so I think this pattern can be considered a classic, despite it’s relatively recent appearance.  From this view it looks just like the original classic.

 

When looked at from another view, the construction gives it away however.

This mallet was put together in three layers.

The original classic is made  like this one, made with a tapered mortise with the handle being an overlong, tapered or possibly wedged tenon.

Modern glues, while being in some ways quite inferior to the old glues, allow us to make things that might not have been reliable with the older glues.  Mallets are something that you never want to come apart while in use, so repairable glues might not be as good as the more persistent modern glues.  In any case with a bit of epoxy and care put into gluing a superb and lovely mallet can be made by the laminate method.  While I am going to show my methods and reasoning, I am standing on the shoulders of many other woodworkers and have little new to contribute to the concept.

Lee Valley has a clear illustration of the three layer, lamented, ‘Sandwich” style Mallet.   This method allows a few scrap ends to become a lasting thing of utility and beauty!

Jim on woodworkingtalk.com has a walk through where he makes one.

Art has a laminated mallet on wordsnwood.com that is rough and functional and has a bit of internal locking for the handle.  This is an idea I find appealing.

Galoototron has a nice article on his Thagomizer Jr. and Sawdustmaking.com has a nice article on the basic idea.

So my plan is to build one with a persimmon head and an ash handle.  Persimmon is in the Ebony family.  It is rarely as dark, but it is every bit as hard and stable.  It is the preferred wood for wood heads on golf clubs.  Dense, hard and able to take a wallop.   Ash is a great handle material and I have some on hand.

My mallet head is going to be 5″ long at the top, 4″ long at the bottom, with three inches between the top and bottom.  I am going to make the handle extra long, so this will be a mallet made to have a bit of authority.   Because ash expands with seasonal moisture more than persimmon does, I plan to have a bit of room in the joint for expansion, but try and make it where it stays snug.

By cutting a matching notch I make a key that will hold the handle in the head.  Since the force of hammering tends to drive the hammer head off the end, I put the key low to leave a nice solid chunk of wood above the key.

Persimmon is not currently endangered in Texas, but then it isn’t the jet black wood so desired for instruments.   Ebony has been so over used that world wide, the effective available supply is pretty much down to what is left in Cameroon.   As demand meets supply, hopefully the last bit of it can be managed to keep it as a resource for years to come.   I know a lot of folk have bought into the view that business regulation is bad.  A lot of folk want what they want right now and want it cheap.

Texas used to have Lignum Vitae growing as a native plant.  There was no regulation and it was valuable for making bowling balls, steam boat bearings, and carving mallets.  An amazing tree that had lovely flowers, and an indescribable and lovely scent when the wood is carved.  Texas is no longer a source for this wood.  It was worth too much and was not managed.    Folk back then wanted what they wanted right then.   Now it is gone, along with the flowers.   Without restrictions, business will take what it wants and leave dust or worse behind.  When a company like Taylor Guitars looks and the future and makes an effort to work with regulations and tries to conserve resources in better ways, It gives me hope for man and this wonderful world we inhabit.   Personally I will avoid using these scarce resources.

Instead, since have persimmon growing, native and wild, in my yard, I will use that.  Small sprouts of Texas Ebony, show up regularly in parts of my yard.   It is very slow growing, and it may not be jet black, but there are a few tricks that can be used to Ebonize wood.  One of them will probably work on Texas Ebony!

Since this is a great project for using scraps, I want to describe the process as a set of logical decisions more than as a lain out plan.

Here are examples of two mallets.   I will call them Big and Small.

 

 

The small one is still nice and big, but for this form of mallet, it is pretty well the bottom end of size.

The top of the head measures 4″ long and the bottom 3-5/8″  it is 2-1/2″ from top to bottom, and two inches thick.

The large one’s head measures 6″ long at the top and 5″ long at the bottom.  It is 3″ from top to bottom and about 2-1/4″ thick.  I have seen larger, but this one is fairly massive.

The idea behind this mallet form, is that you can pound flush on a surface and still have room for your fingers.   The more slope, the harder this is to do.   The slope ideally make the mallet hit things squarely without angling your wrist much.   This in turn reduces repetitive stress injuries.   When hammering a lot of shock goes through the hand, and you end up doing it a lot, so having an ergonomic handle is nice.

To make the handle even more ergonomic, you want it to be as large as you can while still being able to hold it with a relatively loose yet solid grip.

To make the grip right, first find a handle you like and measure the thickness side to side.  This measurement is the thickness you want for the center layer of your mallet.

Then make a guess at how far away you want the mallet head to be when you swing it.  If you lay that out, then you know the handle should be a touch longer than that.   If you make it where you can choke up and alter the hold, you are probably making a wise decision.  My large one has lots of room to choke up on for those final precision taps.

The longer cross section of the handle should point to either end, and since this is how a mallet is pounded, a long cross section will hold up much longer.  The point were the mallet and the handle join is one of the key points where mallets usually break.   Since mallets are a nice thick chunk of wood the other place where they fail is when the head cracks due to seasonal drying.   Regularly treating you mallet with oil is key to preserving it over the long haul.

The handle on Big, is 11-1/2″ long.  The handle on Small is 6″ long.  From that you have a basic range to work with.

So to start you want a handle that is the height of the head plus the length of the handle long.  You want it as thick and wide as your favorite grip.   Then you want two chunks of wood the same thickness to make the center of the three sections that will be the head.

Add two side plates and angle it to match the angle to your expected work.   Make sure you have enough length to protect your hand and you have the dimensions of a nice mallet.

Swirt, the blogmaster of Timber Frame Tools, who has been a great help to me with my ergonomic research before, uses a string to determine the perfect angle for a mallet.   I have not used this method yet, but I plan to the next time I make a mallet!

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 comments to The New Classic Mallet

  • A nice study in mallet making Bob. Well done. I like the locking nubs… I’ll have to give that a try next time I need a new mallet.
    Regarding the angle of the mallet head, you may enjoy the more scientific approach I took to “stringing” the mallet. Scroll most of the way past the “build” section of this post until you get to the part dealing with the angle of the head
    http://www.timberframe-tools.com/tools/mallet-head-angle/

  • Bob Strawn

    I just added a link to your method into the original post. I will have to try it out! If I put a square edged board on a table, with the board running away from me and then put my elbow on the board, I should be able to lower the mallet so that the area of the mallet that needs to be removed is hidden from me by the board. With my other hand, I can then pencil the line. Since my hand will also act as a limit, this may be the ideal way to make the mallet head shape decision as it will also determine the length of the head.

    Bob

  • Ooh I think I like your method better. It seems easier in my head anyway. I have a feeling they would produce very similar results. The only way it seems to deviate, in my mind, is that the pivot point of your elbow is not on the outer surface of the elbow (where it is touching the board). At most I think the angle might only differ by a few degrees. I’ll have to try your method on one of my mallets that I already “stringed” and see what the difference in angle would be. Thanks for the links, and words of praise. Keep up the great work.

  • Bob Strawn

    If the board is the right thickness, you could put your elbow beside the board and the surface of the board would be close to intersecting the line of pivot.

    Bob

  • Love your mallet posts!
    The angle of attack has many variables to consider: Height of work table and length of chisel will change the heighth you normally swing at, the distance between the striking surface and centerline of the handle also affects the angle. Also whether you like to loosen your grip on the back swing and snap it a little on the stroke up against the palm of the hand and using the wrist or whether you use the straight arm technique, few people do this. But since the first cave man mankind has become so adept at striking things with stick things that we can do it without conscious thought of what we are actually doing.
    We woodworkers also tend to not use a straight swing in the first place as it is often too far away from the hand that is holding the chisel so we either turn our body sideways to lengthen the hammer arm, or we lift our elbow and swing obliquely so that we may shorten the distance of the body to the chisel while keeping square to the work.
    To get an angle you like will require some experimentation, I’m thinking.

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