​Wood lathes are pretty cool. You can turn an old log into something useful and have a lot of fun doing it.

This is a little project showing how to cut down a lot, turn it to a blank for turning, and then do some very basic shaping so that you end up with a wooden mallet you can use for chiseling, leather stamping, or popping bubbles.

Disclaimer: I don't know much about wood turning; I just have fun with it. I'd be glad to hear tips from the experts out there.

I also don't own a lathe, so I made it at techshop (techshop.ws), which has a nice wood lathe and tools to borrow.

Step 1: Find Yourself a Log

Check the "free stuff" ads on craigslist. People are getting rid of old wood / logs / lumber all the time.

Things to keep in mind:
  • Knots / burls / etc. aren't necessarily a bad thing. You get some pretty interesting grains if you use something with a lot of knots.
  • Green wood cuts more easily, but it can crack when it dries if you aren't careful. The risk is worth the fun of making easy, smooth cuts, in my mind. 
  • Rotted sections / voids will make your life harder, but may lead to a more interesting final piece.
This log is a piece of green mulberry (I believe) from a guy who had just cut down a tree in his backyard.

Step 2: Cut the Log to Make a Blank

A "blank" is a piece of wood that you can turn on a lathe.

Cut the log so that it has flat ends you can attach to your lathe. It's also a good idea to balance it as much as possible. Cut off big bumps that you're planning to get rid of anyway. Go for the biggest axisymmetric shape you can get.

Step 3: Mount the Blank on the Lathe

There are several ways to mount wood on a lathe. In this case, the simplest is probably the best. I used a drive center (a spurred bit that fits into the head stock and causes the blank to spin) and a cone-shaped live center (a cone that can spin) on the tail stock (the end not connected to the motor).

Find the approximate centers of both ends of your blank and mark them. Then mount the blank on the lathe at these two points.

Step 4: Start Turning

In general,
  • larger diameter = slower speed
  • roughing = slower speed than general cutting = slower speed than finishing
  • less balanced piece = slower speed
To start out with, you have a large diameter, rough, unbalanced blank. Go slow. If your diameter is 8" or more, start slower than 300 RPM.

Use a gouge at first. If you're unfamiliar with wood turning technique, search for "wood turning" on youtube to get an idea of how it works. The only tips I have are to A) put the tool rest close to the wood blank, B) hold the tool level, C) watch the top of the blank, not the point of contact with your tool, and D) work from large diameters to small diameters to avoid catching.

Step 5: Turn Down to Round. Begin Shaping.

At first, the high spots are going to hit your tool while the low spots don't. This will make a rythmic chattering noise instead of a smooth cutting noise. That's ok, just go slow and the high spots will get cut down.

Once you've got a nice round shape everywhere, you can begin shaping things. Shape a bulb on one end and a narrower handle on the other end.

Step 6: Recover From Mistakes

I noticed after a couple hours of turning that I had a void right in the middle of my handle. While using a square scraper (probably not smart at this point) I caught a corner and snapped the handle right in two.

But instead of giving up, I modified my design, cut the handle off shorter, and kept on lathing. This is how what was originally going to be a sweet war club ended up being a wooden mallet. And that's ok.

Step 7: Turn to Final Shape

I used a skew to square off the end and a roughing gouge to finish turning the basic shape of the mallet.

Notice the big knot in the handle near the head of the mallet. I left this section larger than the rest of the handle so that I could cut it out and get the "bent" looking shape I ended up with.

This is also a good time to do some sanding. Sanding on a lathe is a lot easier than sanding by hand later.

Step 8: Make Finishing Cuts

Generally you just need to cut off and sand the two ends, where the holes / marks from your lathe are.

In my case, I also cut out the knot on the handle and did some sanding there to make it look like I was being fancy with a crooked handle instead of being an idiot and not seeing the knot there before I started working.

Step 9: Sand and Finish

If you didn't finish sanding on the lathe (as I did not on the knot region), you can do so now. Start with rough (low grit number) sandpaper and work your way up to fine.

If you want, you can also finish the wood. I put a few coats of polyacrylic on mine, even though it will probably get beat up as soon as I start using it as a mallet. At least I'll know in my heart that it was once pretty.

Step 10: Enjoy

<p>Nice work and a very clear Instructable!</p><p>This is my attempt at a mallet on the lathe. It was my first turning project and I think it came out pretty nice. I haven't finished the wood yet.</p>
<p>Sweet, looks awesome!</p>
<p>Looks great. My only suggestion would be to ease the edge of the mallet at the top. The 90 degree corner would chip out after a while. You may have done this but I couldn't see in the pictures.</p>
Thanks! Yeah, I did a tiny little chamfer, but probably could have done more.
<p>It looks nice... Do you realize you made a mallet out of a beautiful piece of &quot;Burl&quot;??</p>
<p>Beautiful! And great technique!</p>

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