Introduction: How to Make an Authentic Looking Painters Mahl Stick

The painter's mahl stick is a traditional tool used by painters to keep their canvases clean while also supporting and steadying their hands. It can also act as a straight edge. After countless painted hands, I decided to make my own. This tutorial will walk you through a simple step by step approach to making a cheap ,authentic looking painter's mahl (maul) stick.

(Note: these steps have been adapted from various sources on the internet)


- Dowel rod (2' and 1' lengths shown here),
- rubber [bouncy] ball, styrofoam ball or cork ball, or cotton
- old sock or cloth, twine,
- Suede leather or clothe,
- Shoelace or leather string,
Tools: scissors, pen, glue (I used gorilla glue), ruler, lighter, drill and drill bit.

Most of these you can find at your local dollar/hardware store. You may need to visit a leather or fabric store for the suede though. There are a variety of options for the ball at the end. Here I make two mahls; a two feet long mahl with a 5" diameter rubber ball useful for medium sized paintings and a one foot long mahl using a styrofoam ball.

Step 1: Make a Hole in the Ball

The first step is to cut a hole in the ball big enough for the rod. A drill seems to work nice for the rubber ball. It works best to drill a hole smaller than the dowel diameter for a snug fit. I used a 3/8" (~9mm) drill bit for a 12 mm diameter dowel. I marked an x on one side and drew longitudinal lines to help guide the drill straight through the centre and not veer to the side. You'll want to drill/ cut down to about 3/4 the length the of the ball. To make sure I didn't go too far, I used masking tape to mark the drill bit at the length I needed. I also started with the ball in a cup to keep it stable. For the small styrofoam ball, I used a sharp pencil to begin the hole and stuffed the rod the rest of the way.

Step 2: Glue Ball to Rod and Seal With Clothe/ Sock

Once you know that your rod fits snug, pour a small amount of glue in the hole, insert the rod and push down hard. Using the sock or the extra clothe, cover the ball and pull down tightly. Use the twine to tie the sock onto the rod at the neck, keeping the tension on the sock so that the ball is pulled into the rod. After tying (I used a simple square knot) and cutting the twine, I used lighter to melt the cut ends. Cut off the remainder of the sock. Pictured is the big rod with the rubber ball and the small rod with styrofoam both covered with the sock as sock extras. Note: Can also be used as a ghost puppet.

Using the sock is optional. I find that it was a good way to keep the ball stable on the rod and allow you to keep working while the glue dries.

Step 3: Cut the Suede Covering

This part is an important step for the aesthetic appeal as well as functioning. Cut out rectangle in the suede so that the shorter width can cover over the ball end on each side to hide the sock underneath. Mark the centre. Now, flip the suede so the inside face is facing out and cover the ball with the long ends. Mark two spots side by side on each side of the suede at the base of the rod where the ball is inserted (the neck). You should have four spots, two on each side. Cut out each hole. It is important that the holes are not too close to the centre as you will be using these holes to help tie down the suede cover. You can practice using spare clothe to make sure your measurements are correct.

Step 4: Place the Suede Covering and Tie Off

This is probably the trickiest part. Thread the shoelace or leather strip through starting out to in to out in the holes beside each other so that there string ends up in the outside face of the suede. Then loop the string around and do the same in the other side so that the string is on the outside (See picture: underside with guides). Place the suede over the ball outside out and pull all four sides down against the ball. You will now have four corners or wings sticking out. Fold the wings towards the shorter ends so that the long ends cover them. Like when you're wrapping a present. Now the two ends with the holes should have the string wrapped around one side. Wrap the string around once or twice more and tie off. Some people like to make a little bow at the end to more easily replace it. You can use the lighter to melt to cut edges of the laces if you want. Trim the edges to your liking careful not to show the sock underneath. You can get creative with the rod if you like. You're done and ready to paint!