Intro: Hatchet Inspired Mallet
The PDF template is attached to this Instructable, or get it from my website
Making your own mallet is almost a rite of passage for woodworkers, right up there with building your own workbench and making a chopping board. Until now, I’ve only been using a ~$10 or so wooden mallet from Bunnings (Australia's big box store). To be fair to the mallet, it hasn’t done me too wrong for the abuse I’ve hurled at it, but it is far from perfect.
Looks aside, the mallet isn’t super comfortable with just a straight handle and doesn’t weigh enough. Heavier mallets require less effort to propel a chisel forward – more dropping the mallet on the chisel than winding up to thwack it as hard as possible. A example of this is brass head mallets, often weighing in at 500g to 700g. My old mallet comes in at a paltry 343g compared to the new mallet at a much more substantial 583g! Given how much I like my new mallet, one day I may remake it with some weights in it to make it even heavier, for a deadblow effect.
One of the “issues” with other mallets is they all look the same – nearly all derive from Steve Ramseys video, which itself derives from WOOD magazine. This isn’t really an issue, it’s just I wanted something that looked differently, so I started looking up small axes and hatchet designs, until I found the handle and head shapes I liked.
Step 1: Headstock Preperation
For my mallet head, I'm using an old redgum fence post. As such this stuff is pretty dang hard and heavy, so it is much quicker for me to use the bandsaw to rip than the tablesaw.
Ripping and gluing back up is much easier than carving a tapered mortise, and it gives the opportunity to add in weights if you're using a lighter wood. After each pass at the bandsaw, I do a light pass back over the jointer to maintain one flat and square surface. Then its back to the bandsaw. Repeat for 3 slices total.
If you're ripping at the table saw, you can skip the jointer step.
After the three slices are ripped, thickness them down to be surfaced on two sides - what will become the middle layer needs to be milled down to the same thickness as the handle stock.
The actual dimensions don't really matter, but I went for about 18mm thickness.
Step 2: Handle Preperation
The handle blank (in my case, from Victorian Ash) is prepared by gluing on the template (see step one for the template) using spray adhesive.
When that is dry, I use the tablesaw and crosscut sled to nibble away the waste material to form the tenon. Doing this now while the blank is square is much easier than when its been rounded!
Before gluing up, the middle layer of the mallet head is cut in half with a 2 degree bevel on each piece.This bevel will go towards the middle of the mallet, where the handle will meet.
To glue up, use the handle tenon to get the placement right - the bottom of the tenon should be snug, the top should be loose on both sides. This space will be taken up by the wedges later on.
If you're having trouble with slipping and sliding around when trying to glue up, here are a few tricks
- You can try using salt - regular table salt. A pinch on each layer stops the wood from sliding as you clamp down. It acts as a coarse grit that will get pushed into the wood as you clamp down. Don't use too much though!
- CA (superglue) + wood glue. The CA alone isn't strong enough to hold the mallet together, but a few dots in between the wood glue will activate quickly and you can just hold the pieces in alignment until the CA cures, then clamp away.
- Brad nails - shoot a couple of brads per layer, stops it from sliding around when applying clamps.
Step 4: Shaping the Handle
To shape the handle, I used a variety of tools - first the bandsaw to rough cut close to my line on the template, then a mixture of spokeshave, rasp, and sanding bow to refine the curves.
Alternatively you can just use a belt sander, spindle sander or get it pretty close at the bandsaw and switch to a router table to round over the corners.
I wanted something a bit more like an axe handle which typically is more of an oval shape.
Once its out of clamps, the mallet head doesn't really need much in the way of shaping. I used the bandsaw to roughly cut out the "axe head" then the spindle sander to clean that up, but you could happily leave it square.
Step 6: Handle Wedges
With everything shaped, it's time to glue the handle to the mallet.
Drill some relief holes, using a 3-4mm bit, about 3/4s of the way down the tenons. Draw some straight lines that intersect each hole, parallel with the edges of the tenon.
Cut those on the bandsaw or similarly thin kerf blade. About 1.5x the bandsaw blade kerf is ideal, rather than the full kerf of a tablesaw blade.
These slots will accept the wedges, 2-degree slivers of wood cut on the bandsaw (I forgot to get photos of that, sorry!)
The tenon gets glue, and seated into the mallet mortise, then wedges get glued and driven into the slots - ideally you'll have a mallet to make this mallet!
If there was just a straight mortise in the mallet head, in theory over time the glue could loosen up, and with one big swing the mallet head go flying away. By wedging, even if the glue fails, the mallet head can't fly off the end of the tenon - it'd have to slide down the handle which would require the shoulders of the tenon to give way too.
Step 7: Finish
A coat of shellac sure makes the mallet look pretty.
Any sort of easily repaired finish is best for tools - they're going to take some abuse, so having a hard film finish isn't actually going to be of much benefit. I'd recommend shellac, BLO, danish oil, tung oil or any other general penetrating oil instead of polyurethane.
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