Mallets are useful! Since the days of homo habilis, tools have been a defining feature of hominid culture. In those days, "tool use" was "hitting a rock with another rock to make it sharp," but we've come a little ways since then.
In this Instructable, I'll show you how to make a mallet suitable for woodworking use, especially chisel work and carving, from a chunk of Northern California Claro Walnut. You can use any wood you like, as long as it's (a) hard and (b) you can find a big enough piece.
- Lathe turning tools (either carbide or traditional is fine)
- Small hand saw (for cutting away excess wood)
- Sandpaper, various grits
- Proper PPE, including safety glasses, face shield, respirator, etc.
- A big ol' hunk of wood, approximately 2.5" x 4" x 12", though the exact size isn't important. This is a very personal project
- Wood finish. I use a beeswax/orange oil mix, but any oil finish will work (mineral oil, boiled linseed oil, tung oil, etc.)
A video version of this project is available here.
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Step 1: Mount the Wood on the Lathe
Mark the centers of both ends of the wood. You can do this by connecting the opposing corners with a straight edge or ruler and drawing a line across, then repeating the process with the opposite corners. The center of the X will be the center of the wood.
With your lathe set up for turning between centers (i.e. the drive center on one side and the live center on the other), mount the blank on the lathe and tighten everything down. Give it a couple of spins. See if it feels secure. With your hands and body clear of the workpiece, turn on the lathe for a moment to make sure it spins well and doesn't shake too much.
Step 2: Rough Shaping of the Blank
Using a lathe is all about making square things into round things. Let's do that. Decide on a good length for your mallet, and then knock the corners off of that portion of the blank.
Once you have the corners knocked down, you can reduce the diameter of the handle portion of your mallet. The idea here is to take the handle closer to a comfortable gripping size while leaving the head mostly intact.
Step 3: Forming the Mallet Head
The mallet I made is a "combination" style, with two round and two flat faces rather than a consistent round profile. As you can see in the above photos, I reduced the size of the head until the two short sides formed a smooth arc, but the long sides retained a sizable flat portion.
The advantages of a combination mallet are twofold: they give you greater versatility in application, and they allow the head to retain greater weight while using a thinner piece of wood. Thick turning blanks cost quite a bit, so budgetary concerns are a common problem in woodturning. In other words, this hobby will eat your wallet.
Step 4: Sanding
Sanding is everyone's favorite activity (not). Remember: this project has two flat sides. You can only sand the round parts while it's spinning, obviously, so we can't just sand the whole thing on the lathe.
Once you've sanded the round parts, switch to handheld sandpaper and work on the flats. You can use a power sander if you have one. I do, so I did.
Since this is a hand tool, you will want to sand it to a high grit in order to maximize comfort. I sanded up to 600 grit on the handle and 400 grit on the head (which I won't be touching as much, therefore I don't care as much).
TIP: when sanding at high grits, you can use the beeswax/orange oil mix to keep the sawdust down, cool the sandpaper, and prevent clogging. All good things.
Step 5: Apply Finish
Apply the beeswax/orange oil finish to the main body of the mallet. Get it on there good and let it soak in.
Step 6: Parting Off
Cut the mallet away from the unused portion of the blank. Almost done! Just take some sandpaper and give the top and bottom a quick sanding, since these areas were previously unreachable. Once you've sanded, wipe the mallet down with some more oil.
Step 7: Finished!
Congratulations! You've made a mallet. Now, go chisel something, or break walnuts open, or whatever it is you made this mallet for. It's yours. Knock yourself out. No, not literally. That would hurt.
If you would prefer to see this project in video form, you can check it out here: https://youtu.be/1H65aU5449k