Making a Joiner's Mallet the Easy Way
The history of mallets.
Mallets have been used for thousands of years and like any other tool, have seen changes and refinement as the years passed. Mallets were used back as far as the stone age. They were a simple stone lashed onto the end of a suitable stick for a handle.
As the versatility of the tool was recognized, the mallet started to take slightly different forms that suited the specific task at hand. Today, mallets are made of rawhide, rubber, brass, and wood to name a few. The mallet in the picture is one of the types of mallets that would be used by a joiner. You may find slight variations on joiner's mallets, but this will be the most basic.
Rite of Passage.
The joiner profession has been around for thousands of years. These are the people who did the finer joinery with wood. They built buildings and homes, often using elaborate wood joints to hold beams together. They made doors, window frames, furniture, The profession was a very important one.
To become a joiner, the individual had to go through an apprenticeship with someone that had mastered the trade. Part of the apprenticeship involved the person making some of their own tools. One of the first tools that would be made would be the mallet.
The mallet would be used to strike chisels to cut joinery and to drive dowel pins. It would also be used for assembling framework. When the apprentice joiner made their mallet, it was proof to the master that they had already mastered some skills and that they were well on their way to someday becoming a master themselves. This was their right of passage to elevate to the next level.
Selecting your wood.
To make a mallet you have to start by selecting the best wood. Choose a wood that does not split easily. Beech and maple are common choices but other wood species such as ash or oak will work well too. I used oak for my mallet.
The most traditional mallets would have been made of one single piece of wood for the mallet head. The one that I made here is laminated from three pieces that are 3/4" thick. This will make a very good mallet and can be done in much less time with a higher degree of success.
I used pieces of oak that were part of an old table top. The first thing that you need to do if you go this route is check the wood over carefully for any wood checks or splits. In the photo below you will see a piece that has a large check in it. This piece was set aside and I found enough other wood without defects. With materials together lets get started!
Select your wood for the mallet head and temporarily set it aside. Next, select the wood for the handle. You will need a piece that is 1 1/2" wide by 3/4" thick. This needs to be 12" long.
At the top portion of the handle, you will have to give the piece of wood a slight taper. This keeps it from sliding out of the mallet head when it is completed. To do this you will start by making a reference mark 5" down from the top. Next, starting at the top where the piece is a full 1 1/2", taper it down to 1 1/4" at your 5" mark. This makes a slight "wedge" shape where the head will be. Continue by making the rest of the piece 1 1/4" down to the end of the board. I used my scroll saw to cut my taper. See photo below.
Completing the handle.
After you get the taper on the top of your board, start rounding the area below your 5" mark. Round the edges until the board fits in your hand nicely. I used a carving knife to do mine but you can use a belt sander with equal success.
When you are happy with the shape, start sanding the handle smooth. I started with 80 grit sandpaper to take out the carving knife marks and then finished with 100 grit paper.
Remember - The top 5" of the board remains square and tapered.
Making the mallet head.
You are now ready to put the mallet head together. With this size mallet, rip the pieces to a width of 3 1/2" and a length of 5". You will need three pieces this size. Look at your wood and select the sides that you want to have exposed when the head is completed. The extra piece will make up the middle piece. Notice the direction of the grain; it must run the length of the mallet head so that you are striking on the end grain.
Take one outer piece and lay it on your work table. Next, take the middle piece and lay it on top. Using your handle for a guide, draw a line on each side of the handle to show the wood that needs to be removed. Make sure that when you do this that you have about 1/2" of the handle above the top.
To remove the wood from the center piece I used my scroll saw. If you use a table saw to cut this out make sure that you will be able to stabilize the wood when cutting and keep your fingers well out of the way.
After removing the wood you are ready to glue the middle pieces to the first outer piece. Use your handle for a guide, getting the pieces on either side snug to the handle. Clamp in place and remove the handle. Let the glue cure for about 30 minutes, unclamp, and then clamp on the top piece.
Final shaping on the mallet head.
With all layers of wood glued together, you can check the fit of your handle in the slot. It should fit nicely. Allow the mallet to cure with clamps on it overnight.
With your mallet head all in one piece, it is time to do a little shaping on it. A joiner's mallet will have about a 5 degree angle on each face. This is so that when you strike a chisel the face will strike it squarely. You can cut the angle on the table saw like I did or use a belt sander to get the finished angle. Some mallets will have a rounded top to them to avoid splitting during use. I left mine square. If you do round your top, a belt sander works well for this.
Finish the mallet head by slightly rounding the edges with some 80 grit sandpaper. After this, sand the entire surface with 100 grit sandpaper to finish.
You could select several finishes at this point. I plan to display this mallet with my other old tools so I put a walnut stain to accentuate the grain and followed with two coats of linseed oil. The mallet looks as old as my other tools.
Whether you make a mallet to display or to actually use, I think you will find this mallet very easy to make and very pleasing to the eye. Have fun with it!