January 13, 2013

A Simple Wooden Mallet

I've been wanting to make a wood working mallet for awhile now and decided that it would be a great little project to work on while I had some time off over the holidays. Since it was small and could be made mostly with hand tools I was able to work on it in the basement rather than the unheated shop. Bonus. 

I started by finding a few scraps of oak, one for the mallet head and a narrow piece for the handle. I laid out some rough angles on the board and cut the rough pieces with my cheap handsaw.

I then dressed the mating faces of the three pieces flat with hand planes so they would join properly during glue-up. This was my first real attempt at truly flattening boards with hand planes and I have to say it was pretty straightforward.

I decided to cheat and create the mortise for the handle by removing the middle section of the inner lamination. I laid out the angle and cut the pieces with the handsaw.

I then laid them onto one of the outer faces and traced a layout line to help locate them during glue-up.

I applied some glue and clamps and set it aside to work on the handle.

I laid out the angled section of the handle that will mate with the mallet head as well as the straight section that will form the grip. I made a stop cut where the angle section meets the straight section first.

I then ripped to the lines as best I could with the handsaw.

The hand sawn edges were close but needed some cleanup with a chisel and block plane. I test fit the handle to the clamped up head assembly to check the fit.

When the wedge was fitted properly I then planed the handle down to just a touch thinner than the layers that make up the mallet head so that it would be able to slide in after the 3rd layer was glued-up.

Once I knew that the handle would fit I glued on the outside face. It looks pretty rough at this point but as long as the handle mortise is correct it is simple to cleanup and shape the outside after the glue-up.

After the glue dried I used a plane to dress and flatten the top and bottom of the mallet. This was much easier than trying to get everything aligned perfectly during the glue-up.

Up to this point I hadn't used a single power tool on this project. I had initially thought it would be cool to make this mallet with hand tools alone but the temptation to cut the faces of the mallet with the power miter saw was too strong. I will make the half-hearted excuse that it was just the right tool for the job... faster, more accurate, etc... but the reality is that I still suck at hand sawing and I was afraid I would screw up the angle and end up with a wonky mallet.

With the basic form complete the next step was to use soften all of the edges with a block plane and chisel to prevent the head from chipping while pounding and to make the handle more comfortable to hold. A spokeshave would have been a huge help while shaping the handle but I made do with what I have. I'll be keeping my eyes open for a spokeshave in the future though.

For the finish I mixed up a small batch of homemade oil/varnish blend (1/3 mineral spirits, 1/3 boiled linseed oil, and 1/3 polyurethane varnish). I wiped on the first coat liberally and then wiped off the excess after 10 or 15 minutes. I then came back every few hours to wipe off any excess finish that bubbled out of the open pores of the red oak. A day later I applied a second coat the same way. This finish takes much longer to cure than straight wipe-on poly due to the added oil but it leaves a much more natural surface with better grip which I really like for a shop tool like this. If it ever gets too dinged up I can simply add another coat and it should look good as new. I really like this look and will likely try out this finish on other projects in the future.

This was a fun little project and it was nice to get my woodworking fix indoors and to start and finish a project over the course of a few days. I will have to start making a list of other small projects like this that I can work on inside when it is too cold in the garage.

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