Highland Woodworking
Turning the Corner: Turning a Classic Carver's Mallet
By Temple Blackwood

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Turning the Corner focuses on using woodturning on the lathe as a way of enhancing cabinetry, furniture designs, and architectural installations. Each article also suggests an important woodworking book to read, reread or listen to, and a link to an appropriate article in The Highland Woodturner. Along the way, these articles seek to inspire woodworkers (cabinetmakers, carpenters, and housewrights) to extend their skills into basic, novice, and advanced woodturning while discovering for themselves this particularly sensual and spiritually rewarding dimension of working with wood.

One day following an email inquiry exchange, a new friend travelled some distance to bring me several fresh-cut, large logs of apple, a gift-in-trade.

In the course of our conversation, I learned that the tree had been a favorite of his late grandfather and that he hoped I would replicate his grandfather's ancient and well-used carver's mallet in different sizes/weights from some of the logs so he could use them in his own carving.

The first step to replicate the existing mallet was to take the measurements and plan the critical dimension points.

The second step was to select a well-formed log with a sufficient hardwood core to avoid the pitfalls of knots and sapwood.

Safe management of a round log at the bandsaw is critical, and building a sled from scraps is well worth the little time required.

Sawing wet logs with the Woodturner's 3/8 inch Bandsaw Blade makes the cut smooth and safe when creating the first flat side.

Given that many logs for spindle and bowl blanks are fairly short, using sacrificial wood scraps to space and support the log increases the safety factor and avoids exposing the sawblade to too many other supporting fixtures like metal clamps or fixed dogs. The other advantage for this type of sawing is that it is rough-cut and not intended to be precise.

The newly flattened side stabilizes the log for the remaining cuts for squaring the blank.

When sizing the blank, leave about 1/2" wasteblocks on each end.

Positioning the squared blank between centers can be done by eye or by measure.

Bringing the toolrest close and rotating the blank by hand clears the way and allows the turner to check the centering of the blank. While some turners spend time trimming the edges 45 degrees at the tablesaw, this seems unnecessary and can be dangerous.

Turning away the corners with a well-sharpened roughing gouge is quick, safe, and fun. Knowing the eventual shape with the smaller handle by the tailstock suggests a tapered rough turning makes sense.

My own preference for spindle roughing is to use a Sorby large, 25 or 30 mm, continental gouge.

The wet shavings stream away quickly and this style gouge leaves an impressively smooth surface, skew ready.

With calipers set slightly larger than the desired 2-5/8" diameter and using the 3/8" Sorby Bedan Parting Tool, turn the waste block to the large diameter for the mallet head.

From the edge made by the wasteblock cut, measure in the 4" for the head length and mark it. The length and taper of this mallet head determine the ultimate weight of the finished mallet. This particular mallet original is relatively small and is quite rewarding to use for light taps.

Using that mark, with the calipers set at slightly larger than the 2" diameter, and the beading & parting tool, establish the smaller end of the head that will eventually be a small shoulder leading to the cove into the handle.

With the small shoulder defined, a medium continental gouge (Sorby 18 mm) makes quick work of the remaining wood to roughly prepare the mallet head for smoothing with the skew, to rough out the cove that makes the transition to the handle, and to prepare the handle for final smoothing with the skew. Sanding with 180 or so is possible, but with wood this wet, the paper will clog quickly. Similarly, adding a friction polish or wax finish can work adequately but the wetness of the wood will reject efforts to finish it nicely – this is, after all, a "thumper" shop tool that in use will become nicely dented and damaged, just like grandfather's well-used example.

From this point, minimize the size of both end waste blocks (consider turning the mallet around to finish off the face of the head with the long point of the skew safely away from the driving headstock) and once off the lathe use a vee-block to support the nearly finished mallet to saw away the remaining pins.

Sanding smooth both ends finishes the project nicely. The advantage of this shop-built sanding strap is that it does not have a solid back, and the flexible belt better follows contours.

With the first one complete, an intentional matching piece to the original, the next step is to prepare a larger blank for the 1" larger and thus heavier mallet my friend asked for.

Sizing up the larger mallet – again more by eye than by measure – ads a creative option to the project. With the mallet head 1" larger in diameter and the mallet somewhat longer, it would be important to keep the handle dimensions the same as the smaller mallet. The rule of thumb for changing a size such as this is to make it pleasing to the eye.

My new friend was pleased with his mallets when he picked them up. Given how wet (fresh) the apple blanks are, I heavily coated the finished mallets as well as the one I turned for myself with anchor seal to limit the cracking.

Another possible creative variation is to add some different details to the transition between head and handle as well as to enrich the visual by choosing different woods – here pictured are (L to R) walnut, maple, locust with the newest "reclining" still-to-dry apple now added to my shop.

More Woodturning Articles: The Highland Woodturner Archive includes a broad array of excellent articles dedicated to woodturning and woodturned projects that you might find interesting.

Click here to browse through Highland Woodworking's Woodturning department

Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at temple@highlandswoodturning.com. Take a look at Temple's Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/

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