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Making A Classic Woodworker's Mallet
By Randy Cordle
San Francisco, CA

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

The finished mallet looks great as fireplace art or serving as a
paperweight on your workbench, ready to serve your needs.

I've been working wood for about 40 years or so and have never owned or used an "official" mallet, since I don't utilize chisel work all that often. Recently, I've had a bit more free time in the shop and it occurred to me that a proper wood mallet might make a nice single day project. I did what many would do and researched the internet for information and then combined the information into a design that would best suit my needs. I made my first mallet and then honed the design a bit to present what's featured here. The resulting mallet is not only ergonomic and functional, but it's quite beautiful. It came out so well that my wife decided immediately upon sight that it needed to be fireplace art, so now it might become necessary to make another one for the shop!

Fairly simple to make and requiring small amounts of cutoffs you may already have in the shop, these mallets would make great gifts, too. I've already used my first mallet to convert ice cubes into crushed ice for a cool summer libation and you'll have walnuts fleeing in panic. The uses are endless!

Of course, if you find yourself short on time, Highland Woodworking already has you covered with a wide selection of various types of mallets to choose from.

In the following overview I'll detail the construction of a beautiful mallet created from a scrap of rough sawn walnut and a chunk of wood pulled from my firewood pile.

The Process

First, you'll want to print out these two PDF sheets: Mallet Left Panel and Mallet Right Panel. Make sure to check the border size to make sure they have printed to the correct size. Assemble the two halves of the plan and cut out the templates that are used to lay out your work.

I pulled this "mystery wood" from the firewood pile and don't know exactly what it is, but it's dense and heavy, perfect for a mallet head. The rough size was bandsawn out from the fireplace-sized chunk.

The rough blank was sanded a bit to smooth out the surfaces, the profile transferred to the blank from the templates, and the two 1" holes drilled with a Forstner bit where the bottom of the mortise is defined. Clamp the head down while drilling the holes. The holes are drilled about 3/4 of the way through to the top of the mallet head, where the mortise will flare outward.

After drilling the two holes 3/4 of the way through with the drill press I finished the last 1/4 of the hole depth with a hand-held drill, clamping the head against a sacrificial board to prevent chip out of the top surface.

The mortise sides are extended to the correct width and the mortise is outlined at both top and bottom of the head with light chisel cuts. My first mallet is, of course, what I pick up to do the chisel work!

I use a fine tooth small back saw to make angled cuts between the mortise edges to establish the slanted walls within the head. This helps to guide you when using your chisel to cut the mortise taper.

Time to make some handle stock. This walnut came from a neighbor's tree that was removed a few years ago.

The stock is planed to 1" thickness to match the mortise created in the mallet head. I use a rotary planer for ALL of my thicknessing and planing, and have used nothing else for all my years of woodworking. The stock is made an extra 6" longer than the handle length so the extra 6" can be cut off and used as a gauge to accurately size the head mortise. The handle side profile is transferred to the stock so it can be cut to shape.

The mallet head mortise is cleaned up and sized so the 1" thick gauge block, created by cutting off the excess handle length, slides easily through the mortise.

The mallet head profile is defined, first by cutting the 7 degree head angles with the miter saw and then band sawing out the top and bottom curves. After the top and bottom curves are cut they can be sanded a bit to smooth them. Chisel a small bevel at the outer edges of the mortise at both the top and bottom. This prevents any chip out along the mortise as the handle is locked in place or when it is removed.

Prior to cutting out the handle shape it is best to measure the mortise opening and transfer the actual measurements to the handle taper where it will be when assembled. Cut this taper just a bit wide and use the disk sander to carefully fit the handle to the mortise. This the only mission-critical fit, so take your time and get it right!

Once the handle has been fitted then the side profile of the handle is transferred to the handle and cut out with the band saw.

The saw cut marks are smoothed with the vertical oscillating spindle sander.

All of the edges can have guide marks drawn with pencil to assist with shaping the edges. The vertical oscillating spindle sander is used to do the initial shaping of the handle contours.

The contours have been roughly formed and will be refined in the later final sanding process.

The profile of the mallet head is transferred to an end to serve as a guide for shaping.

The taper of the sides and the radiused edges are shaped with a 4" angle grinder fitted with a 60 grit disk.

The handle and mallet head have all the surfaces and radiused edges sanded with a 5" random orbit sander fitted with a 220 grit disk. I'm using a sander plugged into a momentary foot switch to do all of the sanding. The footswitch makes it very easy to control sanding and can be "pulsed" to accurately control the process of sanding. Take just a bit more time and apply a finish at this point. This can be an oil or wax, or even a product like polyurethane. If you choose to use a finish such as poly then you should refrain from applying it to the mating areas of the handle and mortise so it doesn't stick together over time. I applied two coats of Osmo Poly-X "hard oil" finish, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite finishes. It was developed in Europe as a floor finish many years ago and is gradually finding its way into the woodworking world, particularly as a musical instrument finish.

A light tap on the bench locks the head to the handle.

A light tap of the handle end against the bench loosens the head. It's quite satisfying to disassemble and assemble the mallet. It'ss a popular belief that the tapered mortise was originally used so the mallet could be easily disassembled to fit in the toolbox of a carpenter, back in the days when a lot of joinery was done at the homesite.

Enjoy your new keepsake, and may you have many years of contented malleting!

You can email Randy at rcordle@fastmail.fm.

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