Picnic-Perfect Croquet Set

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This article is from Issue 65 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Turn the mallets and stakes; then build the bonus storage box.

Designed and built by Tom Whalley

Overall dimensions: Mallet 23⁄4" dia. × 9"w × 37"l; Stake 13⁄8" dia. × 18" long; Box 145⁄16"w × 16"h × 475⁄8"l

It’s unclear if the lawn game paille-maille or pall mall, which evolved into croquet, originated in France or Ireland, or stemmed from related games dating back to Roman times. Regardless, in the 1860s, the game as we know it took England by storm and later spread overseas. Today, whether played for fun or competition, croquet has become a welcomed friends and family activity.

While mass-produced croquet sets are available, it’s not likely you’ll find a deluxe set on par with this one. Lathe-turned mallet heads, held fast to the handles with wedge-pin joinery, include alignment strips for aiming ball strikes. And, like the mallet heads, shaping the simple stakes serves as an exercise in duplicate turning. I did both using a roughing gouge and Easy Wood turning tools, which have carbide cutters that don’t require sharpening. I purchased the hard plastic colored balls and metal wickets that complement the set from our Convenience-PLUS Buying Guide sources. And as a bonus, I offer plans for a croquet set storage box. Its handle and wheels let you cart the set around the yard or from a vehicle to the playing field.

Note: For the court setup and rules for nine-wicket croquet, go to croquetamerica.com/croquet/rules/ninewicket/index.php.

With the paired handle blanks aligned and clamped in place, drill 1⁄2" holes to form the 1⁄4" radii.

Start with the mallet handles

1 From milled 3⁄4"-thick white ash, cut two 11⁄2 × 38" pieces for each handle blank (A). The croquet set includes six mallets so we cut 12 pieces. Glue and clamp six sets of two pieces together face-to-face with the ends and edges flush. (You also can go with thicker stock and cut and plane it to the needed square size in Step 2.)

2 Square each handle blank lamination to 11⁄4", taking an equal amount from each surface to keep the joint line centered.

3 To create 1⁄4" radii where shown on Figure 1, start by clamping two handles together, and mark centerlines for the 1⁄2" hole centerpoints down from the ends of the laminations. Using a Forstner bit at the drill press, drill the holes where marked, centering the point of the bit over the joint line. After drilling a hole, unclamp the handles (A), rotate them against each other, and drill another hole to create the next pair of mating radii, as shown in Photo A. Repeat until all eight radii on each handle have been drilled. Repeat for the remaining paired handle blanks. Widen the resulting radius cuts below the shoulders at the scrollsaw to accommodate the bandsaw blade used in Step 4.

Bandsaw between the radii on each handle edge by moving the jig and handle along the saw’s fence to remove the waste.

4 Make a simple right-angle carrier jig to fully support an entire handle (A) when sawing. (My jig measures 65" long with a centered 4"-long notch that is 1⁄8" shy of the vertical member.) Cut a notch on the outside edge of the jig’s base (see Photo B Inset) to accommodate a 1⁄2" bandsaw blade. Now, place a handle blank in the jig, fitting the blade into a radius cut. With the bandsaw’s fence adjusted and the jig against the fence, move the jig and handle to cut between the top and bottom radii, as shown in Photo B to form the 3⁄4"-thick portion of the handle. This requires cutting all four edges of the handles in the same manner.

5 At the tablesaw, rip 1⁄8" off opposite surfaces for a handle (A) with a final thickness of 1" and width of 11⁄4". (See Figure 1.) Sand the handles smooth.

6 At the router table, cut a 1⁄8" chamfer along the four corners and around the top ends of the handles (A), where shown in the Handle Detail in Figure 1.

Use a miter gauge for support when cutting the kerfs on opposite surfaces of the bottom ends of the handles for the mallet heads to seat against.
Cut shoulders on the handle bottom, guiding off the fence and marked cutlines. Stop at the kerfs.

7 At the tablesaw, crosscut a 1⁄16"-deep kerf 3" from the bottom ends on two opposite surfaces of the handle bottoms, where shown in Figure 1 to create shoulders for the mallet heads to seat against later (Photo C).

8 Set the fence, and then bandsaw a 1⁄16" centered slot 23⁄4" long into the bottom end of each handle (A) for housing the wedge (D) later.

9 Mark a pair of cutlines 1⁄16" in from the edges, adjust the fence, and then bandsaw the shoulders on the bottom ends (Photo D). Feed the stock slowly through the blade so as not to cut off the shoulder. The dimensions of the handle tenon at this point should measure 7⁄8 × 11⁄4 × 3" for a snug fit into the mallet head mortise later.

10 Using a 5⁄8" Forstner bit, drill a hole in the tenoned end of each handle (A), centered on the slot where shown in Figure 1.

This allows you to flex the tenons slightly for fitting tightly into the mallet head’s mortises. Finish-sand each handle, removing any saw marks.

With the tool rest parallel to the cylinder, guide off your index finger to keep the cutter at the same depth while reducing the diameter.
Press the V-shaped cutter straight into the mallet head to cut 1⁄16" deep and back it straight out.

Create the laminated mallet heads

1 Cut four pieces of 3⁄4"-thick walnut (or two 11⁄2"-thick pieces) to 3 × 10" for each mallet head blank (B). Measure the width of the handle tenons, and cut a pair of centered mating dadoes 7⁄16"-deep on two mating walnut pieces to fit snugly around a tenon (Figure 1). (The mallet heads in the set shown required 11⁄4"-wide dadoes in the mating pieces.) Now, clamp the head blank pieces for each mallet head together, and dry-fit the handle tenons in the mortises. Adjust if needed.

2 Glue and clamp the four pieces for each head blank (B) together, making sure the dadoes align to receive the handle tenons. To keep the mortised edges flush, use a piece of wood to align the mortise edges. Remove any glue squeeze-out from the mortises.

3 Cut a 1⁄8" groove, 1⁄4" deep, centered on the mortise and along the length of each head blank (B), where shown in Figures 1 and 2. Cut two pieces of maple to 1⁄8 × 1⁄4 × 43⁄8" for each head to fit into the grooves and serve as alignment strips (C). Glue the strips in place, flushing the inside ends with the mortise. Later, when attaching the handles (A), the strips in the mallet head should face up to help with aiming and striking the ball squarely.

4 Mark the centers of the mallet head blanks (B/C), and mount a blank onto the lathe using a spur drive and live center. With the lathe running at 1,000 rpm, round a mallet head blank (B/C) with a roughing gouge, working the bevel back and forth along the tool rest. Maintain even light cuts, being careful to not catch the tool’s cutting edge on the mortise. Finish-turn to 23⁄4" diameter (Photo E). (Here, I switched to an Easy Wood Rougher for a smooth, sandable cylinder.)

5 Referencing Figure 2, make a cardboard storyboard, and mark on it the locations for the V-grooves and parting cuts on the mallet head (B/C). This ensures that the mallet heads will be alike. Now, turn the V-grooves in the head (Photo F). We used the Easy Tool Detailer with its V-shaped carbide cutter.

6 Using a parting tool, start cuts to eventually take 1⁄2" off both ends of the mallet head (B/C), where previously marked. Turn a slight chamfer on the ends of the head.

7 Finish-sand the mallet head (B/C) through 150 grit. Buy six small containers of outdoor acrylic paints that match the colors of the six croquet balls. (I purchased two-ounce bottles at a local crafts store.) Use a stiff bristle brush and one of the colors to carefully paint two stripes on the mallet head. If paint gets in the grooves, sand them with a bit of folded sandpaper to remove it. Let dry.

8 At 1,500 rpm, use a parting tool to turn both ends of the mallet head (B/C) to the 9" finished length until the tenon at each end of the head measures 1⁄2" in diameter. Stop the lathe and finish the parting cuts with a handsaw. Repeat steps 4-9 to complete the remaining five mallet heads, using a different color for each.

Join the handles to the heads

1 Fit the tenoned end of each handle (A) through a colored head (B/C), and mark the extended portion of the tenon. Mark and trim the waste at the bandsaw, making the handle end replicate the curvature of the mallet head.

2 Cut the walnut wedge blank (D) to the size in the Cut List. Shape each individual wedge, as shown in Figure 1 at the bandsaw and sander.

3 Apply exterior glue to all four sides of the bottom end of a handle. (I used Titebond III.) Insert the handle into the mallet head until the shoulder of the handle makes contact with the head.

4 Apply glue to the walnut wedge, and insert it into the split bottom end of the handle. Use a small hammer to tap the wedge firmly into place. Allow the glue to dry, and saw off the excess. Sand the handle and wedge flush with curvature of the head.

5 Apply an exterior-grade finish to the handles and heads. (I applied three coats of Spar Urethane, sanding lightly with 320-grit sandpaper between coats.)

Turn the stakes

1 Cut four pieces of 3⁄4"-thick white ash to 11⁄2" wide by 20" long for the two stake blanks (E). Glue and clamp two pieces together face-to-face with the ends and edges flush for each stake blank. If you have thicker 6/4 (11⁄2") stock, use it to save time.

2 Mark diagonal lines on the ends of the stake blanks to find the centers. Mount a blank onto the lathe using a spur drive and live center. (Transferring the dimensions to a cardboard storyboard can ensure accuracy here as well.)

3 Round the stake blank using a roughing gouge, and finish-turn it to 13⁄8" diameter. Referencing Figure 4, mark the V-grooves and turn them to shape. Turn a 1⁄8" chamfer at the top end of the stake. Finally, mark and turn the tapered end. Sand the stake smooth, and paint between the grooves. Remove the stake from the lathe, and repeat for the second stake. Add an exterior finish to the stakes.

Clamp square angle braces in the box corners when gluing and assembling the box ends and sides.

Build the mobile storage box

1 From 3⁄4" plywood (I used Baltic birch), cut the box front end (F), back end (G), and sides (H) to size. Cut a 3⁄4" rabbet 3⁄8" deep along the bottom inside edge of (F), (G), and (H) to house the box bottom (I) later, where shown on Figures 4 and 5. Cut the same size rabbets along the ends of each side piece. Cut a 3⁄4" groove 1⁄8" deep 7⁄8" from the top edge of the two side pieces.

2 Drill the countersunk screw holes in the end pieces (F, G), where shown in Figure 5.

3 Dry-clamp the plywood pieces to check the fit, and then glue the ends (F, G) to both side pieces (H), as shown in Photo G, checking for alignment of the pieces along the bottom rabbeted edge. Elevate the box on blocks to provide clearance for the clamps. Later, remove the clamps, and sand the box smooth.

4 Measure the rabbeted opening, and cut the box bottom (I) to fit. Mark the locations for the pair of dadoes on the inside face of the bottom, where shown in Figure 4. Cut the dadoes where marked.

Tap the holes in the laminated support for the lag screws that will hold the wheels in place.

5 Mark the locations and drill the 12 countersunk screw holes through the bottom face of the bottom (I). Be sure to center the four holes drilled in the dadoes.

6 From 3⁄4" plywood, cut the ball divider (J), mallets support (K), and wickets support (L) to size. Mark the location and cut the slot in the wickets support. Rout a 1⁄8" round-over along the top edges of the ball divider, mallets support, and wickets support. Glue the mallets support to the wickets support with the bottom edges offset 1⁄8", allowing for the mallets support to seat in the 1⁄8" dado. Now, screw the parts to the inside face of the box bottom (I), centering them between the bottom’s edges.

7 Cut the wickets lock (M) to size. Drill a pivot hole through it, and drill a mating hole into the top edge of the wicket support (L). Screw the piece in place.

8 Cut the box front support (N) to shape, and screw it to the box bottom.

9 Cut the two pieces making up the wheels support (O) to size. Cut a 3⁄8" groove, 3⁄16" deep, 17⁄8" from one edge of each piece, where shown in Figure 5, for creating a starting channel for the lag screw pilot holes. Glue and clamp the pieces together face-to-face, aligning the grooves.

10 Drill a 27⁄64" hole, 3" deep, centered in each end of the channel of the support (O). Using a socket set, tap the holes with a 1⁄2" lag screw, as shown in Photo H.

Apply glue, and then fit the box bottom assembly into the rabbeted opening in the box. Clamp the assembly all around for a good bond.

11 Center, glue, and screw the laminated wheel support (O) to the box bottom 1" from the end.

12 Finish-sand and apply finish to the assemblies (F–O). Do not apply finish to the edges of box bottom (I). Glue and clamp the bottom assembly into the rabbeted opening in the box assembly (F/G/H), as shown in Photo I.

13 Cut the end trim (P) and side trim (Q) to size from 3⁄4" maple. Cut a 3⁄4" groove, 1⁄8" deep, centered along the bottom side of the trim pieces so they fit snugly onto the plywood back end (G) and sides (H). Notch the trim pieces where shown in Figures 4 and 5.

14 Glue and clamp the trim pieces (P, Q) to the box top.

15 Cut the two top track pieces (R) to size. Sand them smooth, and glue them in place. Apply finish where needed.

Add the box handles and top

1 Referring to Figure 5, mark the outline of four handle brackets (S) on a piece of 3⁄4" stock 11⁄2" wide. Mark a center point on each piece, and drill a 5⁄8" hole where marked. Cut the four brackets to shape.

2 Cut the back handle (T), pivot pin (U), and handle connector (V) to length from 5⁄8" dowel stock. Cut the handle ends (W) to length from 1" dowel stock.

3 Drill a 5⁄8" hole, 11⁄8" deep, centered in one end of each handle (W). To do this, I used a handscrew to secure the pieces vertically and then drilled the centered holes.

4 Laminate two pieces of 3⁄4" maple. From this lamination, cut the arm (X) to size. Radius the ends, and then drill the 5⁄8" holes (Figure 5).

5 Sand the parts smooth and finish. Assemble the handle assemblies (S-X) in the configuration shown (Figure 4). Screw the handle brackets to the box ends (F, G).

6 Cut the plywood top (Y) to slide smoothly in the box top grooves.

7 Cut the top end (Z) and handle top trim (AA) to size. With the top (Y) inserted into the box, fit, clamp and glue (Z) and (AA) in place. Remove the lid assembly, and then sand and finish it. 


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