Shop-Made Mallets

A trio of tappers for your tool chest

If you enjoy making your own tools, as I do, you’ll find these three mallets to be a great weekend project. They don’t use a lot of material, they go together fairly quickly, and the final result yields tools that become a regular part of your shop workforce. The designs include a simple one-piece turned mallet used for striking chisels and carving tools, a cylindrical-head joiner’s mallet intended for assembly work, and a square-faced joiner’s mallet for both chisel work and assembly purposes.

The first two designs are made primarily on a lathe (a mini lathe works fine), while the third relies heavily on the tablesaw. Note that the 5° taper on the head of the turned mallet and the angled striking faces on the square-faced mallet accommodate the swing of your arm to create a more direct blow in use. In contrast, the faces of the assembly mallet are parallel to the handle to help keep your orientation square when coaxing joints together.

Making these mallets provides a great opportunity to pull into play those precious wood scraps you’ve been hoarding, while creating tools that should take care of most of your joint-cutting and assembly needs.

Good Mallet Woods

For good mallet head stock, select heavy, dense material that’s resistant to splitting. Many exotic species such as jatoba and bubinga fit the bill nicely. However, there’s no shortage of appropriate domestic hardwoods such as beech, hop hornbeam, locust, and dogwood that will work just as well. Many of these aren’t widely available commercially, but they’re worth searching out, even if it means doing some tree trimming yourself. On the other hand, hard maple will work fine, and it’s plentiful from wood suppliers. For mallet handles, use a strong, shock-resistant wood like ash or hickory. In fact, I salvaged a broken hickory axe handle for one of my mallet handles.

Round joiner’s mallet

1 Mount the stock for the head between centers on your lathe. Turn the piece round with a spindle gouge. Part it to length, leaving just enough stock at the bottom of the parting cuts to keep the spinning piece intact. Sand the head to 220 grit before removing it from the lathe. Cut the head free, and sand away the saw marks from both faces.

2 Chuck a 1⁄8"-diameter bit in your drill press, and use it to center a V-block on the drill press table directly below the quill. Clamp the block to the table and swap out the 1⁄8" bit for a 3⁄4"-diameter Forstner bit.

3 Cradle the mallet head in the V-block and drill a 3⁄4"-diameter hole completely through its center, as shown in Photo A. For added stability, you can glue 220-grit sandpaper to the faces of the V.

While turning the handle tenon, you can use a 3⁄4" open-end wrench to gauge the final diameter.
Start making the wedge with a strip of 3⁄16"-thick scrap that is long enough to provide a good grip. Sand it to shape, making the thin end about 1⁄32" thick.

4 Mount the handle blank on the lathe, and turn it to a 1" diameter. Sand it, and then turn the 3⁄4"-diameter tenon to about 23⁄4" long (Photo B). Check the fit of the tenon in the mallet head before cutting the handle to final length.

5 Drill a 3⁄16"-diameter hole through the tenon about 1⁄2" from its shoulder. Cradling the handle in the V-block used earlier, make a bandsaw cut extending from the end of the tenon into the hole. (The hole prevents any possible crack from traveling down the handle when the wedge is inserted later.)

6 Cut a strip of scrap about 3⁄16" thick, 3⁄4" wide, and 10" long to make into the wedge. Create a taper using a stationary sander, as shown in Photo C. The finished wedge should taper from about 1⁄32" less than the kerf width to a fat 1⁄32" more than the kerf width along 23⁄4". The idea is that the installed wedge should run nearly the entire length of the slot while compressing the wood fibers and expanding the kerf a bit at the top of the handle.

7 Glue the handle in the head, and drive in the glued wedge to reinforce the joint (Photo D). Be sure to orient the slot in the handle perpendicular to the axis of the head so the wedge doesn’t want to split the head.

Turned mallet

1 Start with a piece of wood 3 × 3 × 12" long. (If you can’t find a thick enough piece, you can build one up by face-gluing thinner pieces together.) Rip off the corners of the blank on the tablesaw to make the piece roughly octagonal. This will make turning the piece round that much easier.

2 Mount the blank between centers on your lathe, and turn it to a cylinder.

3 Turn the head to the shape shown at right. Use a parting tool to establish the diameter at the smaller end of the head; then switch to a spindle gouge to cut the taper.

4 Turn the handle to the shape shown. Feel free to modify the form to suit your hand. Again, use a parting tool to establish the final diameter at the center of the bulge. Then switch to a spindle gouge to do the shaping, as shown in Photo A.

5 Sand the mallet to whatever grit you like while it is still on the lathe. Saw away any excess material from the ends, and sand away the saw marks. Finish the mallet with several coats of penetrating oil.

Square-faced joiner’s mallet

Cut the handle dado through the center section of the head blank, using stops clamped to an auxiliary miter gauge fence to register the sides of the cut.

When sawing the tenon on the mallet handle, you can safely use the rip fence as a stop because there is no waste piece being created that could kick back.

To make sure the mallet is well-balanced, keep the dado centered as you cut the angles on either end of the head.

1 Cut two pieces of 7⁄8"-thick stock and one piece of 3⁄4"-thick stock for the mallet head. Make each squared piece about 1⁄8" wider and longer than the finished dimensions shown in the side view at right. Also cut the material for the handle to the size shown.

2 Face-glue the 3⁄4"-thick piece to one of the 7⁄8"-thick pieces. After the glue dries, sand the long edges of the two-piece blank flush, but don’t curve the top edge yet.

3 Set up a dado head for a wide cut on your tablesaw. The exact width doesn’t matter, as the cut you’ll be making is wider than most dado heads can make in a single pass. Lay out a 1"-wide dado, centering it across the length of the blank. Attach a sacrificial fence to your miter gauge that extends 6" or so past the blade. Clamp stops to the fence at either end of the blank to locate the two sides of the cut, as shown in Photo A. Then cut the dado, with the 3⁄4"-thick part of the blank against the saw table. Take a series of subsequently deeper cuts, raising the dado head as you approach the perfect depth.

4 Make a 11⁄4 × 11⁄2 × 14"-long blank for the handle. With the same dado head setup, saw a 3⁄4"-thick × 1"-wide × 31⁄2"-long tenon on the end of the mallet handle (Photo B). First cut across the narrower edges to establish the 1" width of the tenon, and then check its fit in the mallet head dado. Adjust the height of the dado head if needed, and then pare the edges with a wide chisel to fine-tune the fit. Reset the height of the dado to cut the tenon to a thickness of about 1⁄32" fatter than the mallet head dado.

5 Swap the dado head for a regular saw blade, and cut the ends of the mallet head at a 5° angle (Photo C). Cut the second 7⁄8"-thick piece to match. (This operation is also easily done on a chop saw.)

Use a wide chisel to pare the handle tenon dead-flush with the interior surface of the mallet head. 

When rounding the handle edges, prevent the bit from throwing the work by beginning the cut while levering against a fulcrum pin.

6 Place the handle in the head, and pare the tenon flush to the adjacent surface, as shown in Photo D. A good fit here is crucial for a proper glue-up that ensures working strength.

7 Lay out the tapered cuts on one side of the handle, where shown above right. Make the cuts on the bandsaw, and then plane, scrape, and sand away the saw marks.

8 Chuck a 1⁄4"-radius round-over bit in a table-mounted router, and shape the edges of the handle (Photo E). Afterward, sand the handle thoroughly, avoiding the tenon.

9 Glue the handle in place in between the two head pieces (Photo F), carefully aligning the bottom edges of the pieces.

10 Drill a 3⁄8"-diameter hole completely through the head and handle. Then glue a dowel in place to reinforce the connection.

11 Lay out the slight arc at the top of the mallet, as shown above. Cut the curve on the bandsaw, and then sand away the saw marks with a stationary belt or disc sander. Also sand the angled faces to flush them up.

12 Chamfer the edges of the head with a block plane. This makes the mallet a little friendlier to handle and helps keep the head from chipping should you strike something off center.

13 Finish the mallet with penetrating oil. 

About Our Designer/Builder

Ken Burton has been working with wood for more than 30 years and writing about it nearly as long. His latest book, Crafting Wooden Lamps, is now available from F&W Media. Check out his website at wrwoodworks.com.

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