Tenderizing Mallet

Contrasting woods pair for a striking striker

You may not realize you need a tenderizing mallet until you’re faced with transforming tough cuts of meat into something more palatable. This handy kitchen utensil is also useful for crushing nuts, garlic cloves, and other vegetables. The mallet head is made of Osage orange because it’s hard, heavy, closed-grain, and rot-resistant. The wood can be tough to cut on a table saw and is prone to splinter when run through a jointer or planer, so use caution. (See Woodsense on p. 56 for more on this species.) Other woods with similar characteristics, such as teak and pear, would also work. The handle is made of maple for its stiffness, durability, and contrasting color. Depending on your needs, you can texture both faces of the head or leave one flat. While this mallet can take a lot of abuse, remember that there’s no need to use it with the force you would to drive nails.

This is a simple project, but it takes patience to pull off some of the details: the textured faces, in particular. The tool requirements are minimal: You’ll need a tape measure and pencil, a drill press with a 1⁄2" brad point bit, a bandsaw, a file, a small spindle sander and/or a rasp. Likewise, the necessary supplies are basic: 60-, 80-, 120-, and 180-grit sandpaper; epoxy adhesive; some clean rags; painter’s tape; and a food-safe finish. Don’t keep the cooks in your life waiting; let’s build.

An attractive yet durable pounder

The hefty mallet head, made from resilient Osage orange, features textured ends cut at the bandsaw. The shaped maple handle with its hanging hole tapers toward a round tenon that epoxies into a stopped hole drilled into the head. 

Order of Work

  • Drill and shape head
  • Make handle tenon
  • Taper and drill handle
  • Assemble

Making, drilling, and shaping the head

First, cut the mallet head to size. (A 2 × 2 × 12" turning blank yields four mallet heads, see Buyer’s Guide, p. 63.) The striking faces are on the end grain because it’s harder and resists compression. Next, mark and bore the hole for the handle joint. To lay out the cuts on the mallet head for the raised pyramid pattern, use a combination square to draw lines 1⁄4" from the striking surfaces. Story sticks make layouts much faster and reduce the chance of errors. Use the Story Stick Layout (p. 39) to create a story stick, and mark the head as shown. Saw the striking surface at the bandsaw. When sawing the first face, avoid cutting off the layout marks on the uncut side. Once you’ve finished making the second (perpendicular) set of cuts, you can go back to finish the previous side. Use a small wire brush to clean up the sawn faces, and ease all the sharp edges with sandpaper.

Use a story stick for repeatability. The front edge marks indicate the pyramid peaks; the long, lighter lines are the bottom of the cuts. Transfer the marks and connect the dots to create the pyramid pattern on two adjoining sides of the stock (inset). 

Bore the handle hole. Secure the cut-to-size head in a handscrew and clamp it to the drill press table. Drill the 1 3⁄8" deep hole at the center point with a 1⁄2"-dia. brad point bit. Painter’s tape wrapped around the bit acts as a depth gauge.

Saw the striking surface. Bandsaw just outside the layout lines without going past the bottom points. On the first side, be sure not to cut off the mating layout lines on the adjoining edge. Saw that edge after completing the other cuts.

Rounding a tenon, shaping the handle, and assembly

Cut the handle to size, and lay out the tenon and taper as shown in the drawing above. At the bandsaw, cut the tenon’s shoulders. Clamp the workpiece in a vise and use a file to round the tenon, frequently checking its fit in the mallet head. It should be snug but not so tight that it’s difficult to remove. Next, bore the hanging hole. Then taper the handle at the bandsaw. Now, use a rasp or sander (shown) to shape the handle. When the handle is comfortable to hold, use progressively finer sandpaper grits to remove tool marks and smooth the surface. Recheck the head-to-handle fit, then join them with epoxy. Let it cure for at least 24 hours before applying a generous coat of food-safe finish, I used Howard Butcher Block Conditioner. After use, clean the mallet using a mild detergent and a nylon brush. Reapply finish as necessary.

Taper the handle. After making the tenon, taper the handle from a square section at the tenon shoulder to a rectangle at the end (see drawing,above). The rectangular profile prevents the handle from rotating in your hand during use.

Join the head and handle. Apply enough fast-setting two-part epoxy to get squeeze-out, and don’t wipe off the excess. This will provide a watertight seal over the joint. Twist the handle to evenly distribute the adhesive.

Find more builds like this.

Larry’s new book, "Handmade Woodworking Projects for the Kitchen", features step-by-step instructions, photos, and technical illustrations for 17 useful, easy-to-make items. The book emphasizes accessibility and utility for woodworkers of all skill levels. 

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