To turn or not to turn..

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Established Member
15 Jan 2020
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Afternoon all,

So, some of you may seen me ask rather novice (because I am one) questions of recent. And I'm back with another, however this time it's filled with rather a lot of ambition.

I've decided one of my first projects is to be a mallet. However, me being me, I want to make a real big challenge out of it. I've come up with my design but now I'm left wondering if the handle of the mallet really needs to be turned or if the desired shape/design can be acheived just as well (not as easily) by using planes/gouges/spokeshaves/ect?

Attached is an image of my inteded design. The mallet handle being produced out of a 305x60x60mm length of wenge. I'm unsure as to the woods for the head yet, most likely laminated peices of oak/maple/purpleheart/iroko.

So the question is; can the handle be made by hand or am I just running down a path of huge frustration with hand tools and should invest in a lathe and give that go?

P.s - I have read all the advice previously about visiting a local turning club, and that's advice I will soon follow up on.

Thanks in advance.



  • The teardrop mallet-01.jpg
    The teardrop mallet-01.jpg
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All methods work!

Turned handles are nice but not essential. Plenty of old and new mallets have handles made from square (ok, rectangular) cross section wood. You can shape it with a spokeshave, chisel, knife, sandpaper, power router - whatever you prefer.

Make one, make another - you need different sizes/weights for different jobs.
Are you planning on doing carving? If not, then this is the wrong sort of mallet. Have you already got a square-faced mallet? If I'm misunderstanding and this is actually a square-headed mallet, then it absolutely should not have a round handle. Round handles are a nightmare in a square headed mallet, because when you pick the mallet up you can't tell the orientation of the head without looking at it, and if you've just spent 30 seconds lining the chisel up perfectly for your final finishing cut, the last thing you want to do is look away. I recently spent a week in Spain with a borrowed mallet with a round handle and it was one of the more frustrating episodes of my woodworking life.
I don't really have a purpose for it in all honesty. It's my first project aside from a cutting board. I wanted it to have a nice asthetic other than the basic mallets you find in your local store or on sites. I guess it will just be used for the odd hit hear and there and will be more of a trophy/accomplishment that a functional item. I'm sure it will go wrong somewhere, which I don't mind because that's how lessons are learnt. And when it does go wrong, I'll be able to make another, more functional one.

I just really wanted to know if the proposed design was ridiculously beyond the realms of hand tools and it would have been a wild goose chase.

Thanks for your thoughts so far and advice about handles and mallet purposes. I'd never thought about that and it really makes sense now :)
So is this going to be rounded headed or flat faced?

If this is only your second project, leave the wenge for another time. It is an extremely precious timber (it's endangered in the wild, and shouldn't really be felled at all). Make this out of ash and learn your lessons with a cheap and common timber. It would be such a shame to spoil a beautiful piece of wood by making it into a mallet that doesn't work properly.
Flat faced.

And okay, makes sense. Is there a go-to place to find endangered timbers, like a database or something?

I wasn't aware Wenge was when I brought it. I will of course remember this for the future and not purchase endangered timbers again.

Thanks again.
I actually have two pieces of wood roughed out for my mallet - getting any further is proving tricky, because of time, and lack thereof.

If you want to do woodwork, you need a mallet. As much as you need your right arm, pretty much. Therefore, you may as well make a mallet that's used every time you are in the workshop. The very nice Mr Sellers has done a series of videos, in real time, with all the explanation you need.[youtube]UUc3EpWncNq5QL0QhwUNQb7w[/youtube]
If Loughborough is not too far away from wherever you are in Nottingham, l can give you some nice dry straight beech to make yourself a mallet.
BrodieB":1p124y0p said:
So the question is; can the handle be made by hand or am I just running down a path of huge frustration with hand tools...
Frankly this depends on your levels of ambition and persistence. Nobody in the same position as yourself had made X or Y before they'd made the first one but took a stab at it and not a few would have ended up with something acceptable first time. Some might have needed a second attempt but relatively simple things like this are doable for many a first-timer, especially these days with the abundance of free info and guidance available.

BrodieB":1p124y0p said:
...and should invest in a lathe and give that go?
I don't think that's a good idea at all unless you know you're going to get heavily into turning, or simply have money to burn. If you want to just get your feet wet turning on a small scale (pun intended: only a few pieces and physically neither large nor long) then a homemade lathe conversion for a power drill makes a lot of sense at this stage. The build itself is a good learning project for the new woodworker too, so you get double bang for the buck.

So, round handle or not? There's no reason you must not have a round handle on a flat-faced tool. The automatic registration of your striking orientation won't be there as it would be with a handle that has a long axis, but that's actually not vital. You can get this by just looking at the thing when you pick it up! And if the mallet head itself has a long axis or a flat side it will tend to lay on the bench in the right orientation and as such that you don't even need to look at it, the striking face will be registered well enough as you pick it up.

I've made I think three mallets with round handles and my (very cheap but now well proven) rubber mallet had one installed at the factory, as do quite a few similar mallets. And projects in older books often suggest broomstick material can be used to make perfectly acceptable handles for mallets; this is less applicable these days when most are made from cheap softwoods but the point is those instructors or writers didn't feel a round handle was an absolute no-no.

That said however, if you're making your own and you're not starting with round stock then there's no good reason to go with a circular cross-section :D At least go with ovoid if you don't fancy a rectangular one, with or without full roundovers or chamfers at the corners of all or part of the grip section.
Thanks Lurker, thats a great offer! Sadly due to my work, I won't be able to get that way for a fortnight or so. However, I'll drop you a PM when I can and if you're still in the same position we will work something out if thats okay?

Thanks all for the further advice. I'll stay away from a lathe for the time being and a homemade one sounds like a plan. Until I move to a lathe I'll keep the Wenge tucked up.

Thanks again.
BrodieB":2wb8503z said:
Flat faced..........

Then you need a rectangular section handle, with a heavy chamfer all round, arises rounded over. That's easily doable with handle tools for a novice, and you'll learn some good lessons in the process. I knocked one together in an afternoon out of some scraps of ash probably 35 years ago, and it's still in every day use, and will see me out. It's taken some almighty abuse. That's the way a mallet should be. Save the pretty pretty stuff for later.
If it's any help, make a prototype. By that, I mean make a mallet, but be relaxed with making mistakes, because you know you are going to be making a better one next time. Don't use the good wood until you know precisely what you want.

This is a cunning strategy I have had to develop with a small box I just made. It wasn't a prototype to begin with, but circumstances dictate that I will have to make a second one, only this time big enough to fit the sharpening stone into, rather than exactly the same size as the stone. With mallets, you never know if it is comfortable to use until after it is made. So plan to make several, and perfect your design.
Trainee neophyte":1pp2kqvu said:
..........This is a cunning strategy I have had to develop with a small box I just made. It wasn't a prototype to begin with, but circumstances dictate that I will have to make a second one, only this time big enough to fit the sharpening stone into.........

:lol: :lol: =D> =D> =D> #-o
The wood awaits.
PM whenever you want
Anytime should be OK as I am retired, so can fit around your shifts.

You can prep the wood on my bandsaw so come with a plan in your head.
What else is on your to do list?
Do you have a bench hook?
I made my mallet from beech following the videos of Paul Sellers. It's not too difficult, and you only need a saw, plane, chisel and a spoke shave if you have one. Just make sure that your chisel is sharp.
A useful tool is a chisel ground at 90 degrees used as a scraper to remove minute amounts from the mortise, ( see Bill Carters web site).

MikeG.":1zlgcyer said:
Trainee neophyte":1zlgcyer said:
..........This is a cunning strategy I have had to develop with a small box I just made. It wasn't a prototype to begin with, but circumstances dictate that I will have to make a second one, only this time big enough to fit the sharpening stone into.........

:lol: :lol: =D> =D> =D> #-o

I could have just nailed a few bits of wood together, but I was trying for more. Mitred corners and everything. It is now a pencil case, and daughter is most pleased with it. Upcycling, possibly.

(It was after I discovered the unique design feature of it not being big enough, that I realised I hadn't measured anything - not once. My agricultural woodworking skills coming to the fore :))
Just get stuck in! If it goes wrong it's all part of the learning curve.
If you simply need a mallet just buy one they are very cheap ... C9JCGMT245
PS a really good first exercise could be making some indian clubs. They can be almost any shape or size as long as they have a reasonable handle to hold. Target - make two identical!
Second exercise: have a warm up every morning doing star jumps with a club in each hand.
Thanks Lurker, that’s really kind. Shift work is a real pain but I’ll send you a message as soon as I can get over.

Luckily I already have a bandsaw, albeit it needs some fettling as vibration is becoming a frustration. Ordered from Axminster and the tyres peeled off and started rubbing on the frame.

I have a bench hook, I made out of 18mm hardwood ply. Is this an okay material to use?

I think I’m all set to start the mallet I just need to get a spokeshave, I’m just waiting until payday as I’ve very quickly learnt to buy quality tools first time round. In the meantime I think it’s wise for me to learn how to properly use and adjust a plane. And also how to properly sha**en tools as the diamond stones I brought are a a little too small and the guide in using keeps rocking side to side causing unwanted bevels. (Hence lesson learnt regarding quality tools)

Anyone have any tips/go-to videos/resources to help with using and properly adjusting a plane?

Thanks all again, the kindness on this forum still continues to amaze me!!

Hold off buying a spokeshave, I might have a spare.

Edit,PM me your shopping list as I have lots of spare kit that needs to go before I move house later this year.

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