What is the best design for a round mallet? It has to do the job, feel good in your hand and remain comfortable as you use it. Three weeks ago, while at Peters Valley, I had a chance to make a few mallets and try out their feel and comfort levels.
Round mallets are easily turned on the lathe (although the 4th graders in my school carve them out from branches) and because the machine room had an amazing collection of lathes, I couldn’t resist the temptation to re-hone my turning skills and make a mallet or two. I am not an expert turner but I know my way around the lathe and can produce a decent bowl, a furniture leg or a cutting-board handle. I know I rely too much on sandpaper, and occasionally my spindle gouge catches on my revolving blank, but I am able to turn well enough to execute my designs.
It seems that there is consensus amongst woodworkers on best shape for a mallet’s head. In most cases it looks like a bulging frustum (it’s geometry, trust me; it means a barrel-shaped cone). Therefore, I decided to concentrate only on the handle design.
Below are my illustrations of common mallet shapes.
I turned my first experimental mallet as part of my spindle turning demo. I decided to turn a mallet that would be long and hefty, to be used mainly for driving a froe into logs for splitting them. As a turning blank I used a seasoned beech branch that I brought from home. My design followed (more or less) options B and D in my drawings.
When turning an object such as a tool handle, it is good practice to turn it oversized, then remove the object from the lathe, hold it in your hand and try to simulate its use. Or even better, to do some actual work with it. Then bring it back to the lathe and slim it down as needed. This process took me a while but it was worth the effort because in the end, the mallet turned out comfortable to hold and effective in use.
After finishing my demo and while my students were venturing into this craft, I decided to keep my experiment going and make a few prototypes to help me figure out the best design for my hand. I grabbed a short ash log I’d brought from home. I’d kept it outside our garage for a year and planned on splitting it into four parts. First I tried to cleave it by driving a carpenter’s axe into it (I left my froe at home) but even under many persuasive blows from my awesome new mallet, the log didn’t budge. Perhaps it was just too dry, or my carpenter’s axe blade was too thin for cleaving? So I decided to use a band saw instead. After sawing the log into four parts I began turning the mallets.
Please stay tuned; next time I will show each of my mallets and grade them according to my own comfort scale.
Editor’s note: Want to get started in turning? Check out our online show “Woodturning with Tim Yoder,” with new episodes every two weeks (each is available for free viewing for eight weeks after it’s posted. You can also find collections of the episodes at ShopWoodworking.com. Now available are Season 1, episodes 1-6; Season 1, episodes 7-12; Season 1, episodes 13-18; Season 1, episodes 19-24; and Season 2, episodes 1-6.