Turn Multiple Mallet Handles to Determine the Perfect Fit

The Best Design for a Round Mallet, Part 2: My Family of Mallets

 In Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs
Four different mallet designs and two baby mallets

Four different mallet designs and two baby mallets.

After splitting my mallet log into quarters (see part one of this project by clicking here) I turned to the lathe work. I produced four different mallets, each one with its own unique handle. I turned the first and the second handles identical, then altered one of them into a hexagonal shape. I was curious to see if this handle would feel better in my hand, theorizing that because in closing a hand over the handle, we form a polygon shape (try closing your fingers on an imaginary handle and look at it, you’ll see what I mean), perhaps a hexagonal handle would fit best. Then, I turned the two remaining mallet handles, each with a different design.




And now its time to announce the winners of the mallet pageant.

The first and second place are reserved for two handles that are very much the same. The only difference between them is that one terminates with a bead. Both are shaped like a long and narrow barrel, a geometry that I find very comfortable for my hand. The beaded handle is perhaps the overall winner, because its defined terminus helps in registering the handle securely in the hand.

My mallet pageant. From right to left: Slim barrel and bead, barrel, hexagonal and zucchini

My mallet pageant. From right to left: Slim barrel and bead, barrel, hexagonal and zucchini.

A "slim barrel and a bead" handle design

A “slim barrel and a bead” handle design.

"Slim barrel" handle design

“Slim barrel” handle design.

Third place is occupied by the zucchini-shaped handle. This handle looks very cool but because it is narrow in the middle and thicker toward its end – it doesn’t fit that well in my hand and when I swing it, I feel that I have less control over the outcome of the striking action. That said, many hammer handles are shaped this way so there must be a good reason we see these handles around.

"Zucchini" shape handle design

Zucchini-shaped handle design.

I gave the fourth place to the hexagonal handle. Yes, in theory it sounds promising, but in reality it was the least comfortable. Perhaps further experimentation is needed. Who knows, maybe by adding a few more facets to it, it will turn into a winner.
Hexagonal shape handle design2

Hexagonal shape handle design

Hexagonal shape handle design

After finishing this experiment I had some time to embark on a special mallet project for my son and my nephew. Both toddlers surely would love a mallet, I thought to myself. At first they will chew on it, then they will throw and drop it before they will use it to hit everything around them. Eventually, they will discover that the mallet is the right tool to drive pegs into their peg board toy. 

I turned the babies mallet in a row

I turned the babies’ mallet in a row.

I encourage you to make a few mallets (or more) and see which shape fits your hands the best. At the end of the experiment, I promise you will have improved your turning skills, but more important, you’ll have a beautiful collection of impressive looking objects that, if not used by you, can at least decorate a corner of your living room or add charm to that unused shelf space over the kitchen cabinets. 

My "family" of mallets and two of my turned handle cutting boards  reside on top of our kitchen cabinets.

My “family” of mallets and two of my turned-handle cutting boards reside on top of our kitchen cabinets.

— Yoav Liberman

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Showing 12 comments
  • GeoJB

    A naive question, why is ash a bad wood fora Maul/mallet head?

    • Yoav Liberman
      Yoav Liberman

      Honestly it isn’t that bad. It is just not the best wood for a mallet’s head compared to more heavier and denser woods such as Lignum Vitae, Hornbeam, Boxwood, hard maple, Beech and a few more tropical hardwoods. I believe that most Ash species have a smaller number on the Specific gravity scale than the woods I mentioned. I also think that Ash fiber matrix will not keep its integrity under the abuse of repetitive striking on chisels and gouges handles than the other woods. That said, Ash is a fantastic wood for a mallet handle and is second to Hickory for being able to withstand shocks. It is rigid and flexible at the same time. In practise if you have a choice between using some Ash pieces that you already have or buying new lumber for experimenting with mallet designs, I would go with the Ash. Once you distilled the design you like you can turn a new head form hornbeam and a handle from Ash, then connect the two and make the best mallet design possible.

  • Sawtooth

    You mentioned that the “zucchini” handle is slimmer and you felt less control, but that style of handle seems popular for other tools. Perhaps the difference is caused by the balance of the tool and relative weight of the head of the mallet. Maybe this handle style would be better on a tool with a lighter “business end.”

    • Yoav Liberman
      Yoav Liberman

      Yes, that makes sense. I think that the “Zucchini” (or “Bell Handle” design) is geared to provide the hand a positive stopping area when striking. I felt that for my hand a more thicker handle in the middle is needed. Choosing a tool that feels good in your hand in very subjective. If you want, it is like choosing a spouse. I guess you need to try (date) a few designs until you find the right one.

  • Jnock

    I like your show of different types of mallet which gives one thought on aspects of design.

    Regarding the one with flat sides (hexagonal) this puts me in mind of the London pattern for chisel handles which, as you probably know, is based on an octagonal design. This is perhaps the answer to making a handle with flat sides as it is a very long established pattern, if somewhat rare these days.

    Incidentally I see you have used a piece of timber with significant spalting, was this because you anticipated the mallets might be for trial/show purposes only?


    • Yoav Liberman
      Yoav Liberman

      Hi John,
      I agree with you and would be very interested in exploring additional multi faceted handles. The London pattern is indeed the most promising of them. As for your second comments. You are right, my aim was just to explore mallet designs and not necessarily to make the strongest tool. The log that I used had been susceptible to rain, snow and sun and developed spalting. It also housed a worm or two which met it/their maker in the microwave. Four minutes in the microwave ensure that your green wood “guests” will not reside there any longer.

  • dyfhid

    OK those are the verdicts for the handles. What about the head shape? Barrel? Tapered? Straight? Which do you prefer?

    • Yoav Liberman
      Yoav Liberman

      I prefer a head in the shape of a bulging frustum or a barrel-shaped cone. You can also call this style a tapered barrel head.
      You can also look at my earlier posting on mallet design where I show some illustration of tapered barrel shaped mallets.

      • dyfhid

        Ah, somehow I missed that post, sorry! Thanks for both!

        • Yoav Liberman
          Yoav Liberman

          You are very welcome.

          • bodgerman

            I suggest trying only putting two flats on the handle, on the flatsawn sides of the mallet. Turn it a little oversize, put the flats on the flatsawn, then every time you grab it, you’ll naturally strike with the growth rings edge on, your mallet will stand up to wear alot longer, even with the ring porous ash. I always turn the top surface dished,so the head sits stable on the bench, even if it’s setting on shavings or whatever. I turn the end of the handle ball shape, and consider it a striking surface too. I build muzzleloaders alot, you have to do lots of inletting of metal parts into the stock. This smaller strike surface works great for tapping on the part to be inlet.

            • Yoav Liberman
              Yoav Liberman

              These are fantastic ideas. Thanks for sharing them with us. If you have a picture of your mallet and can email it to me I will add it to this entry.

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James Hamilton