Mallet Mania

May 2013

I thought I should start with something easy as far as documenting my progress in the shop. These hand-tool-building posts are therefore not in chronological order.
It was a good 18 months into my workshop-development-activities when I got round to building some mallets. I started with two made on the lathe that seems to be recommended from carving purposes. I actually find that they are very handy for general chisel work too.

First, I found a few bits of scrap Assegaai (Curtisia dentata) and so called Rhodesian Teak. Assegaai is my favourite wood for making tools as it is known for it’s elasticity and tends to be very hard too. The Zulu’s obviously had good reason for preferring this wood for their assegais. It was also used extensively for wagon building (in particular for the spokes of the wheels) in the Old Cape Colony. In the pictures below you can see some pictures of the Assegaai tree, leaves and the traditional weapon it’s name is derived from.

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Rhodesian Teak (Baikiaea plurijuga) has undergone a name change to Zambian Teak, which is probably more politically correct. The bits of teak I used came from some left over from another project to do with my workbench/assembly table, which we will cover in another post. By the way, this wood actually originates from Zambia, despite the fact that you find the tree in several other countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to name a few.

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In the above pictures you can see the scrap pieces I used, with the Cecil John Teak (CJT) closest and Assegaai furthest.

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You can see the lamination process which is the curse that I have to live with as 95% of the wood in my possession were cut into boards varying between 25-30mm (around the 1 inch mark). Therefore, I need to laminate in order to generate stock thicker than that.

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My lathe is old and a bit dodgy so I tend to do my best to shape the blanks before loading the cannon. In this case I used the bandsaw.

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Here you can see the Assegaai mallet already turned next to the CJT blank. The light coloured spots you see on the Assegaai mallet is caused by a fungus, but does not affect the wood’s strength at all (apart from inflicting the colour change) in this case. I therefore prefer to use Assegaai with these spots for my tools, where one is less concerned with aesthetics.

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The above pictures show the same Assegaai mallet after a treatment with Ballistol oil. I use Ballistol on all my tools. In the case of metal tools the plan is to prevent corrosion, as opposed to wooden tools where the aim is to limit moisture movement. Luckily I find myself in a very dry climate anyway where we do not see any clouds between May and October. Yes, that means no rain either and quite low levels of humidity. By the way this Ballistol stuff is really top class in my opinion. It smells nice and has been used by just about every adventurer, hunter, bush doctor, and gun nut south (by way of expression of course, as it was probably used even more to the immediate north of the mentioned desert) of the Sahara.

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Here both mallets are finished and you can see that I made some minor adjustments to the handle of the CJT mallet. The Assegaai mallet weighs 500 grams (1.1lb) and the CJT version weighs 430 grams (0.95 lb), which might sound like an insignificant difference. In actual fact I find these mallets quite different in that the CJT mallet is significantly smaller (and therefore quite a bit more manoeuvrable), but does not lose that much in weight.

(Added 11/11/2013) – This weekend I learned a new trick. The short piece of copper pipe picture below (which I picked up for free from a antique dealer) have me the idea to line the holes I drill in tool handles with copper. The idea is to drill a hole of the same diameter as the outside of the copper pipe, apply some epoxy, tap the pipe in, tidy it up, and Bob’s your Uncle.

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Now I have the option of hanging the mallet.

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Fine, so let’s move on to mallets of the alternative design. So far I have built two, again with an aim to produce mallets of different weights and size.

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For both of these I decided to use a combination of Hardepeer (Olinia ventosa) (deep yellow in colour) and Stinkhout (Ocotea bullata) (dark brown) in order to take advantage of the beautiful colour contrast. Yes I know that is contrary to what I said earlier. I must admit that I am a sitting duck for aesthetically pleasing tools.

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For the bigger mallet I used hand tools to cut the mortise for the handle, before gluing the Hardepeer inner part. Note the flaring nature of the mortise.

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In order to add some considerable heft to this mallet, I created a flat mortise (not sure if this is the correct term) to accept a piece of steel. The piece of steel fitted very tightly into the mortise and was fixed with a screw as well as being glued in with epoxy.

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Then I glued the two Stinkhout pieces to the outsides of the Hardepeer inner.

The handle was made up of two pieces of Witpeer (Apodytes dimidiata) laminated together.

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Then the shaping process started together with six Witpeer dowels inserted from side to side through the laminated parts. Two of these dowels also passed through the steel weights. This was probably not necessary, but (you’ve guest it) were added for aesthetic reasons and I did want to ensure that the steel weights never starts rattling inside while using the mallet. Maybe others have some experience with this? Let me know whether it might add value or simply a wast of time.

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The handle was shaped using a band saw and Lie-Nielsen carcass saw to cut out the rough blank and from then on only files. It was then glued into place using two Stinkhout wedges to expand it into the flaring mortise and left proud by ½ an inch, which was trimmed after a few days.

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The head of the smaller mallet was made up of the same species of wood, but were the lucky winner of an Assegaai handle. It does not contain any steel and weighs in at 350 grams (0.77 lb), as apposed to the Godfather of mallets at a whopping 1300 grams (2.87 lb).

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The same method of attaching the handle was used, again for strength in the first place yet adding a touch of je ne sais quoi as well.

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Finally, I glued a piece of leather to one face of each mallet and finished it off with a coat of (you’ve guessed it) Ballistol. The leather that was used came from the skin of a Red Dear I shot on the South Island of New Zealand (Fiordland) while living there between 2002 and 2009.

9/12/2013 – This weekend I finished a this beautiful mallet which will become my main mortising mallet with my new Lie-Nielsen bevel-edge chisels set, which is set to arrive early in the new year. It has an Ysterhout head and a Boekenhout handle. The Ysterhout is ridiculously hard and sinks in water. It took em ages to created the mortise for the handle and almost loss several chisels in trying to. I used sealskin on the on face. It is as tough as nails (if you excuse the pun). As you can see it weighs in at 780 gram.

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3/8/2014

A week or so ago I added a number of layers of leather to the leather side of these two mallets. The idea being that it would make them saver when tapping joinery together in order not to dent the work.

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