Working The Infill Mallet Head Shell Casting

I’ve been working on the first set of Studleyesque infill mallet head shell castings from Bill Martley, getting an idea about how to get these from rough castings to finished tools comparable to the mallet ol’ Henry had.  That is, of course, my favorite tool in the tool cabinet.  Even though these castings are not the alloy I want to end with, this gunmetal bronze is simply a little too red for my needs, getting these prototypes to “finished” is a critical step in the creating mallets for sale.

I need to learn how, and how long, it will take for me to get from rough casting >>>> ready-to-sell, since that will determine the price for a finished item.  I can pretty much promise it will not be competitive with Harbor Freight mallets, or even Crucible Tools.  The$e mallet$ would be $everal multiple$ more pricey.  And, if there is zero market for them, well, I will have quite an inventory of expensive gifts.

One of the most important aspects of the process is getting the cove detail just right on the handle collars and around the faces.  Since I have a collection of chainsaw files of varying sizes I was able to find just the right tool for that task.  I just lay the round chisel in the groove of the cove and gently move it along the groove, making sure to not rock the tool in use.  That way I can get a clean, crisp surface.

The next step will be to establish the surface texture.  Stay tuned.

Replica Studley Infill Mallet Castings

I was recently alerted to the ongoing project by foundryman Bill Martley to replicate the shell castings for the beloved mallet of Henry O. Studley.  Well, beloved to me at least.  Bill and I corresponded and I ordered the raw castings in his original alloy, a red-ish bronze.  You can tell the coloration difference between Bill’s castings and the brass shells I have worked on in the past.

The castings are quite nice and I am working through finishing them to make myself a mallet or six.  The amazing thing is that Bill got the pattern really close to the original, without even having access to the Studley book!  He said he was relying on pictures I posted on this blog.  I sent him a copy of the book as part of our transaction, so he can move forward with the definitive information in-hand.

Bill has been selling these rough castings through his Instagram page, mystic_pickers.  If you are interested in acquiring one of the rough castings from Bill you can contact him directly through the Instagram page.  If there are hiccups let me know and I will check with him to see if he wants me to post his contact information here.

Since the color of the alloy is wrong for me I have ordered two addition sets of castings from Bill with yellower alloys to see how they look and work.

At the same time I have been tinkering with my patterns for casting the mallet shells myself, just because.  (I am determined that 2021 will be a year of metal casting at The Barn with several projects in the pipeline)  Once I get the patterns to a point where I am satisfied I will cast them in both silicon bronze and brass in the barn.  Since I have the detailed information based on my many examinations and with the blessing of Mister Stewart I am confident that the end point will be successfully achieved.  (Let’s just keep it between ourselves, but my ultimate goal is to have finished “authorized” mallet replicas for sale at Handworks 2021.)

I’ll be recounting the project from my end as things proceed and I hope you will enjoy the ride.

Truing The New 30-60-90 Triangle Square, Part Deux

To judge and tune the angles of the square I first establish the right angle to be as perfect as possible with my Vesper square, which is the reference I use for anything 90-degrees in the shop.

With with my brass triangle laid out as closely as possible to the geometric model of the base being exactly 1/2 of the hypotenuse, I begin to mark the 30-degree angles cumulatively to form a half circle or even an entire 360-degree construct.  I have found that simply marking the angle with a pencil and building the angle construct from that is not accurate enough to get it exactly 30-degrees.

When I am creating the sawing and shooting jigs for parquetry I have to keep in mind that in order for the assembly to be perfect the pieces have to fit tightly together by incorporating twelve lines — six starburst pieces with two sides each.  For every fraction of a degree of angle the triangle square is off, that error will be magnified twelve times in the final assembly.

Once that is accomplished I set the square down against a line, then lay a popsicle stick along  the angled line.

Removing the square and placing a second stick as the mating surface I now have the reference line to establish the second 30-degree angle. I continue this process until I get to the stage where, if perfect, the first line and the last line are perfectly in accord.

This never happens, the aggregate is always off by a tiny bit and the hypotenuse needs a bit of adjusting, in this case less than 1/64th”.

I do this on my granite block with a roll of 60-grit sanding medium, gently pressing the toe or the heel of the hypotenuse to kiss the angle a teensy bit one way or the other.

It usually takes me a few brief sessions at the granite-and-sandpaper before I am satisfied with the six-angle exercise.

Once I get to that point I can solder the shoe on the short leg of the square and finish it off, calling it “done.”  This example is the bigger sibling of the current one, made during the workshop two summers ago.  I trued this square the exact same way, and it is a joy to hold and use.

Truing a 30-60-90 Triangle


In many instances, cutting dovetailed open mortises through a Roubo bench top for example, a 30-60-90 layout gauge only has to be “close enough,” however you define that term.  All one layout line has to do is match another layout line, and as long the two lines are struck with the same tool off the same reference plane all is well.

During last year’s workshop we all made one or two of these triangles, and like I said above, they work just fine.  Laying out the hypotenuse with dividers was all that really needed to accomplish (the hypotenuse of a 30-60-90 triangle is exactly twice the length of the short leg), using my Chris Vesper sublime refence square for the 90-degree corner.

But what happens when you have to create a series of lines coming from different places, and they establish the perimeters of pieces that must match each other precisely?  That is exactly the case of laying out a basic “starburst” or “dice” pattern parquetry composition.  I used to be content with simply laying out a sawing jig using a small plastic triangle from a middle school geometry class set, but since I have moved to shooting the edges of all the lozenges to minimize the joints even more, I needed to make myself a truly precise triangle square to set the fence for the shooting board.

Starting with one of the brass triangles left over from the workshop two summer ago I determined to make a 30-60-90 square that fit the bill.  Once I had the angles perfect I could then solder on the shoe to the short leg of the triangle.

Tomorrow I will show how I did just that with a bench top geometry version of a Covid/PCR test, using a piece of paper and two popsicle sticks.

Free Smelting Furnaces

Somewhere in the distant mists of time I obtained two propane-type smelting furnaces, thinking I was going to get into metal casting in a bigger way than I have.  I now have no expectation of this, instead focusing on smaller castings using my electric smelting furnace.  These two have simply become space eaters and I just want them gone from taking up space that is more valuable for storing yard equipment and firewood.  If you want them or know anyone who does, just let me know.
These do not have burner nozzles nor the requisite plumbing but that is pretty straightforward AFAIK.

Not For The Intended Purpose

For over 35 years I’ve been shopping at the same family-owned hardware store near our house in Maryland.  In virtually every instance the experience has been a delight; they have one of just about everything, they know where it is, and they can explain how to use it.  Besides, I can often get in and out quicker than I could find a parking space at the home improvement center.  Sure, I pay a premium in slightly higher prices but that is a trade-off I will make every day and twice on Saturday.

What doe this have to do with the subject of today’s blog?

Well, the siblings that ran the store for most of my life had a vague idea about what I did for a living, but they mostly knew that I would buy stuff and use it for something other than the intended purpose.  Like using powdered wallpaper adhesive to make a poultice to leech out a stain on some marble, for example.  They were always entertained by my reports of how I used their products.  They would often introduce me as “the guy who uses things for the wrong purpose.”

Recently I had a project wherein I needed to make a pile of bent aluminum flashing that was just smidge bigger than my mini-brake/shear could accommodate.  Since it was aluminum I could have easily made it conform but I wanted the bend to be clean and quick.

As I was poking around for scrap parts to make a bending jig I actually bumped into the corner of my saw sharpening vise (it was a painfully memorable moment), and “Viola'” a light went off in the dark space between my ears.

I cut the aluminum roll into the pieces I needed with a square and a utility knife, and marked out the bending line.

I placed the sheets in the vise with the bend line along the tip of the vise jaws and simply bent them with a scrap board.

In about ten minutes I had the entire pile finished and ready for use.

I love it when a path to completion includes the route through the land of “for the not intended purpose.”

Gotta Have Sole (Brass Sole, That Is)

With the dovetail plane configured the way I wanted it was time to add the brass plate to the newly beveled sole.  I grabbed a piece of brass from the scrap drawer and sawed it roughly to fit then drilled and countersunk screw holes for attaching it to the plane body.  When I placed the screws the wooden body was too brittle (several cracks) for me to have confidence in that being the only method of affixing the plate.

Instead I cleaned the contact surface of the brass plate with 60 grit sandpaper and slathered it and the wood contact surface with G-flex epoxy to bring it all together.

Since the gluing surface was beveled enough vis-a-vie the plane body that clamping was problematic I simply got the pieces in place and executed and old fashioned “rub joint,” making sure there was intimate contact and at least a partial vacuum between the adherends and the adhesive and then just let it sit to harden.  I’ll know tomorrow if that worked out well.

Next Day

The “rub joint” with epoxy worked perfectly!  I was able to trim and clean the new sole relative to the wooden body so that they configured nicely, first with a Vixen file followed by sanding.

Using my granite block and sandpaper I got the sole pieces flat and coincidentally planar.

Re-drilling the previous screw holes, now filled with epoxy, and drilling new holes on the front half of the sole I got everything copacetic.  I left the screw heads slightly proud and abraded them off smooth.

Now the tool is ready to assemble completely and give it a test drive.

Stay tuned.

Finishing Roubo Squares

Two of the students from the recent workshop have posted photos on their Instagram pages.

LenR posted an impressive glamour shot, and JohnH posted an image of his entire collection, although just short of the finishing line.  It was indeed a great weekend, and I look forward to actually getting my two sets finished next month.  At the moment I am just swamped with other priorities.

I’m thinking of diving in to the Instagram swamp; I am so old fashioned that I think of “social media” being conversing or corresponding with an actual human.  Silly me.

Play Time – Infill Mallet 2

With the two halves of the mallet head shell soldered together I got to work making it into something resembling what I wanted (a la Studley’s mallet).

I began by trimming off the overhang from the soldering with the band saw.   One of the great things about working in brass, bronze, copper, and aluminum is that they can be worked with a variety of woodworking hand tools and virtually all woodworking power tools and machines.  Well, maybe not jointer and planer.

Once the trimming was done I cleaned and squared the head on the stationary belt sander.

Then, while everything was still square I drilled then filed the holes in the center of the top and bottom faces.  These holes allow for the handle to protrude all the way through the metal shell and the wood block infill.  Doing all this before shaping the head was the only way to get it right.

Up next – on to shaping the head.

A Tale of Fun With Hefty Silver Soldering – Infill Mallet 1


Of all the tools I’ve encountered that have seduced me Henry Studley’s infill mallet ranks at the top of the list.  To continue the unenviable task of keeping my probably ADD self amused I decided to play with making something similar, a project I could work on intermittently while some glue or paint was drying, or when I needed a distraction while I cogitate.  For the raw material I ordered 1/4″ wall thickness right-angle brass stock from McMaster Carr to serve as my starting point.  Since this was more a “proof of concept” exercise, the concept being proven being the silver soldering of very heavy stock, it seemed like a sensible approach.  Perhaps for a “proof of concept” exercise I should have started with aluminum rather than brass, but that’s where I started nevertheless.

With the measurements in-hand I chopped the requisite segments and set up a soldering set-up on my heat-work station (I think I will probably write a series of posts about setting up such a work station yourself as I hope you will all follow me down this rabbit trail).  My strategy was to simply overlap the two sections with each other as shown and fire up the torch.  Even though I could/would only do one seam at a time I slathered generous dollops of paste flux on both interfacial surfaces.

After heating the entire mass I concentrated on the seam joint and introduced the silver solder on the inside corner of the seam and let the torch heat draw the solder through the joint.

It worked perfectly.

Stay tuned.