Round Carving/Joinery Mallet

I’ve been hanging with my pal MikeM for a couple decades, and at least one of his consuming passions is rubbing off on me — hammers.  Many times a Christmas package would arrive from Mike, and on more than one occasion it was a hammer or mallet he had restored or made.  One of them, a polished vintage ball peen hammer head with a sublime curly maple handle, is in my personal tool pantheon and gets used every day I am in the barn (pic above).  Every day.

Well, as they say, “Bad company trumps good character,” and Mike’s “bad” influence on me over the years in the realm of hammers has taken hold.  (Just kidding folks, Mike’s friendship is a life treasure.)  I now find making hammers one of the many delightful undertakings in the studio.   I’m probably not approaching Mike Territory, but in response to a comment by a recent visitor in the studio, “No, I do not have a ‘hammer problem.’  I have a lot of hammers.  Big difference.”

Many years ago I picked up several steel pieces at a flea market.  These cylinders, which I naturally thought would make great mallets, were of unknown origin and a peculiar morphology.  The flat ends were easily drilled and tapped.  My original thought was this would be great for affixing faces to the striking surfaces.

The problem emerged when I tried to drill a hole on the cylinder surface for a handle.  It was hard.  I mean really, really hard.  Too hard for any drilling device I had, up to and including carbide and cobalt drill bits.  The rounded surface was so hard I could not even make a dimple with a machine punch and in fact the tip of the punch broke off when I tried.  I have never encountered something this hard, and scratch my head about the  manner of hardening this surface.  It was probably case hardened on a precision rolling mill, but what was its purpose?  I have no idea, but for several years its purpose was mainly to hold down the sill of one of the studio windows.  Occasionally it would be used as a dolly or backing anvil, but nothing more.

Recently, while in the tool-making “zone,” I decided to give up on the idea of creating a typical mallet configuration from the cylinder and exploit its differing hardness to create a joinery/carving mallet.  This began with drilling a hole in the flat face.

To match this I turned a white oak handle from some of my scraps, and drilled that as well.   The finish on the handle was Blend 31 wax melted into the surface while turning on the lathe, then burnished with a piece of coarse linen.  I like both the look and the feel of the handle, beautifully smooth but with just a hint of tack for gripping.

Inserting a threaded rod dowel with epoxy to assemble the two pieces completed the assembly process.   I didn’t clamp the assembly and let the hydraulic vacuum of the thick epoxy hold everything steady while it hardened.

It is now an intriguing addition to my inventory of homemade mallets.  I note that of these mallets there is a huge range of shape and weight. The tapered cylinder mallet on the left, made thirty-five years ago, weighs in with a lignum vitae head of a half pound, plus the handle.  The tulipwood mallet on the right, made 25+ years ago, weighs in with a head of 3/4 pound.  This new one with the steel cylinder has a head weight of two pounds.  It just might be a beast.  Because of its comparative diminutive size I was thinking of keeping it in my traveling tool kit.  With that weight I am reconsidering that decision as it is almost two full pounds more than the lignum vitae one

I will probably wrap the new steel cylinder with leather to diminish any strike damage inflicted onto anything I whack with it.

Stay tuned.