Mjolnir (part 3) or, A Lesson in Sticking With the Plan

As the title says, things didn’t go exactly as planned with the hammer the past couple days.  I tried my best but it just didn’t work out as I imagined.  Here’s what happened.  Best pull up a chair and get some popcorn.

It started after the handle was finally cut free from the excess wood.  I decided to put all the pieces together and see if I like the general shape and weight of the mallet.  Here’s what I came up with:

It felt almost exactly as heavy (using my superfine accurate 2-handed method of measuring  if not a little bit heavier than the rubber mallet I currently use (which is 16 oz.).  Since I’ve gotten good results with the rubber mallet (other than bounce-back) I decided I didn’t need to add weights to this, my first foray into the world of mallet building.

Satisfied with the weight, I began to shape it and scrape it (using a utility knife as a spokeshave since I don’t have one) file and sand it over the course of 2 or three hours throughout the day.  I even whittled on it some.  But I got a pretty good shape out of it and the pommel I’m really pleased with:

This shot was just before the last round of sanding, so much of that roughness is now smoothed out, but you can see what I’m talking about on the pommel.  I kind of like it and the detail was all carved with a utility knife and that bastard mill file I made a handle for.  Incidentally, the band aid there on my finger is from a sliver of hickory that tore my finger open pretty darn good.  I just barely avoided getting blood all over the bench and got a few small drops on the leg vise chop before I cleaned myself up.

One of the worst cuts I’ve ever inflicted on myself and I didn’t even touch the dadgum knife.  That hickory is something else to work with!  Once it’s tamed and shaped and sanded though, wow it is nice.

Here’s the part of the handle that will fit through the head: Anwyay, with the “hard part” over with (or so I thought) I moved on to getting the head ready.  All I figured I needed to do was to cut the middle layer of the head in two pieces at angles that match the handle as it pokes through, then glue everything together.

Well, I forgot 2 things after reading on how everyone else did it and watching videos.  (1) I don’t have a table saw and I used hand tools for cutting everything, so my cut lines are nowhere near perfect (I’m pretty good now about getting straight hand cut lines in pine and poplar but hickory is like cutting a rock so the blade wobbles…a bit.).  (2) I completely forgot about cutting slots for the wedges to, well, hold everything together.

On with the horror story and how I learned in the future to believe in myself.

On trying to piece everything together for another test fit I discovered just how wide the gap in the pieces was in that middle layer.  Where’s the smooth lines and solid look?


So in a moment of weakness I decided to start trying to shave off wood (by sanding and the utility knife) of the pieces cut from the middle in order to achieve a smoother fit.  Well, see aforementioned statement about the hardness of hickory.  It’s like a rock.  It shaves like a rock when you’re trying to do this in tight confines.  The handle, I could get some decent shavings going but I needed the entire length to get up to speed so to speak.  In short, I was spinning my wheels.

I tried the chisel and stopped after I made a nice gauge (luckily on the inside surface) and realized I had no control in this wood like I do in poplar and pine and even oak.  Maybe it was just that my chiseling skills aren’t what I thought they were.  Either way, the chisels were ruled out.  It was much to small a section of wood to be removed to by sawing.

The last option left (in my mind at the time as I looked at the forlorn pieces of wood on the bench) was to fit them as best I could, drill pilot holes and screw them together (with glue of course).  Then I could glue the other face piece on and it would be solid.

Out comes the Black and Decker woodwrecker and before you can say Bob’s your uncle, I three smoking holes drilled (yeah, the first one I took too long with the drill going too fast and actually heard some crackling as I pulled the bit out.  There was a lot of smoke and I was half expecting to see the thing erupt but it stopped.  I was a little more careful with the other two holes.  Man, hickory his hard (is there an echo in here?).

Then I drilled a couple small holes in the handle and cut down a pair of lines to the holes (which wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought) for the wedges that I forgot to plan for initially.

With the screws and glue in place and my pulse returning to normal I clamped things up and went about my normal life, going over the tangled web of events that led me to this position so that next time (oh yes, there will be a next time) I won’t get all fuddled up.

A little over an hour later I happened to pass the bench and admire my work:

Everything looked good.   As you can see in the picture, by the handle had really smoothed up nice—I am really proud of that!  And it looked like I was going to be able to salvage the head.  It was at the point that I was trying to figure out how in the wold to make wedges when my parents arrived from their 19 hour journey to reach us here in Wisconsin from Florida.  Dad had brought with him a Delta belt sander with grinding wheel thing that he was giving me that hadn’t been used in 8 years or so.

So we tested it out on the wedges.  We grabbed a piece of cutoff and flattened it out with the belt sander (can I just say, I love using hand tools, but holy crap, that belt sander is awwwwwesom!!!).  A little glue and I pounded the first one home in the hopes that wedging the handle would erase more nasty looking gaps in the handle/hammer fit.  It worked!  Finally things were looking up with this poor cursed hammer.

That’s when I realized that by pounding the first wedge in all the way, it closed the gap for the second wedge!  So now I had one wedge in place, one sealed wedge-gap and the original gap on the other side of wedge #2 that I was hoping wedge #2 would erase.  So, I just said the hell with it and glued and pounded wedge #2 in that gap.

Then I discovered the real mistake.  Not checking your glue up and clamps before the glue sets.  What was I thinking?  The hammer head has dried with an angle, so it’s not perpendicular to the handle.  Argh.  This thing has been a mess from the beginning.  Poor Mjolnir.

All is not apparently lost however.  Upon further review of the work, my dad pointed out that the angle that the head dried at seems to be perfect for the way I hold the hammer.  That is, instead of having to shape the sides of the hammer to match the angle needed to strike a chisel flat as I swing it, the hammer is already set at that angle.

I took it out of the nightmare of clamps I had it tangled in for the previous couple hours and checked it out—I didn’t hit anything because I wanted to give the glue at least 24 hours to cure first—and I think he’s right.   I’ll know more after I test it.  But it looks like this may work!

At least, for me, this was a tremendous learning experience.  I seriously thought about not posting any more on this project because, quite frankly, I was (note the was) pretty embarrassed by how my workflow progressed from confidence, to sloppiness, to panic, to more sloppiness, to blind dumbass luck.

Then I realized I haven’t seen stuff like this before on the internet—every hammer building tutorial or post I’ve seen has been flawless from start to finish.  So this post isn’t for all the Lumberjocks out there who have all the tools and experience they need—this will be laughing fodder for you and I encourage you to do so!  Stepping back from it, I think it’s pretty darn funny myself!

No, this post is really for the beginner woodwrecker like me, who muddles through projects  and makes mistakes but is starting to recognize and remember when not to make mistakes.  If I can help one person out there by airing my silliness, then the poor (maybe) Mjolnir (version 1…dun dun duhnnnnnnnn) will have been a complete success in my book, whether or not it explodes with the first strike of a chisel or it just punches a hole through my bench and calls down lightning from Thor….

So, where does that leave me today?  Here’s the hammer as it stands (or leans, thanks to the crooked head).  I’m pretty sure I can either correct the angle with sanding/shaping (that belt sander ought to do it) or be happy living with the correct angle glued into the poor thing.  Either way, it needs some more detail carving work (practice practice practice) and rounding of sharp edges, etc.   But it’s close to finished (as I care to take it I guess).

Yeah…you know it was fun to put this thing together when you see wrenches, chisels and extension cords under the project.  HAH!


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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One Response to Mjolnir (part 3) or, A Lesson in Sticking With the Plan

  1. David says:

    You have plenty of wood to get it straightened out. The real trick is to recover from the oopsies. Wood isn’t perfect nor are people. A little epoxy will fill any gaps to keep things from loosening up. Mix in a little fine sawdust and you won’t even notice.

    Until you have a spokeshave or drawknife, just grab the chisel blade in your hand and scrape away. Choke down and have the edge just sticking out of the bottom of your fist and use your little finger and side of your hand to hold it at a steady angle.

    It’s not a real workbench until it has been christened with a little blood. The spirits must be appeased.

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