[Carving Mallet] Will This Really Work?

So if you read the other post on the leg vice chop, you know I’ve got some plans for a pretty detailed relief carving as my “makers mark”.  To do this, I figure I’ll need to use a little more force than I can generate with just my hand on the chisel handle.  But I don’t have a proper carving mallet.

I like the solid wood ones out there, and people seem to make them a dime a dozen…but they all seem to have a lathe.  I don’t have one of those (sigh).  But I do have gumption and a stubborn streak to take things as far as possible with limited means just for sh*ts and giggles.  Armed with that cussedness, I decided to tackle this little project today.  Or at least start it.

I stumbled on Sleepydog’s Shop, a woodworking blog I had never heard of, a few nights ago and thought the idea pure genius.  In a nutshell, it’s simple: get a dowel of appropriate size and a tractor bushing and pound ’em together, add a little glue/wedge, etc., and you’re done.  As Joe from Sleepydog states, the bushing is steel, not brass, so I wouldn’t want to hit metal or anything, but just gentle tapping on small carving chisels should be okay.

Sounds great!  And his total cost was under $5.  That is right up my alley.  As an experiment, I plan to go to the Borg and get a 1-1/2″ copper coupler (I think they’re in the neighborhood of about $6) and try it with that as well.  I have only ever seen brass or wood or some kind of synthetic material as a head on a carving mallet.  Why not copper?  I can’t seem to find an answer anywhere, so I decided I’m going to do it and find out for myself.  If it turns the wood handles of my chisels green, I’ll know the answer, and put it out there for other noobs like me in the future.

I went to my local toy—I mean Woodcraft—store the other day and picked up a sharpening stone and a little 1.5″x 1.5″x 16″ block of cherry for $4.  I have never worked with—let alone bought—cherry and the price was right, the size was pretty close to what I needed so I went for it.  Then I stopped by the local Tractor Supply store, walked back to the farm section and immediately found the bushing Joe wrote about.  $2.99.  So for a total of $7 plus tax I had my future carving mallet!  Not too shabby:

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First task was to narrow down the square profile to more like a dowel.  I had read many places online where people are using router tables and roundover bits to make dowels from square or rectangular stock.  Well, the biggest bit I had was only 1/2″ but I went for it anyway.  A lot of dust later and some sweet smelling burned spots (hah!) and I had a roughed out handle.

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I planned out the block to be cut in half when I was down rounding to make a second handle for the copper test (or maybe something else if the steel bushing works as well as Joe says).

After clamping it to the bench, I simply pulled out the chisels and mallet and started to round off the shaft even more.  I have to say, as a rookie in the whole hardwoods world (I have worked with maple, hickory, oak, and walnut, and that is it) I love love love cherry.  It split like oak along the grain, making short work of narrowing down the shaft to receive the bushing.  It is dense, fine grained and cuts smooth (like walnut) and looks and feels pretty (like walnut and maple).  My razor saw went through it like butter to make a stop cut for the head-shaft.  It’s not nearly as dense as hickory, or even maple or oak, but from what I’ve seen of it, I like it.  A lot.

Anyway, here’s what it looked like after maybe—maybe!—5 minutes of tapping away with the mallet and chisel:

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I then drilled a hole through the head-shaft and cut a line down to it with the razor saw…oh man, that is some sweet wood to cut.  I love it.  Trying to contain my growing excitement over shaping the handle (the next task) I put the bushing on the shaft and was able to use just my hands (and two screwdrivers at the end) and slide it home.  The kerf I cut for a wedge compressed just enough to allow me to slide the bushing on.

Sweeeeet!

This is the first time a project has come together so well (so early)!

Then it was just a matter of slicing a nice piece of maple and make a wedge.  I propped it up against a 2×4 and used the 1″ chisel to shave my already thin slice to the razor-thin proportions I needed to fit in the kerf (using the razor saw probably wasn’t the best idea, now that I think about it…it leaves such a fine, thin kerf, it’s a thing a beauty, but man, a bigger slot would have made things easier!).  Dab a little glue and tap it home!

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Except, the mallet I used to “tap” it is Kroktskaft and she’s a big girl.  I don’t know why I think it’s a she…but…it seems to fit.  Anyway, a few Thor-like “taps” and the wedge was seated securely…but a little crooked.  Oops.  Oh well, when the glue dries, I’ll trim it off and you won’t know…except…you will know because I just told you.  Poop.

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Well, it had to dry at this point, so I started to hone up the chisels and get to work on the leg vice chop.  See that post for the rest of today’s activities.

I love cherry!  I think it may be my new favorite wood.  We’ll see how well I can finish it when this all said and done, but the little bit I sliced off with the carving (utility—ahem) knife gives me hope for a nice looking handle when I’m done.  Much easier than the hickory handle of Kroktskaft that had to be burned to shape on the belt sander of justice.  Time will tell.

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About Marcus Richardson

Marcus attended the University of Delaware and later graduated from law school at the age of 26. Since then, he has at times been employed (or not) as: a stock boy, a cashier, a department manager at a home furnishing store, an assistant manager at and arts and crafts store, an unemployed handyman, husband, cook, groundskeeper, spider killer extraordinaire, stay at home dad, and a writer.
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