Monday, September 3, 2012

Black Spruce Carving Mallet

One of the projects my students will be working on this year is making a carving mallet. We didn't need these last year when we made wooden spoons, but there will be some projects this year where a mallet to use with the gouges will come in handy.

This weekend I made a prototype from some black spruce harvested from the burn zone of the Miller's Reach fire. That was a huge fire back in 1996 that burned over 37,000 acres and around 400 buildings. The area, like a lot of this part of Alaska, is boggy, and the black spruce are dominant. I don't know if black spruce grows differently elsewhere, but up here they are very "Doctor Seuss" like:

They are extremely slow growing - this is a mature stand that escaped the fire. In the burnt areas they look like bare, black poles.

Here's the section I started with:

It was an off-cut from another project at our school and had been stripped with a power planer. "Oh the humanity!"

Here's what I meant by slow growing:

This one has 60 rings per inch! So at three inches in diameter, it's a 90 year old tree - yikes!

After cutting to length, I worked at the shavehorse to rough out the shape of the handle with a drawknife. Then I switched to the spokeshaves to smooth and refine. I should mention how handy the step cut in the end of the shavehorse was on this project. For creating the curve down from the head, I used the horse normally. For the flair at the bottom of the handle, I couldn't keep shaving in the same direction as it would be working against the grain. I could have reversed the spokeshave and pushed, but instead I removed the mallet from under the horse's head, put the top of the mallet head on my solar plexus and wedged the end of the handle on the step and shave down the curve with the grain - easy and quick!

Here it is with the handle mostly finished:

And here it is after the head was also cleaned up:

And oiled:

I'm not sure if the checking will be a problem or not. Even with the cracks, it feels solid. Time will tell...

And the final mallet with the tools used to make it:

The kit: drawknife, flat and round spokeshaves, and a curved scraper. Missing are the shavehorse, and the saw.


  1. I have some Apple wood I turned on my lathe for a carving mallet. It has some big checking in the head as well, as much as yours does.

    Not been a problem at all, I've seen no issues and the cracks have not gotten any bigger.

    You should be fine.

    1. Hey thanks Badger - I'm hoping mine takes after yours.

  2. I was interested to see you referring to the shavehorse. Any chance your wife could snap a pix of yours while you are using it? I'm curious about that and want to build one myself. There are many different designs on the web...not sure what would work best. I'm new to all of this :)

    1. Roz - I'll try to make that happen. You've probably already found that there are two basic types - the European "Dumbhead" style, like mine, and the English "Bodger" style. The main difference is the way the work is held. I've never used a bodger style, but they seem like they might have some advantages for certain kinds of work - particularly chair parts...

  3. Nice project,and a nice finished mallet. I'm sure the students will like to make this.

    1. Steve - They are working on them now and enjoying the challenge.


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