Build a Better Joiner’s Mallet: Domed Head Provides Forgiving Strike Surface

how to make a better joiners mallet

One of the most frequently used tools in my shop is a joiner’s mallet.  I use one for finesse work such as tapping chisels and carving tools, as well as more blunt force actions like banging a carcase together or forcing a panel flat during glue-up.  I have made a half dozen or so joiner’s mallets over the years, each time attempting to improve upon my previous attempt, and also striving to achieve the “perfect mallet”.  I won’t say that this one is perfect, as I reserve the right to continue the evolution of the design, but for now I am quite pleased with this design and I find that it works extremely well for a variety of tasks.

The joinery on this project involves a semi-traditional wedged tenon joint, with a slight modification that makes the mortise work much simpler.  This is a non-intimidating way to explore a useful joint.

Mallet head is a “wood sandwich”

exploded head

The head is glued up from four pieces of wood.  The two outside pieces are cut to the full height and length of the mallet head.  The two center pieces leave the center open to form a tapered mortise, allowing the handle to be locked into position.  This is an easy way to construct a mortise and tenon joint that doesn’t require a super thick piece of wood, and allows the joint to be constructed without the heavy chisel work of traditional mortise and tenon joinery.

Cut outside faces

joiners mallet - cut the middle pieces

Cut the left and right faces first, each to a size of  ¾” x 3” x 7”.

Cut the middle pieces

Each piece will be ¾” x 3” x 3”, with one end of each piece cut at a 2 degree angle.  To achieve this safely, start with a board that is at least ¾” x 3” x 14”.  Set your miter saw (or miter gauge on a table saw) to a 2-degree angle and cut each end of the board.  Return the saw to 90-degrees, set a stop block, and cut a 3” length off each end of board.  When using a stop block in this way, on the offcut side of the blade, be sure to allow the blade to come to a complete stop before lifting the saw.

Glue up the mallet head

glue up the mallet head

Apply glue to all mating surfaces and clamp the mallet head together.  Position the middle boards to create the tapered mortise.  The angle is subtle, so be sure you’re positioning the boards correctly.

I found it easier to clamp the glue-up to my work bench surface as it helped to stabilize the pieces and avoid a lot of sliding around.  Use a screw driver and damp rag to clean glue out of the mortise that is created in the mallet head.  This area will need to be free of obstruction so that the handle can be easily inserted later.

Flush joints on mallet head

joiners mallet - flush jointsScrape any remaining glue with a paint scraper (here’s a neat video that shows how to tune a paint scraper) and flush the surfaces using a hand plane or belt sander.

Angle cut one end of mallet head

joiners mallet - angle cut one endWith the blade angled 2-degrees left of 90-degrees and the small side of the tapered mortise facing you, trim one end of mallet head to a 2-degree angle.

Begin shaping the dome on other end

joiners mallet - begin shaping dome

On the other end of the mallet head, use a band saw to cut 45-degree angles on each of the four edges, starting 5/8” from each side of each edge.

Round edges of dome

joiners mallet - round edges of dome

Using a stationary or hand held belt sander, carefully work to smooth over all corners of the dome head, leaving a smooth hemispherical surface.

Chamfer all remaining corners on the mallet head

joiners mallet - chamfer all remaining corners

Use a block plane to put a 1/8” chamfer on all remaining corners of the head.

Now, let’s move to the handle

Start with a handle blank that is 1-1/2” x 1-1/2” x 14”.  If you only have ¾” stock available, simply glue two pieces together to form the handle blank.

Tenon time

The next steps will guide you through the process of building a tenon that will slip into the mortise that you created in the mallet head, and be locked into place by two wedges.

Establish a shoulder line

joiners mallet - establish a shoulder line

Use the bandsaw to establish a clean shoulder line for your tenon, locating these cuts 3-1/4” from the end of the handle blank.  Use the mallet head itself as a guide to draw this line, leaving ¼” to protrude through the mallet head.  Placing the end of the handle blank against the bandsaw fence, cut ¼” into each side of the handle blank.  You will need to deepen these cuts later, but it is important to establish a clean shoulder line now so that the handle seats cleanly on the mallet head.

Remove material from each side to achieve a good fit

joiners mallet - remove material

You will need to remove ¼” from each cheek to achieve the 1” tenon width, but start by removing slightly less, and sneak up on it with progressive cuts to achieve a perfect fit.  A sharp bandsaw blade can handle this task, or alternatively you can use a shoulder plane here as well, removing material evenly from each cheek of the tenon.   Once you have the fit tuned for the tenon’s width, perform the same tasks to fit to the ¾” thickness. Test the fit by inserting the tenon into the small end of the tapered mortise.

Cut slots in tenon

joiners mallet - cut slots in tenon

Using a bandsaw, cut a two1/8” wide slots through the ¾” thickness of the tenon, each positioned roughly 3/16” from its side of the tenon.  Do not cut the slot all the way to the tenon’s shoulder, but rather leave ¼” of continuous wood remaining at the base of the tenon.

Shape the handle

joiners mallet - shape the handleMake a curved cut on each of the handle’s four sides to make it a comfortable fit in your hand.  Leave the bottom of the handle at the full thickness so that it serves to keep the mallet from slipping out of your hand as you swing it.  Smooth over all sharp edges of the handle using a belt and/or random orbital sander.

Cut wedge angle

joiners mallet - cut wedge angleI suggest using a contrasting wood for the wedges that you will use to lock in your tenon because the contrast looks interesting and makes the joint look more precise and complicated than it really is.  In this project I used maple wedges with an oak tenon, which brings reasonable contrast.  Start with a block of wood that is at least ¾” x 4” x 4”.  Set up your bandsaw by tilting the table to 2 degrees.  Position the fence so that the wedge piece will be roughly 1/8” at its thinnest part (wedge is positioned to the left of blade in the picture, and the 1/8” portion is at the bottom).

Rip wedge to width

joiners mallet - rip wedge to widthSet up bandsaw to rip strips the same width as the thickness of your tenon, or ¾” if you are using the same size stock as I have used here.  Rip two wedges from your blank.  You should have enough material to rip another two or three wedges for another mallet, and perhaps a spare wedge.

Assembly time

joiners mallet - assembly timeApply glue liberally to all surfaces of the tenon.  Slide the tenon through the mallet head.  Apply glue to each surface of each wedge, and tap them evenly into the slots that you cut into the tenon.  With alternating taps, ensure that the wedges are inserted to approximately equal depths.  It’s important that you don’t drive one tenon all the way home before inserting the other tenon, as it might be difficult to drive the second one home.  Let the assembly sit for a bit while the glue sets up.

Cut the handle flush

joiners mallet - cut the handle flushUsing a sharp hand saw cut the tenon and wedges flush with the top of the mallet head.  Sand any blemishes.

Finish

joiners mallet - apply finishI suggest finishing these mallets with a penetrating oil such as tung or boiled linseed oil, as these finishes will be absorbed into the wood and provide modest protection without building up at the surface and being prone to scratching.

Next comes the fun part; use it!

Discussion
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27 Responses to “Build a Better Joiner’s Mallet: Domed Head Provides Forgiving Strike Surface”
    • WWGOA Team

      Hi Sean, thank you for your question. Any close grained hardwood is a good choice for a mallet. Examples would be walnut, maple, cherry, hickory.

      Reply
      • Geoff

        Why would the woods need to be closed grain? Does this mean white oak is not a good choice?

        Reply
        • WWGOA Team

          Hi, Geoff!

          Hard, closed grain woods make ideal mallets because they present a great strike surface that is less prone to splintering. White oak, although not closed grain, would also work well for this project. In fact, the mallet that was pictured in this story is made of quartersawn white oak, and is holding up extremely well.

          Reply
      • Sam

        Just built and finished. Thanks for the plan. Now to build a raised panel door so I can use it to set my joints!!

        Reply
  1. redbearon

    Just made this today with some scrap maple, and it went together perfectly. Thanks for the article and the fun!

    Reply
    • Paul Mayer

      Hi Redbearon, thanks for the comment and congrats on successfully building this project!

      Reply
  2. Mark

    Thanks so much for the tutorial. I am definitely going to build one of these. But I have a question about the mallet head: Why not reverse the direction of the grain from what you have here so that the striking surface is long grain instead of end grain? Do you see any downsides to this? Wouldn’t it reduce the chance of splitting the striking surface?

    Reply
    • WWGOA Team

      Hi, Mark!

      I’ve never had a problem with splitting the mallet head using the grain orientation that I have proposed in the article, but I don’t see any problem with the approach that you describe. In general my feeling is that end grain is more robust and better suited to sustain the blunt force of repeated blows, but I think you will be fine either way. When I compare the mallet that I made for this article with the traditional carvers mallet that I made where the strike surface has grain oriented as you describe, the carvers mallet is much more dented up. Neither mallet has ever split

      Reply
  3. Ken Fowler

    Thank you for the article. I’ve been wanting to make one for some time. But felt like I needed a long chesel to make the ones I have seen. I do believe the end grain is the best way to accomplish the goal on the head. Would you make a reverse bevele ( 2 deg.) for the no bevel end of the head?

    Reply
    • WWGOA Team

      Yes, I suggest a 2 degree angle cut on the non-domed end. This makes it a more natural striking angle. The angle would be oriented so that it tilts downward when the mallet is positioned vertically.

      Reply
  4. Richard Tatham

    I noticed you didn’t use any weights in the head. Most of the mallets I have seen have weights. Why?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Richard. When I wrote this article I built 4 different prototypes. I did drill out the middle portion of the head and put lead shot into a couple of them, but I found the additional weight unnecessary for my purposes, and made the mallet a bit unwieldy for regular use. It’s easy enough to drill out the center and add lead, sand or large washers to increase the weight if you’d prefer. The domed head is the unique attribute that really sets this mallet apart. I find that I use the domed side when striking objects that are larger than the mallet itself, and the flat side when striking objects that are smaller. This mallet is one of the most frequently used tools in my shop.

      Reply
  5. Kyle

    Would there be an advantages or disadvantages to making the handle and the center potion of the wood sandwich as one piece?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Michael. Yes, you may print these instructions. If you have any further questions, please contact us at 1-855-253-0822.

      Reply
  6. Torus

    I have a question about 2% cut of the middle pieces. To match one side of the mallet (also 2%) should we cut one middle piece 2% on both sides? I feel like I missing something here…

    Reply
    • JOHN

      The 2 degree cuts on the inside of the center pieces form a tapered mortise. When the handle is put in and wedges are driven in, that creates a joint that tightens when the head tries to move away from the handle when you strike something with the mallet. Made one this weekend out of maple. I rounded my handle a little more to fit my hand. The weight feels good.

      Reply
  7. Steve

    I’ve been looking to build one of these mallets for a while now. I have always used a rawhide mallet in the past for “lighter” work, but I think this design will fit the bill better overall. For “heavier” work, I use a deadblow hammer. Unlike most that are made from hard plastic, the head on mine is rubber on one side and metal on the other. I am really interested in seeing how the domed side of the head will work. I understand the physics behind, so I’m looking forward to getting this project started!

    Reply
  8. Keveeen

    I am looking around the garage, what I have for scrap is what I will use. Just so happens we have alot of pine fencing slats, that actually might work.

    Thoughts on this idea?
    If anything I wasted time and got plenty of practice making the basic cuts and assembling them.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Generally pine is too soft and light for a joiners mallet. It would be good for practice however.

      Reply
  9. Ethan

    I’m trying to expand it to a 4 foot handle getting the right head length is the promblems

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Ethan,

      I have scaled the drawing so that the handle is four feet long, and the dimensions are shown in the diagram we will email to you.

      Thanks,
      Paul WWOGOA Video Membership

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first year membership.
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      Reply