Canadian Woodworking


Author: Paul Ross
Published: February March 2007

This turned mallet uses purple heart for the handle and osage orange for the head.


  • Akfix

Traditionally, carver’s mallets were turned using lignum vitae, which is one of the hardest and heaviest of all woods. Lignum vitae is also used for bearings and bushings, often in an underwater application, because of its durability and natural lubricants. The source of lingnum vitae is the West Indies,

Central America and northern South America. Its name is Latin for “long life”, from which comes one of its common names, Tree of Life.

However, when designing this particular carver’s mallet, I decided to incorporate some other woods. I chose  purple heart for the handle and osage orange for the head. Both of these woods are very hard and, when used together, they create a wonderful contrast. Hence, in spite of this particular mallet’s simple style, it carries a touch of excitement with its colour.


Drill hole for handle

Jam plug

Taper piece

Parting ends

Size tenon

Turn transition from head to handle

Turn bead at end of handle

Finish head 

Finish handle

Begin with the Head

Mount a 3″ x 3″ x 5″ square piece of osage orange between centers. Use a 1¼” roughing out gouge, and remove the corners in a few back and forth passes. Do this with the flute of the gouge in an upward position, and the handle square to the wood. First feel the wood with the bevel, and then lift the gouge just until the tool starts to cut. Be careful because if you lift too much, you will scrape the wood instead of cutting it. So, to achieve a cutting action, it is very important to RUB the bevel. Once most of the corners, or resistance, have been removed, then turn the gouge on its side to produce a finer cut. Either side of the gouge can be used – remember that there are two sides to a gouge – so use them both!

Cut the Tenon

Now that the head has been brought to round, cut a tenon so that it can be held in a chuck. This facilitates drilling the hole that the handle will fit into. Cut the tenon with a ⅜” parting tool, using a set of calipers to size the tenon.

Drill a Hole for the Handle

Use a ¾” saw tooth bit, held in a Jacobs chuck in the tailstock, to drill the hole for the handle. Hold the body of wood in a stronghold chuck. Remember to only drill two thirds of the way through, as you do not want to hit the chuck with the drill bit. Make a jam plug, then reverse the head onto the plug, and drill the other third of the hole. Don’t force the head onto the jam plug – it just needs to be a little snug but not so tight as to split the wood. Remember also that the tailstock will be in place to hold the wood.

Turn the Head

With the head in place take a light cut, tapering it down slightly. Then part the ends. The parting tool is really only good at removing wood, not at making a superb cut. The skew, on the other hand, is not really that keen on removing a lot of wood at a time, but superior at making fine finishing cuts where no sanding is required.

Turn the Handle

• Put the head of the mallet aside now, and concentrate on the handle. For this I used a piece of 1″ x 1″ x 10″ purple heart. Mount it between centers, and turn to a cylinder. To fit the handle to the head turn it exactly ¾” diameter at the far end of the spindle, occasionally checking until the fit is perfect. Then 5″ along the piece make another part at a ¾” diameter. Remove the bulk in the middle of these two parts, and then plane with a skew to make an exact fit. Next, glue the handle into the head and allow it to dry.

• Cut the transition from the head to the handle with a ½” spindle gouge, ensuring that the gouge travels downhill always. Next, shape the handle so that it pleases your eye. Finally, turn a bead at the end. At this point I sanded and finished using Mylands friction polish.

Turn the Ends

Lastly, turn and finish the ends. To accomplish this, hold either end with the Stronghold chuck, using a set of rubber bungs off the jumbo jaws. At this point it is important that you do not take a very heavy cut, noting that about 98% of this cut is done with the tailstock in place. Cut both ends, then sand and finish.

And there you have your mallet. It is a simple, yet practical turning with a very pleasing look.

This mallet is just one of the many tools that we will be making in the coming months. The mallet, along with the hand plane (also featured in this issue) are wonderful additions to any shop.

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