Dice Mallets #1: Get a handle on it

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Blog entry by EarlS posted 08-29-2018 12:15 AM 1598 reads 2 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Dice Mallets series Part 2: Heads Up »

For the 2018 Summer Mallet Swap I made a “dice” mallet which was well received. Since I wasn’t doing much this summer I decided to make a batch of mallets and write a blog detailing the process.

These are the original set. The heads were made from African Blackwood, with cherry pips, and accent strips of Bloodwood and Bubinga. One handle is Zircote and the other is Brown Ebony.

Since I didn’t expect to make more of these I didn’t keep the scribbles I used to “design” the original. I drew up a basic plan where the head is 5 1/4”x 1 7/8” and the exposed portion of the handle is 1 1/2” x 7”. The pips are 3/8” diameter, spaced 1/2” from the edges, and equally spaced elsewhere.

Wood selection came out of whatever I had in my wood inventory, and there is a little of everything, both exotic and domestic.

Let’s focus on the handle first:

Handle blanks needed to 1 1/2” square and 9 1/2” long so that I could use on jig to form the curves. Several of the handles had to be laminated with accent pieces to meet the 1 1/2” requirement. I also chose to laminate a couple of the handles with more elaborate accents. I had decent luck using the new clear Gorilla glue on the exotic woods for the mallet swap so I chose to continue to use it for these glue-ups.

Even with all of the clamps there were problems with the laminations. The main cause was wood moisture. Several of the exotic pieces were not been properly dried so they started shrinking, cracking, checking, warping, cupping, twisting, and everything you can think of. That continued after they were glued up. Consequently, some of the initial ideas looked a lot different once I finished “adjusting” things to deal with the wood moisture issues. Talking to others, including the folks at Bell Forest Products, that is one of the main issues to deal with when working with exotics. If you let things dry you can wind up with a really expensive piece of useless wood that is full of cracks, checks, and distortions that make it unusable. My eventual solution, was to wipe a thin coat of Zinnsear sealcoat wax free shellaq on all of the newly exposed faces.

Once the blanks were glued, sanded, and properly sized, I set up the Leigh Mortise and Tenon jig for 1/2×1 tenons. The nice thing about the Leigh jig is that the set up uses a center mark on the piece and the jig template does the rest of the work. Since all of the handles were the same size, one set up was all that was needed.

I used the dadao blade to trim off some of the excess material on the sides to speed things up on the M&T jig.

Each tenon was cut 2 1/8” long (which is the longest bit that can be used on the jig).

Yep – that driver handle is a nice bonus item from HokieKen (Thank you Sir!!!)

After the tenons were finished I left the M&T jig set up for the heads (mortises) and moved over to the router to work on the handle’s curves.

The curve was drawn using a French curve with the minimum width of 1” about 2/3 of the way from the bottom. A 1/2” rounded square knob forms the base of the handle. The template was cut out on the bandsaw and sanded smooth on a spindle sander. The 1 1/2” scrap piece allows the toggle clamps to be used to hold down the piece. A second piece of scrap provides the back stop for the handle. The scrap piece along to top provides a vertical stop for the tenon shoulder.

Both sides were marked and rough cut on the band saw before using a 3/4” pattern bit with the router jig to form the side curves.

A short piece to accommodate the tenon horizontally replaced the the vertical stop.

Some spacers were also required for the clamps.

Top view of handles with all 4 sides curved:

Side View:

After using a rasp, the random orbit sander, and some hand sanding the handles were complete. Along the way some of the accent pieces separated from the main piece. There were also tear out due to surprise grain changes and the type of wood (black palm was difficult to router)

The slot and holed for the expansion spacer finished the handle work. They still need to be finished before attaching the heads. The head portion will be the next post for this series

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

9 comments so far

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

6663 posts in 1556 days

#1 posted 08-29-2018 12:29 AM

You’ve got a regular mallet factory going there, Earl. Looking sharp, and thanks for the look at the mass production.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View WhattheChuck's profile


449 posts in 4534 days

#2 posted 08-29-2018 03:45 AM

Nice work as usual, Earl!

-- Chuck, Pullman, WA

View HokieKen's profile


16032 posts in 2112 days

#3 posted 08-29-2018 12:10 PM

Nicely done Earl :-)) I’m glad you decided to do this series. I’m looking forward to how you batch these puppies out!

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View pottz's profile


13851 posts in 1958 days

#4 posted 08-29-2018 01:35 PM

wow nice work earl looks like your in the mallet business buddy.great blog too.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

View James E McIntyre's profile

James E McIntyre

1031 posts in 2266 days

#5 posted 08-29-2018 08:55 PM

Those are some awesome Mallets. I noticed the elaborate router jig. I’ve made many tenons on the table saw. Could these handles be made this way? Thanks for sharing can’t wait to see you make the heads.
I under stand your problem with checking. I remember when I made my bench and bought 4×4” rough sawn timber. I squared it on my jointer and started making the tenons on the ends and noticed the checking started. I had to let them dry out for another nine months before starting again.

-- James E McIntyre

View EarlS's profile


4215 posts in 3322 days

#6 posted 08-29-2018 09:40 PM

James – I made one version of the mallet exactly like you described, by cutting the tenon on the table saw. It is the oak handle in the front left of the last picture with 2 cuts in it. The head was made by running the 2 halves of the head across a dado stack set up to match the tenon, then the halves were glued together. I’ll make a point of referring to what I did when I write up the process for the heads.

The Leigh M&T jig is great to have as long as the mortises and tenons you are making are part of their templates or can be made by mixing and matching templates and bits. If not, the trusty table saw and dado stack work just fine to make big tenons, and the mortises can be made on a mortising machine or set up with a homemade router jig, or any number of ways. It’s helpful to have more than one way to do something like this.

Now that I know I need to pay attention to the checking and moisture with exotics, I’m not having to deal with so many surprises.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View KelleyCrafts's profile


4405 posts in 1713 days

#7 posted 08-29-2018 09:58 PM

Not sure how I missed this post but glad I found it.

Those are looking fantastic Earl!!! Way to go man. I like the variety as well. It’s creative, uses up scraps, and they will all be pretty unique. Super cool!

-- Dave - - pen blanks - knife scales - turning tools

View htl's profile


5325 posts in 2133 days

#8 posted 08-30-2018 09:25 PM

Very interesting and nice work!!!

-- An Index Of My Model making Blogs

View James E McIntyre's profile

James E McIntyre

1031 posts in 2266 days

#9 posted 09-05-2018 05:34 PM

Earl thanks for the info. I see why your using the jig. It’s great for mass production.

-- James E McIntyre

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