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Tongue Drums #2: Mallets - more than you need to know!

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Blog entry by GnarlyErik posted 06-07-2021 03:26 AM 594 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: The soundboard/tongue top Part 2 of Tongue Drums series Part 3: Building Individual Tongue Drum Keys »

Tongue Drum Mallets

What I have learned about Tongue Drum mallets:

The softer the business end of the mallet head, the softer the sound;

The bigger the mallet head, the louder the sound – up to a point;

I’ve tried mallet heads made from ‘Crazy Balls’ with very good results.

I’ve made mallets using tennis balls filled with foam which seemed to work quite well, but are not as much fun to use. I’ve also made some from those filled tennis sized balls made for dogs and they’re not too bad, just clutzy;

I’ve made one pair of mallets using small hardwood toy balls which were too hard on the tongue drum, so I modified them by wrapping them in several layers of gaffers tape, which is then coated with a rubberized liquid coating which is normally used for insulating electrical wires. Each application ends up about 1 – 1.5mm thick, and I put on five or six applications, tape, then coat, tape, then another coating etc. Though these seem flexible when you squeeze them, they still produce quite a piercing sound when used to play – around 100 decibels by my meter, which immediately drives my wife away and hurts my own ears too.

“Crazy Balls” for the tips are cheap and widely available, either by ordering or from a toy store. When you order, you won’t know how firm they are until you receive them, but can tell by feel if you shop in person at a local store.

6/7/21 edit: I have now added a short 3-minute video to demonstrate the various sounds which different type mallets produce:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EONd2jEAKZM

The best handle length for me is between 14” & 16”, with the longer ones preferable.

Nowhere have I found information about how soft or firm any particular crazy ball is and have had to use a shotgun approach to order from several different sources. What I’ve received has been a variety in different firmness from medium soft to very firm. That’s OK because they are so cheap and come in bags of from 10 to 25, 50 and 100 or more;

The harder balls produced a very pronounced sharper, sometimes even discordant sound, while the softer ones can produce a lighter, feathery, and pleasant sound. My favorites so far have been the medium soft to firm in the 1-1/8” size;

(I’ll try to get around to doing a short video demonstrating the different sound characteristics of the various mallets.)

I’ve made a few handles from scratch, but find it quicker to simply buy hardwood dowels from the lumber store and haven’t broken any yet. I usually turn the handle ends on my lathe. Sometimes, I don’t put handle ends on them at all, but instead make a sailor’s ‘whipping’ using heavy twine, but the handle ends do feel better in my hands;

The smaller mallet heads are 1” diameter and the larger ones are 1-1/8” diameter, except for the tennis ball ones. 1/4” dowels work well for the 1” balls, and 5/16” for the larger ones;

I give all my mallets three coats of varnish, including the twine whipping if present;

I had trouble drilling the mallet heads for the dowels until I figured out a soft pine jig which works great. It’s simple and effective, and sized for both the 1” and 1-1/8” diameter balls. Pockets are drilled partially thru the jaws using Forster bits, and sized about 1/8” – 1/4” smaller than the ball diameter. This jig will hold any ball quite securely.

The balls are placed in the lower jaw of the jig with care to make sure they are placed with the seam (if there is one) is level with the lower jaw, then the upper jaw is screwed down with a single screw just firm enough to hold the ball securely without squeezing it too much to deform it. There are pilot holes in the upper jaws for the drill bit. A drill press is best of course, but a handheld drill can be used if done with care. A drill stop should be used so the hole only penetrates about 3/4 of the way through the ball, and the hole should be the exact size of the dowel. The best results are by using a Forstner bit. If too small, the ball with split, and if too large the ball can come off. Using a very hot glue gun, the hole is filled about halfway, and the handle shoved in carefully with a twist. after the glue cools, any excess which has squeezed out can be trimmed away with a razor knife.

As you can see, I like to have several sets of mallets (about a dozen pair), and each pair is color-coded to match its mate to keep everything in order!

6/7/21 edit: I have added a short video to demonstrate the various sounds produced by different mallet types. You can view that hers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EONd2jEAKZM

-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"



3 comments so far

View robscastle's profile

robscastle

7945 posts in 3317 days


#1 posted 06-07-2021 05:18 AM

OK this will get any Hungarian fern cutters watching excited!... I just bought some new balls

I now even have blue set! haven’t had them for years now!

All set to drill 3/4 of the way into them in insert some 6m dowel sticks!

OK hardness testing ?....how do you determine it?

BTW I didn’t feel person in the shop at the local store to see how firm they were.

-- Regards Rob

View GnarlyErik's profile

GnarlyErik

357 posts in 3247 days


#2 posted 06-07-2021 01:03 PM

Rob, while I’m sure there are ‘Hardness’ testing devices, what we are really testing for is relative ‘elasticity, or firmness, and not exactly ‘hardness’. Not to wander into lascivious territory, but I simply squeeze the balls with my fingertips. It’s pretty easy to determine the relative firmness.

From your picture it looks like you’ve gotten yourself ‘medium’ firmness balls. Just about right I’d say.

Glad to see you’re excited about this!

Erik

-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"

View GnarlyErik's profile

GnarlyErik

357 posts in 3247 days


#3 posted 06-07-2021 10:48 PM



OK this will get any Hungarian fern cutters watching excited!... I just bought some new balls

I now even have blue set! haven t had them for years now!

All set to drill 3/4 of the way into them in insert some 6m dowel sticks!

OK hardness testing ?....how do you determine it?

I’ve posted a blog entry on mallets which should answer most of your questions Rob.

https://www.lumberjocks.com/GnarlyErik/blog/132577

BTW I didn t feel person in the shop at the local store to see how firm they were.

- robscastle


-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"

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