Chisel Mallet Angles Made Easy

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Blog entry by swirt posted 03-30-2011 06:31 PM 13479 reads 64 times favorited 28 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’ve seen several posts here on LumberJocks related to someone making a mallet for chiseling (not the round ones for carving) and wanting to know what the best angle is to put on the head. I put together a complete mallet making post that includes an angle method recommended by a few old Timber Framing Books as well as some woodworking magazines.

Here is the complete source of this post which includes making the mallet from start to finish, and in case you are only interested in the angle method, you can jump to it here. Otherwise the condensed version is below:

A mallet with a squared head like this one makes it difficult to hit a chisel without either deflecting the chisel off its line, or contorting the wrist and ending up with extra torque that fatigues the wrist more than necessary.

In ideal use, a mallet is swung such that either the woodworker’s elbow pivots in heaving driving, or the wrist pivots for light taps. Either way the mallet swings in an arc so it is essentially traveling in a circular path. When the head strikes the chisel handle, the closer the face is to striking the handle head-on, the better.

If the handle is perpendicular to the face of the mallet at impact, it is less likely to deflect and the amount of twisting force on the mallet is reduced, making for less abuse to the hand and wrist.

The ideal angle is a combination of how you swing, how long your arm is, how you grip the mallet and how long the mallet is. It would be difficult to measure them all.

They all influence the angle that would be needed.

Fortunately, with a bit of string, and a couple of pieces of tape, you can quickly transfer the best angle to your mallet. Keep in mind this is specific to YOU and the MALLET.

1) Tape one end of the string to the far corner of the top of your mallet head.

2) Hold the Mallet as you would normally swing it. (take a few practice swings to make sure)

3) Determine the pivot point for how you swing your mallet. (in the photo above, the pivot point is my elbow) and tape

4) Pull the string tight and tape it to the pivot point.

5) While you are still holding the mallet as though you are swinging it, have someone mark with a pencil where the string crosses the lower edge of the mallet head.

6) Use a bevel gauge to transfer it to the other face of the mallet

7) Cut the faces to that angle.

It will seem too steep when you look at it, but when you use it, it will all make sense.

-- Galootish log blog,

28 comments so far

View Roger's profile


21032 posts in 3727 days

#1 posted 03-30-2011 06:52 PM

it works fer me…. very nice, very simple

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View jpwatson's profile


28 posts in 3959 days

#2 posted 03-30-2011 07:02 PM

Thanks for condensing it to the bare essentials!

-- Ones' greatest strength is most often their greatest weakness.

View Bertha's profile


13588 posts in 3617 days

#3 posted 03-30-2011 07:31 PM

Excellent! I actually did something similar but the string didn’t occur to me!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View mafe's profile


12709 posts in 4013 days

#4 posted 03-30-2011 09:40 PM

Swirt you rock!
I love the post, good thinking, good info, and good illustration.
You are a wonderful thinker.
Is it you on the picture?
Best thoughts my friend,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Brit's profile


8214 posts in 3766 days

#5 posted 03-30-2011 10:15 PM

Great post Swirt. Very clear instruction. I’ve aded it to my favourites and will be returning to make one at some point.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View swirt's profile


5662 posts in 3895 days

#6 posted 03-30-2011 10:30 PM

Glad you are all finding the info helpful.

Mafe, if I am doing everything right, then yes the grey haired guy in the photo is me. If the person in the photo is doing something wrong, then that guy is my stunt double. ;)

-- Galootish log blog,

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 3763 days

#7 posted 03-31-2011 01:34 AM

Swirt great post. Ergonomics in woodworking. I have made two mallets and took my usual uneducated guess at the angle. Now I know they are to steep. I see you have a wood rasping shop elf on the other post. Looks like a fine woodworker in the making ;)

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View bigike's profile


4057 posts in 4212 days

#8 posted 03-31-2011 02:29 AM

neat I would have never known this. thanks for the post.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://[email protected]

View swirt's profile


5662 posts in 3895 days

#9 posted 03-31-2011 04:46 AM

Hah Dave, My wood rasping shop elf is really attracted to that rasp for some reason. I have others with nice comfy handles, but he likes the 4-in-1 rasp best for some reason. He jumps to it whenever there is rasping that needs doing.

-- Galootish log blog,

View mafe's profile


12709 posts in 4013 days

#10 posted 03-31-2011 03:41 PM

So cool to get a face on you my friend.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4039 days

#11 posted 03-31-2011 06:10 PM

thank´s Steve for clearing this up for me
I did know about the angle had to be set with the pivot point at the elbow
do to what is said on different site´s
but allso know from my own experience with hammers over the years that
there allso is a pivotpoint at the wrist and some blogs go for that when they say
what angle your mallethead has to made with
so what now …. LOL …... do I make one with two angle´s or two mallet´s

take care

View swirt's profile


5662 posts in 3895 days

#12 posted 03-31-2011 08:11 PM

Hi Dennis,
Essentially, yes. You need two mallets. One for chopping, one for carving and more delicate work. The same stringing process works, you just tape the end of the string to the pivot point near your wrist instead of your elbow.

I toyed with the idea of having a mallet with 4 striking faces. The two on the front and back would be for chopping and then the faces on the side would be for carving. It made my brain hurt trying to imagine it, so I decided to ease my pain and not complicate life. ;) The weight and handle length for each task tend to be different too so it makes sense to keep the tasks separate.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4039 days

#13 posted 03-31-2011 09:16 PM

I know I just had to tease you a little with that question … lol
I have a round one for now and I do need to make a square one for the heavyer work
a ruond realy don´t like to beat on flat work its being bruced the same way that the flat peice
gets dent´s when you are trying to knock piece´s together or take them apart

I have a very old smaller square headed but that one has been abused too much hitting
the wrong things with it one day when I have the other tools behind me I will try to see
how long in to the wood its destroyed by cutting slices of until I meet good wood
as it is now it just make dents all over :-(

take care

View mafe's profile


12709 posts in 4013 days

#14 posted 03-31-2011 10:52 PM

Just for info:In Denmark we have the tradition to use round mallets only.
So it was acually new for me when I some years ago saw a square English mallet some years ago.
Does that mean we hit better in Denmark? LOL.

Here the carpenters 2011 standard beginner tool chest and tools.

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 3864 days

#15 posted 03-31-2011 11:11 PM

A professional blog this one! Well done. A very scientific approach and very clever. It does look steep but it makes perfect sense. I will haul out the heavy duty beater and give this a shot. Thanks a lot Swirt. Now we can put a face to the name!

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

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