Heirloom persuader dead-blow mallet

Whether coaxing together the closely fitted dovetails of a drawer, finger joints of a box, or mortise-and-tenon joints of a cabinet door, you'll appreciate the concentrated no-rebound striking power of this handsome mallet.

  • Why you need a dead-blow mallet

    The head of this mallet contains loose lead shot for controlled impact without bounce-back. As the mallet strikes the work surface, the shot moves forward immediately behind the blow to dampen the rebound and solidly transmit the force. It's the ideal tool for assembling two tightly fitting workpieces. And because it puts more weight behind a short swing, a dead-blow mallet works great in close quarters. To see more hand tools in this series, go to woodmagazine.com/handtools.

    Whether coaxing together the closely fitted dovetails of a drawer, finger joints of a box, or mortise-and-tenon joints of a cabinet door, you'll appreciate the concentrated no-rebound striking power of this handsome mallet. Filled with about 5 ounces of loose lead shot and faced with thick leather pads, it packs a wallop without leaving a mark. You can make the mallet from shop scraps, or see Sources, on the Bill of Material, for the necessary supplies

    As a convenience to allow you to view this free woodworking plan before downloading it, we offer a page-by-page review. If you like the plan, you'll find a Free Downloadable Plan link on the last page of the plan. The downloadable plan will have larger, easier to view illustrations than the online preview. Thanks for viewing, and enjoy the build.

  • Make a laminated handle

    1. For the handle sides (A), cut two 3/8 x 1 1/4 x10" morado blanks. (For an explanation of our wood choices, see the sidebar far right.) Then for the handle core (B), head cap and base (C), faces (D), and filler (E) cut one 1/2 x 3 x 12" ash blank. From this blank, cut a 1 1/4 x 8 5/8" piece for the core and set the rest aside. Glue and clamp the core between the sides, keeping the edges and one end flush.

    2. Joint one edge of the handle (A/B) flush and square to the face and rip it to 1 5/32" wide. Then joint 1/32" from the sawn edge for a finished width of 1 1/8". Make a copy of the handle pattern, found on the PDF download drawing, and adhere it to the handle with spray adhesive, where shown on Drawing 1. Install a 3/4" dado blade in your tablesaw and cut 1 1/2" rabbets 1/8" deep, where shown on the pattern. Now with the pattern facing up, bandsaw and sand the handle to shape.

    3. Chuck a 3/8" round-over bit into your table-mounted router, attach an auxiliary extension to the miter gauge, and finish rounding the end of the handle, as shown in Photo A. Then move the router-table fence away from the bit and rout the handle edges where shown on the pattern, as shown in Photos B and C in the next slide.

  • Safe freehand routing begins with a starter pin or point

    When the shape of a part, such as the mallet handle, prevents you from supporting it with the router-table fence while routing, you depend on the bit pilot bearing to guide the piece. But you'll have to rout away some material before the part contacts the bearing, and the bit can suddenly grab and pull the part from your grasp. To prevent this, some router-table inserts are equipped with starter pins, or you can simply form a point on a piece of stock and clamp it to the router table, as shown. Either way, before engaging the bit, place the part firmly against the pin or point, as shown in Photo B. Then pivot the part on the starter pin or point and ease it into the bit until it contacts the pilot bearing, as shown in Photo C. Now rout along the part length.

  • Form the head parts

    1. Retrieve the 1/2"-thick ash and cut a 3/4 x 9" blank for the cap and base (C). Make a copy of the two cap and base patterns on the insert, adhere them to the blank with spray adhesive, and form the end rabbets, as shown in Photo D. Then flip the blank over and cut the dadoes in the tops of the parts. Now cut the parts from the waste and bandsaw and sand the curved edges. For filling the head with lead shot after the mallet is assembled, drill a 5/16" hole in the cap, centered in the dado, where shown on Drawing 2.

    2. For the faces (D) and filler (E), cut three 1/2 x1 1/8" pieces from the 1/2"-thick ash.

    3. For the cheeks (F), plane a 3/4 x 1 1/2 x 12" morado blank to 5/8" thick. Lay out the 4"-long cheeks at each end of the blank and the centered 1 1/8" dadoes 1/4" deep, where shown on Drawing 2. Chuck a 1/4" round-over bit in your table-mounted router and rout the outside edges of the blank. Now cut the dadoes, check the fit of the handle, and then crosscut the parts from the blank.

  • Assemble and apply finish

    1. Glue and clamp the head parts to the handle, as shown in Photos E, F, and G. With the glue dry, file and sand a 1/16" dome on the faces of the mallet head, where shown on Drawing 3.

    2. With the mallet upright, use a funnel to fill the head with .095"-diameter (#7 1/2) lead shot. While filling the head, tap the side to settle the shot so you can pour in as much as possible. Then glue the filler (E) in place, where shown on Drawing 2. Sand the filler to match the curve of the cap (C).

    3. Cut two 2 x 2" pieces of 3/16"-thick leather for face pads. Sand the rough back of the leather with 80-grit sandpaper, getting it as smooth as possible. Then use ordinary woodworking glue to adhere the pads to the slightly domed mallet faces, as shown in the Shop Tip, next slide.

    4. With the glue dry, use a utility knife to trim the leather flush with the mallet head. Then finish-sand the mallet, smoothing the edges of the leather pads as you sand. Apply a clear finish to the mallet, including the edges and faces of the leather pads. (We applied three coats of Minwax Antique Oil Finish.) Now show off the newest addition to your fine tool collection to your friends

  • Foam pads ensure a good bond on slightly curved surfaces

    To apply even pressure when gluing the leather pads to the domed mallet faces, line your bench vise jaws with rigid-foam insulation. Spread glue on the mallet faces and apply the oversize leather pads. Position the mallet and pads between the foam. Then tighten the vise, slightly crushing the foam to make it conform to the domed surfaces.

  • Foam pads ensure a good bond on slightly curved surfaces

    Tropical hardwoods, because of their stability and density, have been favored by tool makers for generations. Rosewood, long a favorite, meets these utilitarian requirements with the added advantage of unsurpassed beauty. But with genuine rosewood logged nearly to extinction, hardwood dealers substitute other look-alike tropical species. For outside parts of this mallet we used morado, sometimes called Bolivian rosewood.

    For the core of the handle and head we chose ash. Baseball bats and hammer handles traditionally utilize wood species such as hickory and ash, known for their resilience. A handle as short as this one doesn't require much resilience, but the ash contrasts nicely with the morado for a pleasing appearance that matches other tools in the Collector's Series. If you wish, you can construct your mallet from any contrasting hardwood scraps.

    Meredith Corporation 2002, 2010

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