The Mallet and Beetle

beetle_1859267. A mallet should be made of some very hard wood, and, if it be not made of a knot, the ends of it should be banded, like the beetle, to keep it from splitting. That part of a tree, if it be tough wood, which grows just above the surface of the ground, what is called the crook, will make the very best mallets, which will require no hooping. I have a mallet which was made of the crook of a part of a white ash stump, which has been the only mallet in use, for framing all my buildings, and doing all my shop work, for sixteen years, and it is not half worn out, as yet.

A mallet should be turned out true, with the ends convex, or rounding, not less than half an inch from edge to edge. The handle should be put in true, so that the faces will be parallel with the handle, as shown in the fig. 104. Let it be well oiled to prevent its cracking. Never allow the faces of the mallet to be bruised, and dented on iron bolts and such like, but keep it smooth for pounding on chisel handles only. A tough piece of apple wood will make about as good a mallet as almost any other kind of wood. But if it is made of a round piece of wood, on account of its great liability to check, it should be treated as recommended for


268. Figure 104 represents a farmer’s beetle made in a workmanlike manner. Beetles should always be turned true, and the handle turned of an oval form (see Sledge Hammer), and put in very true, so that a line cutting the center of the handle will be exactly parallel with lines continued square across the ends or faces of the beetle, as shown by the dotted lines figure 104. The beetle should hang as nearly like the sledge hammer as possible, and the reader can refer to that paragraph for the information which seems to be lacking in this place.

269. Beetles should be made of very firm tough wood, such as the butt end of a small locust, iron wood or apple wood. If a beetle is to be made of a round stick, which has the heart of the tree in the center, when the timber is green a lot of beetles should be sawed off, about eight or nine inches long, in late autumn, and an inch and a half hole bored, lengthwise, through the center of the sticks, and they should be allowed to season during the winter, not in a stove room, lest they check badly, but under shelter. The object of the hole in the center is to allow the timber to settle together without cracking or checking. When they are made of split pieces of wood it will not be necessary to bore them, as they will not check like a stick with the heart in it. (See Seasoning Timber.)

When they are seasoned thoroughly turn out a tough stick, just large enough to drive through the beetle, and turn out the beetle like the figure, with a shoulder two inches from each end, leaving the ends just large enough to receive the rings when they are red hot. (See Expansive Force.) By heating the rings before putting them on, and driving them down to the shoulder while hot, and then by cooling them quickly, before they have time to burn the beetle but little, they will, by contracting, become so tight that they will remain tight until the beetle is worn out, without wedging.

Should they become loose, let them be wedged well with wedges of hard, tough timber. Many men will wedge such things with wedges of soft timber, but every good mechanic, who knows anything about driving wedges, will tell you that anything can be wedged very much tighter with hard wood wedges than with wedges of soft wood. Use an inch framing chisel for making checks in the ends of a beetle for the wedges, and make the wedges a sixteenth of an inch wider than the chisel, and then they will not work out.

Some men prefer to have a beetle made without any shoulder for the rings, but my experience teaches me that a beetle will wear longer, and the rings remain true longer, when it is made with shoulders than when it is made of a true taper without shoulders for the rings, because if a laborer happens to strike mostly on one side of the end of a beetle, unless the rings are so tight that they cannot be moved by much pounding, one side of the rings will be driven on farther than the other, and the faces will soon become one-sided, and then it will be an awkward tool to strike with. And if the rings are not very tight, when the wood begins to batter and spread over them they will drive on towards the middle of the beetle, and a beetle will be all stove up and worthless before it is half worn out.

270. The size of the different parts of an ordinary beetle is about as follows: beetle eight or nine inches long, shoulders two inches, rings, of the best of iron, one inch wide, about three-eighths of an inch thick, and about large enough to go on the end of a beetle, five inches in diameter, and handle about thirty inches long. For a strong man the handle should be longer than for boys, or men of inferior strength. Where the handle enters the head it should not be less than an inch and a half in diameter. The hilt and straight part of the handle may be made to suit the size of the laborer’s hands. A man with small hands and short fingers needs a smaller handle than he who has very large hands, with fingers of a corresponding length.

Great care should be exercised in putting in the handle, lest it stand as shown by the dotted handle in the figure. It is no uncommon thing to see handles standing at such an angle, and when they do we hear those who use such beetles, complain of having their hands hurt often by the jar, in consequence of not hitting the wedges true, and, more than all else, beetles that are hung one-sided wear one-sided, and as they usually in striking hit one corner or one side of the top of an iron wedge, they will not wear as long, nor will the force of driving, when the beetle is in use, be half as effective as if the face struck the wedge perfectly square. (See Using Sledge.) After the rings have been put on, and the handle driven in, make two plugs of hard wood, and drive them in the ends of the beetle very tightly, and saw them off even with the surface, and it is ready for use.

Handling a Beetle

271. It is often very amusing to see how awkwardly and inefficiently many laborers handle a beetle, in splitting wood or rails, or anything else. One blow will be on one corner of an iron wedge, and the next blow will be on another corner, and the next one will be in such a manner that one corner of the wedge and beetle ring will come in contact, and the beetle will roll over and over, and very likely, will fly half a rod, and when the laborer goes to get his beetle again he will be very likely to find a ring broken.

When beetle-rings are put on as tightly as they ought to be, one or two awkward blows with the beetle, in such an unskillful manner, that the iron wedge and beetle ring will come in contact, will snap a ring asunder, instantaneously, unless it is of the very best iron, and even then rings will often break, especially in frosty weather, when the blow is not very powerful. Laborers ought to know—but I blush to say that one in fifty does not know—that, when the face of a beetle is struck on the corner of an iron wedge, the blow is not half as effective as it would be if the face struck the head of the wedge entirely square. And more than all this, when all the blows are applied to a corner of the wedge, a beetle will be completely worn out before it has performed one-fourth of the service that it would have done had the blows been in such a manner that the face of the beetle and head of the wedge came together square, as they should come.

It is most surprising to witness how long a good beetle will last some laborers, and how much they will use it at hard pounding, while on the contrary, it is still more surprising to see how very soon another laborer will use up a good beetle, before he has used it enough to begin to even think of its being worn out. The first alluded to always strike very true and square, while the latter deal their blows in every imaginable way but square and true. A laborer who handles his beetle with skill, will pound very hard on his wedges, all day, and the faces of the beetle will be battered but little, while he who strikes awkwardly with a beetle, just as good as the other, will use it up in one day, as if it had been in hard service for a week or more. It is all folly to use up beetles at such a rate, and a laborer ought to know better than to strike a ring on an iron wedge or to strike a corner of a wedge with the face of the beetle.

272. In whatever position a wedge may be standing place the face of the beetle and head of the wedge square together, then grasp the hilt of the handle, firmly, and be careful to make every blow square, and not on one side of the face of the beetle, but as nearly in the center of it as may be. If a wedge leans a little or varies its position, as it is driven in, let the position of the beetle be varied accordingly, so as to have the beetle and wedge strike each other exactly square. By exercising a little skill in this respect a laborer will very soon find that he will be able to drive a wedge with half the number of blows, and not use up his beetle one-fourth as much as when he deals his blows every way, but square on the head of the wedge, and face of the beetle. (Read the paragraph on the hammer and sledge.) As beetle and wedges are used together I shall now notice the wedge.

S. Edwards Todd

Transactions of the N.Y. State Agricultural Society – 1859

– Jeff Burks

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One Response to The Mallet and Beetle

  1. pfollansbee says:

    thanks for this one & its accompanying wedge piece. Great stuff there. No mention of hickory, which strike me as funny. But I have some apple on hand, so maybe I’ll give it a shot.

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