German Type Mallet


The Continental Pattern Mallet – The shaft passes right through and is wedged at the top.

An Excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume II” published by Lost Art Press. 

The mallet is one of those tools whose shape and form we accept without question until an alternative is brought to our attention. In the opinion of many who have used both types, the German pattern is preferable to the generally accepted British mallet.

The designers of the latter went to great pains to make the tapered shaft in order that centrifugal force should tighten the head in use. The continental designers decided that what is good enough for a hammer head is good enough for a mallet head. Possibly in England in earlier days the general carpenter or cabinet maker had no access to a lathe and so evolved this type of mallet. The German pattern, however, relies upon a bored hole, a turned handle, glue, and wedge.

As most readers already possess a mallet, two alternative sizes are given. The first figures produce an average sized mallet suitable for general work. The figures in brackets are for a lighter model. Mallet shafts are invariably too long. Many workers will prefer a shaft as short as 7-1∕2 in. (compare with the carver’s mallet, handle length about 5 in.). Though beech is the traditional wood for the head, other hardwoods, both British and imported, will give many years of wear. Oak and ash are both suitable. The handle on the other hand ought to be of straight-grained ash, or better still, hickory.

The head is made first, the angles sawn and the hole bored. Preferably a pilot hole of about 1∕8 in. diameter is put through first, boring from both sides. The twist bit will then follow through easily. Bore a similar hole in a piece of thin ply and thread this on the tail centre of the lathe.

Elevations With Alternate Sizes – A. 5 in. (4-3/8 in.) B. 3-1/2 in. (3-3/16 in.) C. 2-5/8 in. (2-1/4 in.) D. 5/16 in. (1/4 in.) E. 1-3/8 in. (1-3/16 in.) F. 8-3/4 in. (8-3/8 in.) G. 1 in. (7/8 in.) H. 15/16 in. dia. (7/8 in. dia.)

Centre the handle, still rectangular in section, and turn down the end nearest the tail stock to fit the plywood gauge tightly. An extra length of 1∕8 in. should be allowed to project beyond the head. The remainder of the handle is then turned to shape with gouge followed by chisel, a rather bumpy operation, but a good finish can be obtained with no great difficulty. The smallest shoulder should be turned on the shaft to fit against the head. Before cutting off a little individual embellishment may be added. This is particularly useful in a communal workshop where several such mallets may be used.

Slot the handle for the wedge or wedges which are made from the waste at the driving centre end. Open out the mortise either for two wedges with a tapered auger such as ladder makers use, or for one wedge with a suitable gouge or a small rasp to give an oval hole on top. Glue preferably with synthetic resin glue. Cramp up with a sash cramp. The plywood gauge is a useful cramping block to allow pressure to be exerted on the head after the shaft has poked through it. Now hold the shaft upright in the vice and check that the head is parallel to the vice jaw. This must be corrected quickly if required. Drive in the wedge or wedges and recramp until dry.

Plane off the projecting wedges and the handle. The top may be left square as it now is,or it can be curved as the drawing shows. The shaper tool produces this shape easily and quickly with a good surface.

A small bevel on all the edges prevents splitting and a coat of clear cellulose or french polish keeps grubbiness at bay.

Meghan Bates





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13 Responses to German Type Mallet

  1. Ruben "Rube" Villanueva says:

    I’m on my way to making one. I’m using maple for the head and cocobolo or mesquite for the handle. Since I’m making this with my boys, we are making to look like Mjölnir. Wish me luck.

  2. tman02 says:

    My wife’s great grandfather had a mallet that looks just Ike that. I rescued it from a delapidated shed. The head, which is large, I believe is Cocobola, but the handle is weathered so much it is difficult to tell what kind of wood, perhaps maple or beech.

    And looking at the end of some of his large chisels it got quite a work out.

  3. I have most of Charles Haywards books and he is one of my favourite writers on woodworking, never-the-less I do not always agree with his writing and this is a case in point.

    The round handled mallet he calls the German type is in no way better than the English kind. Unlike the round mallets used by masons. sculptors and carvers the carpenters mallet is designed to drive chisels in a straight line. To aid this the flats on the sides of the handle allow the orientation of the large box like head to be maintained so the force is driven along the axis of the chisel rather than partially driving it to one side or the other.

    These handles slide into the head and lock in place because the end is wedge shaped. Very simple and highly efficient. No need to use a lathe or to mess about with wedges. The handle is in no way uncomfortable to hold, even when extreme force is being used such as big, deep mortises in oak beams. This is because although flats are maintained the rest of this handle is rounded and smooth.

    I bought a tiny round headed ebony mallet some time ago just because it was beautiful. I understand it is used by jewellers to engrave watch parts. Its head is glued and wedged and the handle round because it is designed to chase around the loops and circles of a floral design.

  4. potomacker says:

    I find it better to leave a modicum of material projecting above the wedge on the mallet head. Any seasonal variation, in this way, doesn’t leave a gap between the tow surfaces. The extra bit, about 1/4′, also adds extra grip.

  5. My Urban Workshop says:

    We do the same thing in our classes but use a drawbored dowel that passes straight through the side of the mallet head. No clamping necessary and the students take home a finished mallet in one evening. We have yet to see a loose head.

  6. Niels Cosman says:

    Try to wrap your noggin around this abomination:

    • Niels Cosman says:

      Even as I am watching this again, I am alone, yelling “NOOOO!” and “WHY!” at my computer screen.

      • At first I thought she was going to cover the LEGOs in epoxy.

      • Niels Cosman says:

        The whole thing is a mystery. I am not sure exactly how the epoxy is functioning here. Maybe it’s to make the surface more durable because the concrete is so brittle. But epoxy can be pretty brittle too. But why concrete again? WHY?!
        Also the handle is just a straight piece of walnut, so when it inevitably loosens up, the whole concrete booger block is going for ride. Noooo!
        Using Legos are a nice an quick way of making coddles for little molds. I’ve used them for making small plaster molds, but why not wipe a little sonite/paste wax on them so they release effortlessly? WHY?! NOoooo! WHY!?!

  7. colsdave says:

    We watch these things, not because they are easy to see but because they are hard.

  8. John Metz says:

    I still have the Mallet my German great grandfather Vincenz Metz used in his work as a carpenter and wagon maker in St. Louis from 1893 till after WWI, and it looks just like the B/W image. It appears to have a maple head with a hickory handle, and the head is double-wedged. Can’t tell if he brought it with him because it is unmarked and his chisels are Austrian, his saws and planes are American, his huge wagon wrenches appear to be American, and then there are the unmarked and homemade tools.

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