Making a Mallet

White oak, pecan, and walnut mallet.
White oak, pecan, and walnut mallet.

Mallets are the driving force behind chisels, the workhorses of hand-tool woodworking. For a couple of years I’ve owned a cheap wooden mallet that was mass produced in some far-flung country and, although it worked fine, it had no character. This weekend I made a mallet that’s imbued with meaning and should last for the rest of my life. The head is made from American white oak—the king of the forest—leftover from my boatbuilding project in 2012. The handle is made from pecan sapwood that came from a tree that grew at my best friend’s rural, childhood home. Through the years, my friend and I have spent untold hours there hanging out and having loads of fun; it’s one of my favorite places to be. Just after Christmas in 2013, my carpenter grandpa helped me mill one of the pecan logs in his workshop and I’ve had the wood drying for a year and a half, waiting for a special project like this mallet. The handle is held in place by wedges of walnut that I got in Virginia when I lived there.

Milling a pecan log on the table saw with grandpa.
Milling a pecan log on the table saw with grandpa.

The finished tool has a sturdy solidness and weight in my hand, physically and symbolically. When I hold this mallet and use it in my woodworking, I’ll be holding a tool whose parts are tied to people and places that mean so much to me. I’ll think of my friend and her family and the memories we’ve made and I’ll think, too, of my grandpa, who’s fighting cancer. A tool as simple as a mallet can be used not only to strike chisels, but also to strike a chord of memory.