A Handmade Rosewood & Brass Plane Hammer

A Handmade Rosewood & Brass Plane Hammer

Last Month I posted the making of a ball-peen inspired plane hammer. That was such a fun, quick project that I found myself making another one last week. While the ball peen inspired hammer worked well for adjusting the body of the plane, the larger wooden face and smaller brass face made it a little difficult getting to the blade in some of my planes. I decided I wanted a more traditional style hammer this time.

brass and rosewood plane hammer

Boring the mortise in the brass head

I made the head from a piece of 1″x1″ brass stock, 2″ long. I had a piece of scrap honduran rosewood that I was planning on making into a plane fence, but decided it would be perfect for this hammer. I drilled the mortise in the head in my drill press (make sure you reduce the rake on your twist drill bits, as the bit will dig into the brass and fling it at you otherwise). I elongated the top half of the mortise in one direction afterwards to accept the wedged handle tenon.  I wanted to add a wooden face to the head as well, so drilled another hole about .5″ deep in one face of the head to accept a round tenon.

Brass and rosewood plane hammer

Shaping the handle and the head.

I shaped the tenon on the rosewood handle first. I drew out the circumference of the tenon on the stock, and used a rasp to bring it down close to the final shape, before finishing with a file. I wasn’t concerned about the length of the tenon, as this would form on of the curves on the handle but was careful not to take the thickness of the tenon down too much. The rest of the handle was rough shaped with a rasp and finished with a spokeshave.

brass and rosewood plane hammer

Hand tool only build! (mostly)

Next up was shaping the brass head. I didn’t initially have a design in mind but came up with one as I went along. A few hours with a rasp, files and sandpaper later I had the rough shape complete. I epoxied the wooden face insert (also rosewood) in before final shaping and sanding. I polished the head up to 2000 grit, leaving a mirror finish. After assembling the handle in the head (with a bit of epoxy), I drove a brass screw into the top of the tenon to wedge it in place. I filled any gaps with a mix of epoxy and brass dust.

brass and rosewood plane hammer

The completed plane hamer!

Once it all cured I filed the screw down to the surface of the head, and finished off by finish sanding the hammer. I finished the handle using a few coats of shellac and some past wax, and voila! It was done.

brass and rosewood plane hammer

Another view of the completed plane hammer!


It turned out really well considering it wasn’t a planned project. The shape of the head lends itself to a balanced result, and the heft of the head feels great. I read somewhere that ‘every woodworker eventually becomes a shitty machinist too’ and I guess that’s true for me now!


Posted by Prairie Artisan Woodshop in Toolmaking, Tools, 0 comments
Making a (rather fancy) Plane Hammer

Making a (rather fancy) Plane Hammer

A plane hammer is a tool that I’ve found myself needing for a while now, but every time I find myself at Lee Valley I end up finding other things to spend my money on and keep telling myself that I can make my own hammer. Well yesterday I was in a tinkering mood, so I made myself a rather fancy plane hammer.

Plane hammer - Making a plane hammer; Brass; Purpleheart; Rosewood

Purpleheart scrap for the head of the plane hammer

I raided my scrap pile to find suitable candidates for the hammer and decided on a piece of Purpleheart for the head and some Western Australian Desert Rosewood for the handle. I’ve had the WAD Rosewood scraps for some time now – these are pretty expensive and hard to come by in Canada, and they are a beautiful and dense hardwood, so I was saving them for a suitable project. The Rosewood has lovely purplish red splotches that I figured would go well with the Purpleheart head. For the brass side I used a threaded brass head, like the ones you see in cheap 4-in-1 hammers. With the stock decided upon, it was time to finally make myself a plane hammer!

Plane hammer - Making a plane hammer; Brass; Purpleheart; Rosewood

Rounding the head on the lathe

Initially I planned on making the head a simple round or rectangular shape, but then I figured I may as well have some fun with it. I used a ball peen hammer for inspiration as I’ve never seen a plane hammer made this way before. The first step was to cut the Purpleheart scrap in half and glue it up.


Sawing the cheeks for the handle tenon

After glue up I squared up the piece and rounded it on the lathe.My handle stock was 0.5″ by 1″, so I decided on a mortise 0.5″ wide by 0.75″ long. I clamped the round stock in a vise and bored out the waste, and cleaned out the remaining portions with a chisel. At this point I decided to round the tenon instead of squaring the mortise, as the round stock wasn’t the easiest to chisel straight down on. Just to clarify – it wouldn’t have been safe to chop the mortise before rounding, as that increases the chances of catches and accidents on the lathe.

Plane hammer - Making a plane hammer; Brass; Purpleheart; Rosewood

Rounding the tenon using a rasp

I marked and sawed my tenon cheeks and got to work shaping the rounded tenons with a rasp. It pays to be careful here, taking it slow and trying the fit constantly. When the tenon was going halfway through the mortise, I marked the mortise with pencil to identify the tight spots and rasp accordingly. The resulting fit was pretty good, but had a little play along the length. That’s perfect though as I would be wedging the tenon anyways.

Plane hammer; Making a plane hammer, rosewood, purpleheart, brass

Threading the head for the hammer

I then got to work shaping the rest of the handle using an aggressive rasp followed by a finer one. The idea here is simple, whatever you do on one side, repeat on the other! Back to the head now, I chucked it back into the lathe and got to work shaping it like a ball peen. As always, I like to mark all the points at which features change or start in my workpiece. There were no essential measurements here (except for the  brass end, where it needed to meet the brass head accurately), so I just went until I was satisfied it looked good and ball-peen like.

Plane hammer; Making a plane hammer, rosewood, purpleheart, brass

The head shaped and finished!

As I mentioned earlier, the brass side of this plane hammer was threaded, so I figured I would drill and tap a hole for it in the head. This would make the brass head removable if I ever destroyed the hammer (not that it matters too much, but it’s nice to have the option). With the hole tapped, the only things left to do were wedging the tenon and finishing the hammer.


The wedged tenon connecting the head and the handle

For the wedge, I drilled a small hole at the bottom of the tenon, which I sawed done to. I cut a wedge from a piece of Walnut, just eyeballing the measurements. The grain direction of the wedge should be flowing into the tenon (end grain up). Then it was a matter of applying some glue to the tenon, tapping it into the mortise, and tapping the wedge in place till it would no longer go any further. Once the glue dried I cut the portruding portion off and sanded it down flush. Oh, and finishing – I finished the head on the lathe (burnishing and paste wax), and for the handle I used tung oil and buffed it with paste wax.

Plane hammer; Making a plane hammer, rosewood, purpleheart, brass

The completed plane hammer along with some of the tools used to make it

And there you have it, a rather fancy looking plane hammer! I am extremely pleased with how it turned out, it feels solid and very well balanced. The head-handle joint looks perfect, and the woods used go really well together. I have always had a thing for beautiful tools as I find them inspiring, and I think this one is going in my regular use collection.


The completed plane hammer without any of the tools used to make it!


Posted by Prairie Artisan Woodshop in Toolmaking, Tools, 0 comments
Making a joiners mallet by hand

Making a joiners mallet by hand

A wooden mallet is one of those ubiquitous woodworking tools, right up there with handplanes. Every shop should have at least a couple – a heavy mallet for chopping mortises, and a lighter one for finer work such as cleaning up dovetails. A mallet doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing to do its job. It doesn’t even have to be wooden, you could just as easily go with one of the chisel mallets with polymer heads, or one of those rubber ones you find at any home hardware store (but avoid the black ones, they tend to stain your work). Personally I like my tools to be aesthetically pleasing; I find it makes my woodworking experience a lot more enjoyable. With that in mind I wanted to make a set of durable mallets from some pieces of interesting wood I had in my shop, and share the process of making it with you.

I made two mallets in the last couple of days, one with an Ipe head and Ziricote handle, and one with a Mahogany head and Pine handle.The Ipe head and Ziricote stock was from a friend, a local craftsman, who had already cut out the mortise in the head. Good thing too, I wasn’t looking forward to chopping out a mortise in Ipe. The latter was all reclaimed, the lumber was re-used from old dunnage. Ipe is an incredibly hard and dense wood – I will be using this mallet to chop mortises and not much else, as it will dent almost any other wood. The Mahogany mallet will be used for finer work, but for the head I chose a piece with a tight knot – this will impart additional strength and rigidity to the mallet, especially important for an open grained wood like Mahogany. Worth considering if you plan to make yours out of Oak too. Now a lot of online tutorials on mallets will suggest making your head out of several pieces that are glued together. This is the easier way to make a mallet, as you don’t need the skills required to chop out the mortise. I prefer using a solid block of wood for the head, I find it works a lot better, looks better and is a great way to practice some mortising.

I like to start by cutting the head to rough dimension first. I typically cut the striking faces at an angle of around 5 degrees. Don’t worry too much about getting it right on, a little bit off won’t affect the performance at all. The next step was to use my scrub plane to remove the rough faces, followed by squaring up the head using my jack plane. Once the head is squared up I like to move on to the handle.

Ripping the pine stock for the handle with a bow saw

Ripping the Pine for the handle

I rip down the board using my frame saw, finishing off with a regular rip saw when the frame saw bottoms out. This leaves a fairly rough edge that needs to be planed square and smooth. I then mark out the taper for the handle, typically at a 2 or 3 degree angle. You don’t need an angle too steep as that will make the handle quite thin at the bottom. To taper the handle you can use a rip saw or plane down to the lines. I prefer using my scrub plane for the task, as it is quick, removes a lot of material, but is also easier to control. Plane down to your line but don’t cross it, leave it for fine tuning later.

I then used the handle to mark out the angle for the mortise in the mallet head. For the pine handle I opted to leave an inch proud at the top, as the pine is likely to compress easier than a typical hardwood handle, and I may need to hammer the handle in further a year later. For the mahogany handle I left a bit less material at the top.

It’s a good idea to bore out most of the waste for the mortise, especially since the mortise is a good 4″ or so thick. You can use a bit and brace or a drill press – I used a brace for the Mahogany. Start your hole, go down halfway and then flip the head and go from the other side. You can try to follow the angle of the mortise with your boring or drill straight down and establish the angle using your chisels.


Head and handle ready to be shaped. Look at that beautiful Ziricote grain!

At this point your handle should fit in your mallet head with a couple inches proud at the top. This is when you plane down to your lines on the handle, until the fit is satisfactory. It is also a good idea to add a slight bevel to the edges of the mortise in the head to prevent break out when the handle is hammered in/out.

Now we move on to shaping. Shaping the handle is almost mandatory – no one wants to use a sharp and square handle. As for the head, all it really needs to be functional is a slight bevel on all edges to prevent tearout, but I like to shape the heads to an attractive and (in my opinion) better balanced shape.

For this I use a scrub plane again. I mark out a radius by hand – accuracy isn’t too important here, so long as it looks symmetrical. I usually plane off a quarter of an inch at the ends, and at the corners.

Shaping the mallet head

Shaping the head. I used a scrub plane to establish the curve in the top. 

For the handles I use a spokeshave to get the curves in the handle. I start an inch below the head and go in a quarter of an inch in each corner, stopping about 2 inches from the bottom.


Head almost done, handle to be shaped.

Another option would be to chisel the bulk of the waste off the head and the handles and then go in with a block plane or spokeshave. Pick your poison.

Take your time with the shaping process, especially with the handle, as it is easy to get too aggressive and end up removing too much material. Once the shaping is done, I use a cabinet scraper to smooth out the curves before applying a finish. I don’t worry too much about removing all the plane/chisel marks, as it is a mallet after all, and it will get dinged up in no time anyways.

For a finish I use a few coats of boiled linseed oil (BLO). Add a generous amount, wipe it off after a little while and repeat. After a few coats I let it dry before rubbing it with some paste wax for some extra shine and surface protection. Note – if you are using a highly figured wood like Ziricote go easy on the BLO – one coat should be enough as more will darken the wood. Also, make sure to follow proper safety and disposal procedures for your BLO soaked rags, they will self combust if you’re not careful!

Beautiful Handmade Mahogany and Pine mallet

Mahogany/Pine Mallet, complete!

Once the finishing process is complete, stick your handle in the mortise, give it a couple sharp taps (with another mallet ideally), and voila! You have a beautiful joiners’ mallet that should last you a decade (at least).


Ipe/Ziricote mallet, complete! (Unfortunately you can’t see much of the grain in this photo)


Posted by Prairie Artisan Woodshop in Toolmaking, Tools, 1 comment