Bookmatching Veneer: a How-To

Bookmatching Veneer: a How-To

Mastering veneering is an important step for any serious woodworker. Well-selected and prepared veneer can transform a basic project into something exotic and beautiful on its own. Many of the beautiful old highboys and other pieces of furniture of old with wonderful grain patterns made use of veneers. There’s only so much beautiful grain to go around, so it makes sense that the wood is sliced into veneer layers to make it go further. If you have a single large piece of veneer for your project it makes it a hell of a lot easier. Quite often however, you will find yourself needing to put together several pieces to make a larger piece, or for aesthetic reasons. Putting together 2 (or more) pieces of veneer such that they reflect each other in perfect symmetry is called bookmatching. This post will detail the process I use for bookmatching veneer.

Cherry veneer bookmatching

Painter’s tape on the underside of the veneer after jointing

The veneer I used for this project was cherry, and I decided to put 4 pieces together for the top of a table I was building at the time. The first step of course, is to select the pieces you will be using. This is a little more complicated than it sounds if you are using 4 pieces, as you have to be very finicky when arranging them to make sure all the grain patterns will line up. Any odd or mismatched grain will look very bad in the finished piece. The veneer pieces are not jointed at this point (the ends and sides are not straight and square to each other), so account for that in your dry fit.

Veneer tape applied to bookmatched cherry veneer pieces

Veneer tape applied along the seams of the show-side of the veneer


With the pieces chosen, it’s time to joint them. Unless the mating edges are straight and square, the finished veneer will have gaps, and even a small gap shows quite a bit after finishing. Theres a number of ways to do this, you could use a jointer, a table saw (sandwiched between two solid waste pieces) or a router. I use a router with a straight edge. I lay out my pieces exactly as I would like them to be in the finished piece, and fold them up (so that if I were to unfold the pieces outward I would end up with the finished pattern). I then carefully clamp the pieces between two straight pieces of plywood, and route the mating edges along the straight edge.

Bookmatched veneer in cherry for table top

The veneer after application to the workpiece and scraping the veneer tape off

With the routing done, I lay the pieces out exactly as I want them, and use some painters’ tape along the edges to hold the pieces together. I then flip the now large piece over, and use veneer tape across and along the seams. Veneer tape is easy to use, just wet the pieces on a piece of wet paper towel and apply it to the piece. The  veneer taped side will be the show-side, which is worth keeping in mind. With the veneer tape applied, give the piece a minute or two to dry, and place a caul with a weight on top of it for around 30 minutes. This will pull the pieces together and tighten the seam. After 30 minutes, remove the painters tape, and you have your final piece of bookmatched veneer, ready to be applied to your project.

Beautiful bookmatched veneer

The bookmatched veneer after one coat of tung oil

There are a number of ways to apply veneer, from the basic cauls and clamps to a veneer press. Whichever method you use, once the glue has dried you can remove the veneer tape by slightly wetting them, or just using a cabinet scraper. If you were careful in selecting, jointing and taping the veneer, you should have perfect seams on your bookmatched veneer. Happy veneering!

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Beaver 3800 Jointer Restoration Pt. 2

Beaver 3800 Jointer Restoration Pt. 2

In part 1 of the jointer restoration I took the jointer apart down to the nuts and bolts. I then washed the larger parts of the jointer in warm soapy water in to remove the accumulated grease and sawdust. This step is important as the primer may not work as well if you don’t remove the grease from the surface.

Jointer restoration

All the parts taped up ready for painting.

Once the parts all dried I set about masking off the jointer for painting. This took a while, and a lot of painters tape. Tip – a sharp utility knife makes all the difference in this step. I was especially careful on any threads that were at risk of collecting paint…that would not be a fun clean up job. With the parts all taped off, I applied one coat of primer, followed by two to three coats of paint.

I debated my choice of colour for a while before settling on black. I was considering the repainting it the original grey colour, but the grey just wasn’t working for me. I then considered vintage power tool green (something like the General tools), but the only other piece of equipment in my shop that colour is my bandsaw, and I plan on replacing that. That led me to my one of my favourite pieces of equipment, my Sawstop cabinet saw. I decided to paint the jointer in a Sawstop inspired theme – black with red accents. black and red is easy to overdo, and I didn’t want it to look tacky, so I settled on only using red on the legs of the base. I used enamel spray paint. Initially I planned on a gloss black paint, but I tried a bit of matte black and absolutely loved it. It reminded me of an anvil.

Beaver 3800 jointer restoration

Fence guide rods

While the paint cured, I got to work on the metal parts such as the fence glide rods, the many little bolts, screws and linkages. I used sandpaper, ascending in grit from 100 to 220 to 400, to work everything up to a shine, followed by some metal polish. Once the paint dried, I removed the painters tape from the bed and fence faces, and used a palm sander with increasingly fine sandpaper to remove rust and polish up the surface. While this may seem like a pretty risky way to do this, it takes a lot of effort to actually create a divot doing this, so you’re probably safe. The pork chop is one of the best parts of the machine – I sanded the paint off the details.

Jointer motor electrical

The death trap power cord and switch

The cutterhead was packed with 60 year old grease and sawdust, as were the bearings. I removed the blades and chip breakers and submerged the bearings and cutterhead in turpentine to dissolve the grease. Turpentine is nasty stuff, so only use it in a well ventilated place! I then cleaned up the rust on the cutterhead, and repacked the bearings with a gratuitous amount of grease. I ordered a new set of jointer blades from Amazon, and they arrived well packed and sharp. I bought a replacement belt from a lawnmower store, as it was the only place that seemed to have the right v-belt size.

Jointer motor grounding

Motor rewired and grounded

The only thing left was to rip out and replace the power cable, add a safety switch and ground the motor. The motor sat directly on the steel frame, so it was especially important to ground the body of the motor to prevent accidents. With the switch wired into the motor and the new power cable, the jointer was ready to be reassembled.

Putting the jointer body back together was fairly straightforward. I expected some confusion but it was surprisingly intuitive. The only difficult part was inserting the cutterhead back in, as the belt has to be inserted beforehand, and the cutterhead needs to be held up while the bearings are tightened in place. It was only me, so a number of failures later, I had them all in. The fence was anything but simple to reassemble, but luckily I took photos beforehand and used them as a guide.

Beaver 3800 Jointer pork chop

Beaver 3800 Pork Chop

With the jointer fully reassembled, I spent a few more hours getting the infeed and outfeed beds coplanar and level (before setting the cutting depth, of course), and a couple more hours setting the blade heights in the cutterhead. Both these adjustments were pretty complicated, but there are plenty of tutorials online outlining the processes so I won’t go into details here. A few more minutes to set the fence square, and the jointer restoration was finally done. I’m really pleased with how it turned out – it’s a breeze to use and it works really well. For half the price of the cheapest 6″ jointer on the market, I now have a lifetime-quality tool, ready to work for another 60 years before I sell it on to a future woodworker who hasn’t been born yet.

Beaver 3800 fence system restored

Beaver 3800 Fence System

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Beaver 3800 Jointer Restoration Pt. 1

Beaver 3800 Jointer Restoration Pt. 1

A few months ago I purchased an old Beaver 3800 jointer. I bought it from an old gentleman who used to be an ironworker in the 50’s and 60’s. It was last used in the 60’s to joint doors for a hotel, and sat unused for the last 50+ years. As you’d imagine, it wasn’t in the best of shape, and while it still ran, it definitely needed some work. Which brings us to this jointer restoration.

Jointer, Beaver 3800, Restoration

The jointer before I started working on it.

The Beaver 3800 was made in the early 1950s in the Callander Foundry, in Guelph, Ontario. The Foundry was established in 1916, and had great success with their woodworking machines after the end of WWII. Their machines were known and prized for their excellent quality. Unfortunately, as is often the case with local Canadian businesses, small and large, in 1953 the owner sold the foundry to Rockwell Manufacturing Co. (Rockwell had bought Delta Manufacturing previously). The foundry was renamed Rockwell Manufacturing Co. of Canada, and the power tools were renamed Beaver-Delta tools. Gradually the Beaver power tools were discontinued in favour of Delta-Rockwell designs. The company changed hands a number of times since then, until in 2011 the Delta brand  was sold to a Taiwanese company, and the Guelph Foundry sadly closed its doors.

Beaver 3800, vintage jointer restoration

Taking the jointer apart.

I find myself drawn to tools (and indeed products in general) that are made locally, whether in Alberta or Canada, followed by those still made in the States. To me that’s part of the attraction of the Veritas tools…but that’s a different story. Anyways, of course, when I found this old piece of iron for a decent price, I had to purchase it and bring it home.

The 3800 is 6″ jointer, with a short bed, around 34″ in length. For a relatively small jointer (in terms of length) the 3800 was very heavy – we needed a chain and host to raise it into the truck, and pulled back muscles to pull it out of the truck. Everything on the jointer appeared to be made of cast iron except for the pork chop (Blade guard) which was machined beautifully out of aluminium. The fence system on the 3800 is a wonderful and complex feat of engineering. But more on that later. Lets get back to this jointer restoration thing.

Jointer bearings

The bearings.

The jointer was in pretty good shape for it’s age. The bed and fence had some light rust and a few spots of deeper rust. The entire jointer was crummed up with 60 years worth of dirt and oil. The blades were all chipped and would need replacing. The paint was mostly intact, but was flecking off in a few spots. The motor that came with the jointer was as old as the jointer itself, and the wiring was an absolute deathtrap. The cable was old and splitting in a number of places, held together with black cloth tape that pre-dated electrical tape. The switch was an old light switch that was bolted to the underside of the bed, and there was no clearly no ground wire. The belt was never changed and was well past its best before date. Of course, this was all above the hood, and there were probably more issues under the hood. All these things considered, there was no way I could start using the jointer without a complete restoration first.

Jointer fence

Taking the fence contraption apart.

As always, the first step in the restoration was to take the 3800 apart. I started by raising the motor to loosen the belt. Taking the bolts off wasn’t too hard with a bit of elbow grease and a couple squirts of WD40. Always keep some WD40 on hand! I almost damaged one of the bearings trying to take it out without removing the set screw first. The cutterhead was quite difficult to get out, and I definitely was not looking forward to putting it back in.

With everything taken apart I put all the little parts on my bench and labelled all of them – I ran out of ziploc bags and figured this would work. It just meant accepting the fact that I wouldn’t get anything done until the jointer was put back together.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the jointer restoration, where I do the actual restoration and try it out!



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Finishing the Workbench – Low Cost Roubo 8

Finishing the Workbench – Low Cost Roubo 8

Finally, after a long and very enjoyable (and sometimes frustrating process), all the mortises and tenons have been chopped, cut, fitted and drawbored, all the dovetails have been cut and assembled, the bench dog holes bored and the vises attached and adjusted. All that’s left now is finishing.


Bench complete, pre-finishing, with a temporary leg vise handle

For finishing I chose to use a mixture of equal parts boiled linseed oil (BLO), turpentine and varnish. BLO alone would work quite well too, but takes a while to dry. Varnish on the other hand is strong and adds some gloss, but would make the bench surface too smooth – ideally the bench top should not be too smooth, to improve work holding capability. Some people choose not to finish their benches at all, but finishing helps with humidity changes and with removing glue spills from the bench surface. For benches with contrasting wood such as mine it also helps bring out the contrast.


After the finish dried

I poured a liberal amount on of the mixture the top and wiped it on, and did the same for the base. 3 coats and I felt the bench had sufficient protection. Keep your windows open and your fans on, as the turpentine smells quite nasty.

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Once the finish dried, I moved some of my frequently used tools to the planing stop, and set about admiring my new bench. Altogether the bench weighs around 350 lb, so it isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. Chopping mortises on the bench is a real pleasure, with almost no vibration at all, and with the bench dog holes, bench dogs, holdfasts, planing stop and vises, the work holding options have so far covered pretty much every situation I have come across.


The bench completed

I hope this build series helped you, whether you chose to follow it exactly or just get some ideas from it. If you have any questions or photos you’d like to share, give me a shout!

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Leg Vise, Dog Holes & Planing Stop – Low Cost Roubo 7

Leg Vise, Dog Holes & Planing Stop – Low Cost Roubo 7

With the top and the base assembled, there wasn’t much left till completion of the bench. First up, lets talk about adding a leg vise. I determined the maximum depth of clamping that I desired for my leg vise – too little and the capacity will be too low, too much and the vise will be wonky and move out of alignment. I did some research and chose a 9″ depth (the leg vise screw would be located 9″ lower than the top of the bench). The leg vise is a very simple yet surprisingly effective design. The screw acts against a a pivot point in the parallel guide to produce a great deal of clamping force at the top. The pivot point is determined by adding a dowel through one of holes in the parallel guide, depending on the thickness of the material being clamped.


The hole for the leg vise screw and the mortise for the parallel guide

With that in mind, I needed an oversize hole for the screw to pass through the front left leg, and a through mortise for the parallel guide. I bored and chopped both of these prior to assembling the base – while you can do it after, it makes it a lot more difficult. The hole is easy, as it doesn’t require fine tolerances. The screw just needs to centre in the hole without touching the leg, or it will bind. The mortise is a bit more fidgety, as it ideally should be no more than 1/16″ larger than the parallel guide in each dimension.

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Gluing up the chop

With the leg mortised and bored, I used it to mark the location on the leg vise chop. I glued up the leg vise chop from 3 oak boards, creating a 30″ long, 8″ wide and 3″ thick chop. With the locations marked, I bored the leg vise screw hole, and a mortise for the parallel guide. My parallel guide was a 15″ long, 3/4″ thick piece of oak. It is important to get the mortise perfect for the parallel guide, as ideally you wouldn’t want to glue it in, in order to keep it replaceable. Before attaching the parallel guide, I shaped the chop a little, using a block plane and handsaws.

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Chop shaped, drilled and drawbored with the parallel guide

I bored the pin holes for the parallel guide, before attaching and drawboring the guide to the leg vise chop.I then placed the guide into the mortise in the leg, with a 1/16 shim at the bottom, and got to work centering the screw in the hole. It takes a bit of fidgeting, but I was able to make sure the screw is not touching the walls at all, and screw in the threaded part. After testing it to make sure the vise was aligned properly, I planed off around 1/16″ from the top of the vise to make sure it was flush to the top of the bench, added some leather to the bench and chop face and I was done!

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Chop aligned and attached!


Next up was the planing stop. The planing stop is designed to sit in the gap between the two halves of the top, just below the surface and act as a tool holder when not required. When it is needed it can be lifted up, shifted an inch to the right and it portrudes about 1/2″ from the top, acting as a planing stop. It is simply two boards with a large dado down each, glued together. I made some relief cuts across the width of each board before chiseling the waste out and gluing the two halves together. A little bit of planing later, it was ready to go in. It is important that it has a tight friction fit in the bench, as you don’t want it to move around on you when in use. It will require the occasional touch up with a plane as it moves at a different rate as the rest of the top.


Planing stop completed – the two dados are what allows the stop to sit below or above the bench surface as required


The last thing (other than finishing) left to do was to bore the bench dog holes. For bench dog holes, less is more – you don’t want to lose precious rigidity and mass from the top of your bench for unnecessary holes. I went with offset holes every 4 – 6 inches in two rows, with one extra hole near a corner for wider boards. Of course, if your end vise has a dog, you want one of the rows to be in line with the dog. It helps if you know the reach of the holdfast you will be using (if at all). I use Gramercy holdfasts, and strongly recommend them. For their quality, performance and price, they are hard to beat. You want the holes to be spaced such that the holdfasts can reach halfway across the distance. A standard diameter for the holes is 3/4″. I used a square to help keep my brace and bit square to the top as I went. A bit with sharp spurs makes a world of difference here. With the holes bored, I rounded over the edges with a file to prevent splintering. I made some homemade bench dogs using 3/4″ maple dowel and leather scraps, and they work remarkably well.

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Boring the bench dog holes

And with that, all that is left for the bench to be complete is finishing! That’ll be the last post in this series.

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Attaching the Top – Low Cost Roubo 5

Attaching the Top – Low Cost Roubo 5

With the base (almost) complete, now is a good time to prepare your bench top and attach it. You will remember from an earlier post that I glued up the top from my boards and planed it down flat. I wanted to go with a split top, so I ripped the top down midway. This would let me put in a planing stop/tool holder in the middle, and bring the total width to around 22″. I wanted to add an end cap to the top, purely for decorative reasons. On a ‘normal’ roubo bench, the tail vise on the end would require an end cap to add rigidity. Since I wouldn’t be putting in a tail vise, I did’t really need an end cap, but I wanted to add a bit of flair with some dovetails, so I decided to add them anyways. If the end cap look is not too important to you, by all means skip this step.

IMG_6951 (1)

My end caps were 2.5″ thick mahogany. The end caps would be attached with a mortise and tenon joint, with an oversized mortise to allow for wood movement. Each end cap would have two bolts through them into the tenon, with one bolt in an oversized hole, again for wood movement. I began by marking out my tenon to around 1″x1″x8″. I cut at the lines using a panel saw, and split the wood down close to the lines using a chisel and mallet. With that done, it was time to clean the tenons up carefully paring down to the lines using a chisel. For the mortise, I cut them to 9″ long, allowing the top to move in one direction, towards the back of the bench. I bored out most of the waste using a brace and bit (tape the bits at the required depth), and cleaned up the mortise with a chisel. If you are following along, you’re probably getting pretty good at this by now. Try and keep the mortise and tenons both as square as possible – it’s important to get a good fit.

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(If you are going to be adding dovetailed end caps, skip this paragraph for now and move on to the next. Come back to this when the dovetails are done. With the tops and the end caps fitted, I drilled some pilot holes for the bolts to go through and drove the bolts through. I also added a little glue to the fixed side of the end caps for good measure. Be careful not to let it spread to the back during assembly.This brings me to another point in the build where I decided to do something unnecessary and unusual because of my aesthetic preferences. I hate the look of bolts and screws in benches (and furniture in general), so I had to cover up the bolts in the end caps. I decided to chisel out some shallow mortises to accept diamond shaped walnut inlays. I then glued them in place. I made the inlays fairly thin, around 1/8″ thick, so that if I ever need to reach the bolts, I can just whack at the inlays and they’ll break apart.


With the top complete, lay the two halves on the floor top side down. Make sure they are laid out parallel and spaced apart 1.5″ (or however wide you want your gap to be), and carefully flip the base and lay it on the top slabs. Get a friend to help with this. It may take some fidgeting, but once the arrangement is complete, mark out the location of your mortises in the top to accept the leg tenons. Once marked out, use a taped brace and bit and bore out most of the waste, and clean up with a chisel. Your top is now complete!


If you are adding a steel bench vise as an end vise, now is the time to do so. Mark out the location of your end vise, and use four bolts or lag screws to attach the bench vise to the bottom of your bench top. Wood movement hopefully shouldn’t be a major issue here but I like to overbuild things, so I made the two holes on one side slightly oversize to allow the top to move a little seasonally. There isn’t really much else to adding a bench vise at the end – you could mortise the rear jaw into the bench but I don’t find that necessary at all. I chose a quick release vise and strongly suggest you do too – it makes a huge difference in actual use.

It’s finally time to attach the top to the base. Line your top up and fit the tenons into the mortises. You don’t need to glue them in, as the top slabs sit on the stretchers and are pretty heavy, but a dab of glue doesn’t hurt if you aren’t planning on taking the top apart. Either way, add a bolt through each stretcher into the top, through oversize holes, and you have yourself a very, very solid bench.

Next post we’ll go over adding the dovetails to the end caps. Happy building!

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Drawboring Mortise & Tenons – Low Cost Roubo 4

With the joints all tuned up and ready for glue up, it’s time to drawbore all the mortise and tenon joints in the base. Drawboring pulls the joints tighter, strengthening them and reducing the effect of any slop in the joints. With the advent of modern glues and clamps, drawboring is not very common in furniture these days, but there seems to be a resurgence in interest in this centuries old technique. I find drawboring to be an easy way to add a lot of strength and character to a joint, so I use it whenever I can.

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Base ready for glue up and drawboring. Also, my extremely messy living room. 

Because the joints are pretty huge in this bench, I went with 3/8″ dowels. For regular sized joints 1/4″ would be a better option. The concept of drawboring is very simple. A 3/8″ (in this case) hole is drilled through the mortise, and the joint is dry fit. With the joint dry fit, the centre of the hole through the mortise is marked on the tenon. The joint is then disassembled, and a hole is drilled through the tenon, 1/16″ to 1/8″ slightly offset towards the shoulder. With the holes drilled, the joint is glued up, fit together and a peg is driven through the holes with a hammer or heavy mallet. The peg should go through to the other side, pulling the tenon shoulders closer to the mortise and tightening up the joint.

Drawboring the mortise and tenons in the stretchers

Drawbore pegs peeking through.

I always use hardwood dowels, in this case oak. I also like to use a contrasting wood for the pegs – drawboring demonstrates quality craftsmanship, so show it off! It is a good idea to whittle the pegs to a point before driving them in. I usually rub a little paste wax on the pegs before driving them through as well. I’ve had people tell me this is overkill – but then I’ve never had a peg  break on me or a drawbore attempt fail, so I’ll keep overdoing it.

On a project like a bench where you have a large number of joints to drawbore (in this case, 12), it’s vital to plan ahead. Once you glue the joint and fit it together, you have to drawbore the joint together quickly. I like to do them in batches – I went with the left legs and stretchers at once, and the right legs and stretchers at once, followed by the long stretchers to complete the base. This is also the point where you want to move the parts to the final location of the bench – it gets heavy and unwieldy after this. Like I mentioned earlier, this bench was meant for a room in my basement, so I moved it all downstairs. When you drive the pegs in, don’t be scared to put some heft into it. Give it a couple good whacks and you should see the peg poke through on the other side.

The photo above shows the legs being clamped together. You don’t actually need to clamp it, the drawbores will pull the joints tight enough. I didn’t clamp the other side.

Drawbored base showing the through mortise and tenons

Base complete!

With the base all glued up and drawbored, give it a few hours for the glue to dry, and use a flush cut saw to trim the excess off the tenons and the drawbore pegs…and you’re done!

P.S. If you are planning on installing a leg vise, you will need to account for that at this stage (or earlier preferably). I’ll cover that in a future post.


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Mortise and Tenons – Low Cost Roubo 3

Mortise and Tenons – Low Cost Roubo 3

Last time out we had the legs and stretchers all marked for cutting the mortise and tenons. I want to apologise for not posting in a while – life gets in the way sometimes.

To cut the tenons I used a back saw. You could also use a panel saw, at this point accuracy isn’t too important so long as you cut them oversize (on the waste side of your marks). With joints this big, you’ll spend a while fine tuning them regardless. The hardest part is sawing these joints without a proper workbench and the workholding options it provides. I used the table top and some clamps to hold the legs down as I worked them.


A brace and a bit to hog out most of the mortise waste

For the mortises I used a brace and bit to bore out the majority of the waste, followed by chopping out the remaining waste with a chisel. The proper way to do it is to use a bit thats the same diameter as your mortise. If you’ve never used a brace and bit and aren’t too confident I suggest using a smaller bit. You can tune it up with chisels later. Either way use a square to help keep it straight, and flip the workpiece over half way. You’ll be surprised at how easy a brace is to use, with a proper bit.


Ready for a dry fit!

Once the tenons are all rough cut and the mortises are bored out, settle in with a chisel and mallet and start tuning the joints up. Using a straight guide block clamped to your work can be helpful to help keep your chisel square. A few hours later you’ll be ready for a dry fit.

You want your joints to go in with a little bit of pressure. A few mallet taps may be required but if it’s any tighter than that, pare off a little from your tenons. Check the base for square. Tolerances don’t need to be space age tight, but you want it to line up square so the leg vise works properly and the bench top sits flat. Again, don’t expect this to be quick. It takes a while.

Next time we’ll work on drawboring the joints and finishing up the base.




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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