Do I need a metal mallet?
You don’t need a metal mallet, and don’t think your kit is incomplete without one, but they do have their uses. Read these notes and think instead how useful one may be, given the sort of carving you might do.
Also called ‘dummy’ mallets, small metal mallets of the sort used by stonemasons were carried by journeymen carvers between jobs because they were small and portable.
Metal mallets are not really a substitute for the bigger hardwood ones ut a thing in their own right. The metal is traditionally annealed iron, soft enough to protect your wooden gouge handle, but brass is a good substitute. Never use a tempered steel mallet, which would be like using a hammer.
1. When a full size mallet would be more than you need, it’s tempting to thump the handle of your gouge with the palm of your hand. Bad idea! You can readily damage the nerves and tendons in your palm. (In fact carvers used to do this and boast of ‘carver’s hoof’; a mixture of callous and contracted fingers…) Instead, hold the metal head in your palm like the picture above and tap away. Like having a hefty callous in your palm.
2. Hold the handle of the metal mallet as you would your wooden one, or hold it more half-and-half - as in the picture below. The metal mallet has a very small head so it’s not so good for vigorous wellying, more for light precise tapping.
This happens when the atmosphere is too dry and the problem lies in the different rates of contraction and expansion between the metal and the wood. The wood of the handle responds to dry atmosphere by shrinking; the metal expands a little. The hole is now too big for the handle
The answer is to dampen the wood at the head end: Leave the mallet standing upright in a saucer of water overnight. The end grain of the handle will soak it up and swell. You may find even an hour or so is plenty to firm the handle for quite a while.
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