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Blog entry by Ethan Sincox posted 04-29-2007 06:26 AM 4979 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

When I first started getting into woodworking, Pops showed me his two carving mallets. One was made from Osage Orange and one was a heavier, denser, more oily wood. He didn’t know what it was, but he said if I ever came across one to pick it up because they were pretty hard to come by.

It didn’t take me much research to figure out Pops had a Lignum Vitae mallet in his possession. So I started looking into finding one. An extensive search found very few places that sold them. Most sold mallets made of similar woods or slightly-less-dense hardwoods like Tonga. I did find a place that claimed to sell brand new Lignum Vitae mallets. They have Lignum heads and an ash handle. Here is what one looks like:

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It didn’t quite look the same as what I’d remembered Pops’ to be like… After reading up on it a while, I came to understand there are really several different genus/species of tree that people refer to as Lignum Vitae. The mallet I had is Bulnesia sarmientoi, or Argentinium Lignum Vitae. It is a good, strong wood, but it doesn’t have the characteristics of true Lignum Vitae, which only grows in a narrow lattitude of the Earth and includes Haiti and the tip of Southern Florida. Scientifically, it’s name is guaiacum officinale.

Thus started my search for a true, one-piece lignum mallet…

My next eBay purchase ended up being a bit of good luck on my part. It was listed only as a wooden carving mallet. I could tell by the weight the seller gave (true lignum vitae weighs in at 88lbs per cubic foot) and the grain of the wood that the mallet head was true lignum. The handle is probably oak.

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It wasn’t the one-piece turned mallet I was looking for, but I knew I was getting closer. Besides… I picked it up for a song and a dance ($20) and the guy happened to live right here in St. Louis, so we ended up meeting in a hospital parking lot, passing money and woodworking tools through cracked windows in a small rain shower. It felt very cloak and dagger like…

The next two I collected were more along the lines of what I was looking for! The seller listed them together, so… I got two. I paid a little more for the pair ($32), but I think I still got a good deal. The larger one is a very hefty mallet; it is useful for more forceful carving and chiseling work. The end of the head is still stamped with “HAITI”, a sure sign of the true Lignum mallet.

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The smaller one is a very light mallet – the lightest Lignum Vitae mallet I’ve seen – and it works well for finessing a chisel just the right amount. This mallet was turned from a piece of Lignum that was all sapwood, which is why it is lacking the distinctive dark graining.

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A few months ago, I was given the task of cataloging the woodworking tools of my first mentor, as he’d suffered several strokes and was unable to do any more woodworking. His wife wanted me to pick out one or two tools that might mean something to me. My eyes immediately rested on Pop’s lignum vitae mallet – the one that had started it all. I picked it up and held it by the handle and looked up at her. She nodded quietly. I gave her a $100 bill. It is the most I’d paid and probably the most I’ll ever pay for a lignum vitae mallet, but I knew it was going to a good man who needed it. At some point, hopefully I’ll get over this weird desire to track down and own these mallets… but even when that day comes, I’ll still hold on to this one.

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Speaking of stopping… What started this whole blog entry? My latest find… Just won and paid for it this evening, so I don’t even have it in hand yet, but… here it is:

http://www.auctiva.com/hostedimages/showimage.aspx?gid=75153&image=44744041&images=44744041&formats=0&format=0

A slightly different shape, no? It will be interesting to get it in hand and measure it out to see where it compares to the others. I’d also like to start weighing them and maybe doing some tests on which mallet works best in what situation.

(I guess I’m really just trying to justify my problem… whatever works, right?)

-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com



15 comments so far

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12300 posts in 2820 days


#1 posted 04-29-2007 06:30 AM

Thanks for posting these Ethan. They are very nice. I’ll keep my eyes out for you…

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

765 posts in 2897 days


#2 posted 04-29-2007 06:38 AM

I’m sure my wife will want to thank you in person, Wayne!

(watch out for the left hook…)

-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12300 posts in 2820 days


#3 posted 04-29-2007 06:48 AM

I spar with my wife all the time over stuff like this. I can get out of the way pretty quickly and also can take a pretty good punch if needed.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12300 posts in 2820 days


#4 posted 04-29-2007 06:55 AM

View Sawdust2's profile

Sawdust2

1467 posts in 2810 days


#5 posted 04-29-2007 07:15 AM

Mine looks like a regular mallet. Handle half way down the side.
‘Bout 55 years ago as a cub scout we toured a wood mill somewhere in North Jersey.
When we left we were all given lignum vitae mallets.

Still dense. Still works. Still has that waxy look.

-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View Karson's profile

Karson

34902 posts in 3123 days


#6 posted 04-29-2007 02:44 PM

They look grea Ethan. Good luck in getting over your addiction. Do they have a 12 step program.

I think the first one is coming to grips with having a problem. and #2 is getting as many of them as you can before you are cured. LOL

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 3022 days


#7 posted 04-29-2007 06:17 PM

Nice addiction, it’s something you can put your hands on.
I have a lignum vitae mallet I bought maybe 30 years ago. Mine is from light sapwood. I didn’t realize it was a dark wood before.
At one time they used it for pillow block bearings for ships propellers.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN. http://www.woodcarvingillustrated.com/gallery/member.php?uid=3627&protype=1

View Roger Strautman's profile

Roger Strautman

649 posts in 2856 days


#8 posted 04-29-2007 07:26 PM

Ethan, I think I might the same addiction you have because I have 6 in all and am still looking for that perfect mallet. LOL! Thank goodness my shop is out back of the house where my wife won’t go.

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

765 posts in 2897 days


#9 posted 04-30-2007 04:50 AM

Rog,

I feel much better now, knowing that YOU have the same addiction as me! ;)

Speaking of… I’m afraid I have something else to add to it, gentlemen. I found a nice little joiner’s mallet that was being listed as walnut. I don’t think they’re right though; I think it is a lignum joiner’s mallet. The graining and, again, the weight seem to indicate otherwise.

Once I get it into my shop, I’ll clean it up a little and take some pictures for you.

-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1996 posts in 3128 days


#10 posted 04-30-2007 07:11 AM

“Hi, my name is Ethan, I’m a mallet addict…...”

good reading, thanks brother,
Mark

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

765 posts in 2897 days


#11 posted 04-30-2007 03:57 PM

Unfortunately, one of many addictions…

Hey, at least I kicked smoking, right? (It will be 11 years on November 18th… not that I’m keeping track.)

Unfortunately, as it turns out, woodworking addictions are a little more expensive than tobacco addictions…

-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 3022 days


#12 posted 04-30-2007 04:03 PM

The people in MN are paying 4 bucks a pack.

You can buy a lot of mallets with all that smoke.

I’m glad I quit when I was 7 years old.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN. http://www.woodcarvingillustrated.com/gallery/member.php?uid=3627&protype=1

View Bill's profile

Bill

2579 posts in 2884 days


#13 posted 04-30-2007 04:04 PM

At least they are not as unhealthy as smoking Ethan.

-- Bill, Turlock California, http://www.brookswoodworks.com

View Mark's profile

Mark

316 posts in 2856 days


#14 posted 04-30-2007 04:15 PM

A mallet addiction…, I believe that should be rephrased to a mallet protection plan. Mallets can be effective in home and shop protection. That sounds better than addiction. Congratulations on being tobacco free for 10.5 years. I quit dipping and smoking in June 1984 after I was diagnosed with throat cancer. It is all a matter of motivation. Regarless of your motiviation having a substantial mallet protection plan is cheaper than a tobacco addiction.

Continued good luck.

-- Mark

View Francisco Luna's profile

Francisco Luna

936 posts in 2116 days


#15 posted 05-12-2009 10:43 PM

Nice topic and nice addiction, I can’t imagine how nice look all those mallets on a shelve!
I am looking for Lignum Vitae for a Handplane Im building, just for the sole. Really interesting, It never crossed my mind to know if a mallet at ebay is really LV by its weight!

another nice one:
http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=130305294997&ru=http%3A%2F%2Fshop.ebay.com%3A80%2F%3F_from%3DR40%26_trksid%3Dm38.l1313%26_nkw%3D130305294997%26_sacat%3DSee-All-Categories%26_fvi%3D1&_rdc=1

-- Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day's work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain" Frank Lloyd Wright

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