Friends, it was only a matter of time until I made it.
It’s Ham-mer time !
Step 1: Maple Smoked Ham
I couldn’t use anything but maple for this project. It’s hard as math, has a breathtaking figure, and satiates my appetite for French-Canadian maple glazed ham. ‘’But, isn’t that dark wood –WALNUT? No kind friend, it’s torrified maple (a.k.a. Roasted, Toasted, Caramelized, or Baked Maple ). It is unequivocally beautiful yet equally as unpleasant to work with. Carving it releases a mouth-watering aroma of smoked maple barbecue sauce which, other than making you hungry, is very pleasant. As soon as the chips turned to dust; however, my lungs began to bleed. It immediately outranked the plethora of toxic exotic hardwoods, such as mahogany, as the worst pneumonic irritant I have ever endured. I basically had to wear a hazmat suit whilst milling it. Which brings us to our first step, milling it.
I buy most of my hardwoods with two squared sides and two rough cut sides. That way I can use the table saw to square up the rest of the pieces and rip them to width. I then use the mitre saw to crosscut the pieces to length.
I milled the lumber to get the most out of each piece, the final dimensions ended up being: 2cm x 3cm x 5 ½’’ (please excuse my Canadian form of measurement ). The handle is comprised of a piece of regular hard maple measuring 2cm x 3xm x 12’’ (try to find a piece with straight grain ). This is a great way to use up scraps in the shop!
I suggest gluing up the mallet in three separate panels. Once they’ve dried, glue the three panels together. This method avoids the struggle of trying to clamp up 11 pieces of slippery glue lathered wood!
Step 2: Carving the Ham
Once the glue has dried, start by laying out bulk sections of material that will need to be removed. To begin, I used a compass to draw a circle at the non-handled end of the ham block to give myself a better idea of the amount of material that needed to be removed. I then took the ham block to the table saw’s chopping block and with the blade tilted at 45°, I trimmed off the square corners of the block, turning it into an octagon. After that experience, I wanted to mitigate any more dust production and especially prevent it from becoming airborne, so I decided to abandon my traditional power carving methods and use only hand tools for the remainder of the project! I started by lopping off corners of the ham block towards the handled end with my razor saw (one of the best investments you can make in the shop ). Next, instead of trying to make complex cuts, I clamped the ham block to the bench and used a razor sharp chisel to remove as much excess material (fat ) as possible before moving to the carving knife.
I used a Swedish style carving knife and a miniature spokeshave for the remainder of the detailed carving work. When working with wood that is this hard, it is vital that your caving tools are scary sharp. If you are inexperienced working with tools that sharp, wear at least a Kevlar or other type of cut resistant glove on your non-dominant hand because you will end up cutting yourself. Even the most experienced cut themselves, just not as gravely.
In a perhaps futile attempt to protect the handle of the Ham-mer from stray knife blows, I wrapped it in multiple layers of electrical tape (see photo evidence of the results ). To make it safer and easier to hold I also added a temporary handle to the ham section of the Ham-mer by using a double ended screw and a dowel. This allowed me to safely hold the Ham-mer regardless of grain direction while carving, avoiding chip out.
One of the carving techniques you might like to try with a piece of wood this hard is to harness the power of your shoulder by locking your elbow to keep your arm straight and parallel to your body. Your knife hand should fall around your waist if standing or past your knee and off to one side if sitting. In this locked position, orient the blade of the knife downward and pull the material up against the knife’s edge while keeping your arm locked. The tip of the knife should be pointed upwards ever so slightly so that it slices through the wood diagonally. This technique reduces the risk of cutting yourself as the knife remains stationary. I then used a miniature spokeshave to clean up some of the knife marks and shape the handle.
*A side note on handle shaping: I tried to photograph it but thought it was worth mentioning that when creating a mallet type tool with a singular striking face I like to carve out an indent in the handle where my index finger naturally rests, that way I can orient the mallet intuitively without ever having to look at it.
Step 3: Scoring the Ham
Cutting the score marks proved to be an interesting challenge as it is oddly shaped. The solution I came up with was to cover the ham section in painter’s tape and drew a diagonal line at an angle I thought was appropriate. Next, using a compass, I followed my line with the business end of the compass allowing the pencil end to trace a parallel line to the one that was drawn. I continued with this method until all the required score lines in one direction were achieved. I then repeated the same procedure in the opposite direction. This gave me a diamond pattern to follow with my razor saw. I simply used the saw’s kerf at a depth of a few millimeters to create the score lines in the ham. Any lines that weren’t perfect were touched up with a small triangle file after the painter’s tape was removed.
Step 4: Shaping the Bone
With that finished, I focused on creating the pommel of the Ham-mer which is based on the heart-shaped end of a jointed bone. To make it easier to hold whilst carving, I left the shape on the end of the square piece of stock that I used. Again, I used the razor saw to remove the excess material before beginning to carve it. I used a small gouge to hollow out the center of the pommel and used my carving knife to round over the outside curves. Once I was happy with the shape, I lopped it off the end of the square stock with my razor saw and cleaned up the outside of the piece with my carving knife. I then marked and drilled a hole to receive a small dowel and an even smaller hole for an alignment pin to keep it properly oriented during the glue up. Before gluing on the pommel, I dry fit it to the handle and used it as a reference to carve off the necessary material from the handle. Only after that rough shaping did I proceed to use 5-minute epoxy to glue the pommel to the handle. After it cured, I did the final shaping on the pommel and handle to make the transition as seamless as possible. Finally, I sanded everything down to a fine grit, making the handle comfortable to hold for extended periods.
Step 5: Inlayed Slice of Ham
Now, the part that I was dreading…extracting a ¼’’ of end grain from the ham end of the mallet to cap it with an inlayed faceplate (slice of ham ). My first thought was to simply use a ridiculously large forstner bit to hog out the material. As it turns out, that monstrosity of a drill bit that outweighs my drill was too large in diameter. I toyed around with the idea of removing all the material by hand with gouges and chisels, but that end grain was like hardened steel. So, I did something off camera that is certainly not recommended. You see I don’t own a small trim or palm router nor do I have a router table and I couldn’t safely nor securely clamp the piece in an upright position because of the handle so I’ll simply say this: Use a palm router or a router mounted in a table with a carbide tipped straight bit to take shallow passes in order to hog out the necessary end grain material at a consistent depth. Then use a sharp chisel to clean up any of the edges as needed.
Once that material is removed, start making the faceplate insert by using a piece of figured hard maple of the right thickness and cut it to approximate size. Then sand the edges until you achieve a tight fit. Proceed to then glue (using the glue of your choice ) the faceplate, clamping it in place and setting it aside to dry. I was lucky enough to find a piece of maple that sort of mimics the patterning of a sliced ham and decided to paint the faceplate using watered down acrylics. That way it wouldn’t be mistaken for anything but a Ham-mer and would still let the grain shine through. I followed the center pattern of the grain in the center of the piece with tape and filled it in with white paint. I then painted the surrounding area with a translucent fleshy pink.
Step 6: Maple Glaze
At this point, the Ham-mer still smells like smoked maple barbecue sauce. To try and keep that aspect of the Ham-mer I applied only a thin coat of food safe butcher block oil as a finish. If you press your nose up to it, you can still smell it.
To keep it fresh before its first use, I vacuum sealed it and put it in the fridge. When I was ready to use it for the first time, I heated it up in the microwave before taking it out of the bag to use it!
Step 7: Closing Remarks
This was one of those projects where it would have been helpful to have the item you’re currently making to aid in the making of said item. It would have come in real hamdy when I had to hog out the excess fat from the ham blhock with my chisels.
In the words of my grandfather, Dr. Ham, ‘’Making one’s own tools is essential in the process of making one’s own creations. Innovations require innovative tools.’’ I inherited most of his tools and cherish especially a collection of his prisonesque shivs that he made over the years to serve different carving or cutting purposes. His tools were nearly all painted aluminum grey which made his workshop look like a real-life set of a 1950s B&W TV show. I shellac’d the silver handles of those coveted tools to protect them and prevent that colour from chipping off and to protect myself from those same chips as they are essentially pure lead.
I can’t wait to pull this out along with a sanitized chisel to carve up the ham at our next family gathering!