Monday, January 28, 2013

Rawhide Mallet Experiment

I've been busy, but not busy posting so I'm dropping a few posts onto the blog all at one time.  This post was sort of an after thought.  Wasn't really a project on my list and wasn't really inspired by any sort of period reference.  Long story short, I went to Tandy leather to look for a rawhide mallet and was very disappointed by the price they were asking.  I found that some of my metal stamps I made were starting to mushroom on the top from using a metal hammer and so I decided to get a mallet.  The ones at Tandy were pretty, but pricy.  Yuck.  I thought to myself, "dang, how tough would it be to make one of those?"  

I dug around in the basement for an old dog chew rawhide I knew I had.  At one point, maybe 9 years ago, I planned on experimenting with making some armor out of rawhide.  I bought a dog bone from a pet store and soaked it in water for a while.  When soft enough I stretched it out and let it dry to see how easy it was to play with.  Worked well enough, but for some reason I decided against ever doing anything with it, so there the unrolled dog bone sat for some years.  

With no testing and no real plan I placed the rawhide into a big pot and boiled it up.  It didn't actually fit in the pot.  Took some doing to bend it enough to fit into my 4 quart pot.  Once it got to boiling I turned down the heat and let go for about 15 minutes.  Then I thought to myself… "crap, now what?"  I ran and got some twine from the garage and figured I just roll it up and tie it off and let it dry.  When the rawhide was done boiling I rinsed in cool water enough that I could handle it without gloves and not scream too loudly.  The rawhide thickened up a LOT!  I tried rolling it up and had some problem getting it started.  In hind sight by placing one end in a vice I might have been able to pull it tighter as I rolled it.  I was now in a bit of a rush.  I had used our kitchen cookware and my wife hates when I "do projects" with the good stuff.  I had my eleven year old daughter sand on one end of the rawhide as I pulled very hard to stretch it out as I rolled it up.  Worked well enough after she learned to keep her balance during my tugging.

I was rather surprised how well the ends even looked.  Turns out the one end is a bit thicker than the other.  I don't think the thickness of the rawhide was consistent.  Oh well, just a test.


As I looked at it I decided that the mallets at Tandy were a lot smoother and prettier.  I should trim it now while the rawhide i soft.  NOPE.  Don't do it.  I did it and yes, it looks nicer... at first.


The images above were taken about 30 minutes after the rolling adventure ended.  I liked the tightness and the cleanliness of the end, but in the images below you can see that as it dried the nice smooth surface changed.  I should have probably just waited until the whole thing dried through and then take a saw to it.  Looks like I'll have to do that anyway.   These images were taken a few days of drying and a little bit of heating.


Ever impatient I started to wonder if the center would dry at the same rate.  I was wondering if the outside dried and the center didn't would it start to rot?  I resolved to speed up the process.  I placed the mallet head into a toaster over at about 150~200 degrees for about 2 hours.  I checked it every 15 minutes or so.  No issues seemed to arise.  I did that again three days later.  Still nice and tight.  So far so good.  

The images below are from the last heating.  I took the twine off since it was starting to burn a little and the mallet head shrunk enough so that the twine didn't do anything any longer anyway.  I heated the mallet to 250 for an hour and called it done.  I'm probably going to let this sit for a while before drilling it out.  The surface is VERY hard and still solid enough to use as a mallet for leather working.  I have used it without a handle already and it works fine.

All in all I'm rather happy with the experiment so far.  Next time I think I would keep better notes.  I think the whole project took only 3~4 days or so and only a small amount of real work.  I will probably make another of these, only bigger and with more prep work to help in the rolling of the hot rawhide.  This one I think I'll use for metal working.  I'll leave one side flat and round the other side up for dishing.  I have a copper and brass project I'm working on and a soft headed rawhide mallet might be just the trick for dishing the metal with little damage to the surface.