Metalsmithing Tools: Paper and Rawhide Mallets
Students often ask why their new rawhide mallets are so hard and why they mar the metal. Like most jewelers, the first mallet we purchased was a rawhide mallet and at the time, we were also disappointed with its performance as it really marked our metal more than smoothing it. No one had told us, and we’ll bet that no one told you either, that the mallet had to be prepared and broken in before it will perform properly.
Prep for Rawhide Mallets
The mallets come from the factory with a hard shellac coating. The coating must be removed first. We like to use a coarse rasp and alcohol to accomplish this. An alternative many people prefer is soaking the mallet head in water for about an hour to soften the rawhide. We tried this but found it caused the spiraled rawhide to start to unwind and come apart so we no longer do this.
Soften the Surface
After this initial cleanup you can start pounding on something hard to break up and loosen the rawhide fibers, many people recommend pounding on a sharp rock or concrete sidewalk. This may lead to embedding small rock particles or sand into the fibers. These hard embedded particles can mar the surface you’re trying to smooth out and could possibly stay imbedded in the mallet’s surface for years to come.
We prefer to pound the rawhide on the sharp edge of a piece of steel or iron instead. Softening the rawhide surface is time consuming and hard work but well worth the effort when the mallet finally starts to work properly. The rawhide mallet is one of the few tools that improves its performance with age and years of hard work. Just about the time it looks worn out and ready for replacement it’s just about perfect and should be cherished.
It wasn’t until recently we were able to acquire a paper mallet, although we had been looking for many years. If you ever get a chance to buy one don’t pass it by, even if it’s a used one. Buying a used paper mallet that’s already been broken in will save you a lot of work. Remember, like the rawhide mallets, the paper mallets just get better with age and use.
We do have some good news: paper mallets are available from All Craft USA. We spoke with Tevel who says he has located a source! Just call 800.645.7124 to order one. Better yet, if you live in the area visit in person. Tevel has lots of treasures of interest for you: 135 W 29th Street, #205, NY, NY 10001, 212.279.7077.
Tevel cautions, these mallets need to be broken in just as we described for rawhide mallets.
We have not tried soaking the paper mallet in water yet and probably won’t risk destroying it. These paper mallets are so wonderful that we just can’t understand why they’ve slipped into oblivion. Good luck and we hope that someday you’ll be lucky enough to own one of these wonderful mallets.
Tom & Kay
Tom & Kay Benham are Contributing Editors to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and author its Ask the Experts column. Have a question for them? Please leave a comment below.
Get more by the Benhams in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist!