We were introduced to working with a Holly Mallet by Damian Goodburn some time ago and have been using them ever since. A holly mallet is made from the natural branch growth of a holly tree.
When making a Holly mallet the tree is chosen because of the way it grows. The thing to look for is where side branches appear in several places at the same point around the trunk. The side branches need to be growing at right angles to the trunk to create a usable angle for a handle. It is the turmoil caused by several branches growing from the same point that creates a great deal of strength at that point.
Holly is a wonderful wood to work when fresh cut. It seasons to a very tough material and has often been used for rowing thole pins, a tradition often seen at Mersea Island.
Cutting the trunk just above and below this knot region, retaining one side branch as a handle, produces a mallet. One tree will produce a whole set, of varying weights. David Pryer, a volunteer at the Sutton Hoo Ship’s company has just made a set of five Holly Hammers of varying sizes and weights. These are being used when splitting the oak needed for the many planks required. With prolonged use the holly mallets are becoming beautifully rounded, shiny and smooth making them very tactile.
The particular tree selected for our mallets come from an ancient nuttery which is shown on old maps, and could well date from the late 14th Century when hazel trees were grown to make the wattle and daub infill in our timber-framed house.
David has also made a nailing dolly out of another (seasoned) piece of holly, which will be used when we come to nailing and riveting.