In honor of naming our blog, we wanted to post about The Beetle. No, we’re not talking insects. We’re talking about the giant wooden hammer that appears at every raising.
We have several beetle mallets around the shop all weighing in between 20 to 30 pounds, sized around 12″ x 12″ x 6″. This is one serious hammer (or mallet, whatever you prefer). A vital tool, beetles are used to help seat joinery together, shift posts or beams, and on occasion drive in pegs. The beetle has various names throughout the timber frame industry, most commonly the “persuader” or the “commander”.
(At my very first raising I was asked to pass the persuader over. Once I knew what ‘the persuader’ was, I reached for the handle with confidence and pulled. I was astonished when it barely moved. It was an oak beetle, weighing about 35 pounds, which is reasonable…if you’re expecting the weight of it. I was saved from a second effort by a nearby timber framer who hefted it up easily and handed it over.)
Often the head of the beetle is crafted from kiln dried Douglas fir while the handles are always hardwood. About 80% of our frames are Douglas fir. Using a beetle with the same density wood helps prevent damage/denting of any of the timber posts or beams. On occasion hardwood beetles are required to “encourage” joinery on hardwood frames, where pine species just aren’t enough (think reclaimed oak).
The head of the mallet is typically free of heart for longer durability of the beetle. Checking and cracking are just a part of life for these heavy mallets. Most beetle heads are replaced yearly.
The beetle is an essential timber framing tool, a piece that is revered, used and abused, but keeps on giving.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, that is Iain silhouetted in the top header image of this blog, wielding a beetle during a west coast raising. Clients are just as fascinated as we are when these big mallets come into play – we have to thank the spectators of the raising for this, and many other images.