So what is a mahl stick and how do you know if you need one? If you have smudged a painting or a charcoal drawing while working, a mahl stick will help you to not do it again!
A mahl stick provides support for your drawing or painting hand. Just lean the chamois end on your board or easel to provide a solid brace above your work surface, and rest your hand on it.
You can buy them at any of the major online art stores (here, here and here), and I’m sure you could find one at a brick and mortar art supply store, too. However, they’re easy and inexpensive to make. I made mine from supplies I got at Home Depot and some stuff I had in my studio. It cost me around $7.
Here’s how I made my mahl stick
- 5/8-inch diameter x 36-inch dowel (mine is made of oak, $3.76 at the time of writing this)
- an extra large cork stopper (this is mine, #19 Cork Stopper, $2.38)
- some PVA (polyvinyl acetate glue – here’s what I have, it dries permanent, clear and flexible – it’s commonly used in bookbinding)
- scrap of chamois cloth (you can find this at Walmart, Target, Home Depot, local hardware store, etc.)
- pocket knife
- plate or circle template
- pencil or pen
How I put it all together in 5 steps
On the small circle side of the cork mark the center and then use the end of the dowel as your template to trace a circle.
Make sure the circle is in the center so that the edge around it is uniform and thick.
Using a sharp knife, carve out the circle inside of your line about 3/4-inch to 1-inch deep. Try to keep the sides straight. Go slow and use the crumbly tendency of the cork to your advantage by slicing down and flicking the chunks out of the hole. Check the depth by placing the cork on the dowel and marking where the bottom of the cork hits on the dowel. Then use a ruler to measure from dowel end to the mark.
Once you’ve carved a deep enough hole, fill it with PVA. Concentrate the adhesive on the sides and bottom of the hole, but put plenty in there.
Push the dowel securely into the cork. Smooth any adhesive the oozes out of the cork and the join between cork and dowel onto the cork. It will help seal it up. Let it dry for 24 hours.
Cut a circle out of the chamois the circumference you need to cover the cork as well as a strip to use as a tie.
Center the cork in the chamois circle and gather it near the bottom.
Tie the chamois strip around it near the bottom of the cork and secure with a knot. Trim any excess off the tie.
Voila! A handmade mahl stick!
Art supplies and equipment can be expensive, and I think as artists we’re always trying to spend our resources in the most impactful way possible. By making some of my own studio equipment, I’m able to invest the savings into things like pigment and paper.
Let me know how you got on with this project. Post it on Instagram and tag me @tinyowlcreates so I can see your DIY mahl stick!