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Making Chisel Handles


I was asked recently why re-handling old chisels involves so much black magic - and the truth is, I don't know if there is any magic involved...  I've never found it too difficult, unless the quality of the chisel was poor.  A friend asked if I could document how I make them, so here it is...  

The Tools

I use a lathe - though there are others who make handles without one, I find using a lathe simpler for me.  But it isn't like I have taken out any large sums of money to finance a turning addiction.  I'm not into turning bowls, or anything fancy, but a lathe comes in handy for a lot of things including finials, spindles, bed post, and yes, tool handles.  But I didn't want to spend any large amount on the things, so what I've got is a Harbor Freight lathe that I bought for $180:

It's mounted on a small bench that's bolted to the wall, which holds it pretty steady.  A lathe isn't much good without tools, so I bought a "vintage" set of craftsman turning tools for $35:

They include (from left to right) a parting tools, a round scraper, a pointed scraper, a small spindle gouge, a medium spindle gouge, a large roughing gouge, a small skew chisel and a large skew chisel.  I wouldn't recommend the Craftsman brand to anybody - the steel in these is pretty poor.  That said - this is basically the same set I learned on years ago, and serves my purposes well.  That is my entire gamut of turning  tools.  If I were to do more than the utilitarian turning I do, it might not be enough.

The Wood

Tool handles need to be made from good, solid wood such as beech, ash, or hickory.  I've glued some up with good results when I haven't had any wood thick enough on hand,  but aesthetically its always better to start with wood that is the proper thickness.  5/4 thickness is sometimes enough, but I prefer to start with 6/4.  On recent trip to dad's place, he let me have some native North Dakota ash that's perfect for handles:

I square up some pieces to 1-1/2" square or so, cut them to about 7-1/2" in length, and chuck them up in the lathe.  I then use my roughing gouge with the lathe set at a slow speed (about 600 rpm) to get the stock to round.