Making Chisel Handles

by Ryan Cathey

This article first appeared in a thread on theWoodNet woodworking forum. It was compiled and reproduced here for easier public consumption. All Text and Images are the property of Ryan Cathey.

See Lathe.

See Lathe Run.

Here are a few various "tools" I use when I turn my chisel handles. The calipers are a cheap pair from Lowes and the handle is an old one I found at a flea market. With practice you won't need a pattern but on the first try I suggest having something to look off of. The chisel pictured is my victim.

This is the first measurement I take. Notice that I'm measuring from the inside of one wall to about the middle of the opposite wall. Sometimes I measure more but never less.

My first cut defines the top of the socket tenon.

For the bottom part of the socket tenon I simply insert the calipers into the socket until they bottom out and use that measurement.

This picture shows how I mark the distance from the top of socket tenon to the bottom. For an accurate fit it's important to sneak up on the calipers' setting. I use a parting tool for this step.

Top and bottom of tenon socket.

Here I am starting to shape the tenon.

This is the completed socket tenon.

The last measurement I usually take is for the taper of the handle. For a nice look it's important to get this to be a continuation of the chisel's socket. I set my calipers for about 1/32 to 3/32 of over-lap depending on the size of the chisel socket. For small sockets I use less overlap and for bigger sockets I use more overlap.

This picture shows how I mark for this overlap.

This is the completed overlap mark. I keep this mark small so it doesn't show on the completed handle.

Beginning the taper

As I mentioned earlier, the taper on the handle should be a continuation of the socket's taper. I hold the chisel above the handle to closely match the tapers.

Beginning the fun part. After shaping the socket tenon and taper the rest can be made however you wish. For this article I'm going to continue the 750 style. For this I use my smallest spindle gouge.

Start forming the shape of the grip.

To match the shape I hold the pattern chisel handle under the new handle. As you can see, places that don't match well stand out like a sore thumb.

Completed and sanded form. Typically I wet sand with boiled linseed oil and 320 grit paper followed by a few coats of paste wax. For this handle I tried Zinsser shellac. I simply rubbed it on with a rag while the lathe was on. I would suggest the shellac but I've had this can in my unheated shop for a few years.

After parting my handle off the lathe I test the fit and find the tenon socket to be a little too big. I prefer my handles to be within an 1/8" or so to the socket.

By twisting the handle in the socket I can tell where the handle is rubbing. Simply whittle these dark areas off with a sharp chisel or knife.

Repeat the twisting and whittling as necceasry.

Bang the handle into the socket.

And admire your work!

Since my first handle I've learned a few things about making chisel handles. My first tip is to buy that cheap pair of calipers. It has been my best investment thus far (the lathe doesn't count because my parents purchased it for me ). My second tip is to just dive in and do it. Find a good turning wood and give it a shot. If you can use them I would suggest any of the rosewoods (Dalbergia). They are wonderful turning woods. I would recommend that the beginner stay away from purpleheart. I hate that stuff. Finally, look up old tool catalogs for inspiration on your chisel handles.

Good luck!!

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