Saturday, May 16, 2015

Making turned handles for chisels.

I will continue my current stream of handle projects, though this time I will move from planed handles to turned ones.

Chisels manufactured in large quantities have the advantage that the tang is usually forged together with the chisel in a way that makes it sit right in the middle of the end, and it is uniformly shaped.

This difference from a hand forged chisels allows the handles to be turned industrially, since all the tangs of a series should theoretically look the same. With the turning some sort of hole can also be made for the tang, so fitting a new handle shouldn't require a lot of fiddling.

The mortise chisels of the two previous posts on this blog had different tangs all of them. variations in the width, thickness, length and taper required me to make a specific hole in each handle.

I brought a gouge with me from E.A. Berg, and I have always liked that shape of handle, so I am going to try to copy that shape and see if I can make a batch that looks similar to each other.
The handles for the smaller chisels will be made slightly smaller at the front end due to their smaller tang.

Before starting on the actual handles, I used my Sulphuric acid solution to clean the blades for rust, this was followed by some sanding with emery paper.
The firmer chisel and the slick were unbelievably rusted with heavy pitting.

For the first two handles I tried to drill the hole before turning. I then inserted a threaded rod with a carrier (a nut filed with two sharp points) into the hole and mounted this threaded rod in the 3 jaw chuck of the lathe. The live centre was used to control the other end of the set up.
It worked OK, but the carrier would easily loose the grip of the end grain of the handle.
My idea was the the hole should line perfectly up with the turned handle when I did it that way, but the missing grip caused too much trouble, so I needed to find a better way.
But all in all the system worked more or less as intended. I had started with the smallest chisels, so there wasn't a lot of work to do in order for the tang to seat in the hole. I wiggled a drill a bit, and that was about it.

I reused one ferrule for the first handle, and made myself a new brass ferrule for the second one.

For the record, I didn't bring any turning tools with me, so the work order was to first refit the gouge to the original handle, and then I used that one for turning. I also used the narrow chisel to define the piece for the ferrule while it was still without the handle, as soon as the handle was completed, I mounted it on the narrow chisel, and those two tools turned the rest of the bunch.

My new system was a carrier made out of a piece of pipe. I sawed a lot of teeth in the end of the pipe, it almost looked like a cup drill.
Then I mounted the carrier in the lathe, and hammered the handle stock onto the teeth. I pressed the live centre into the centre of the blank, and then I started turning.
This worked a lot better, no loss of grip at all. Once the handle was turned to shape (but not separated from the traction end), I sanded it and applied some bees wax by holding the lump of wax onto the spinning handle, I buffed the wax using a piece of rag with the lathe running.

To drill the hole, I changed the live centre to a drill chuck, and with low rpm's I just supported the handle with my hand while drilling the hole. This worked fine.

I also made one handle for the socket type slick that I have brought with me. I made the tapered section a bit too fat, so I wasn't able to pound the handle all the way down to the rim of the socket. But this will perhaps be an OK thing, because if the handle dries more than I expect, then I can hammer it further, and it should remain fixed.

Finally 4 new ferrules were made out of brass, and I mounted the rest of the handles.

Even though I took a lot of care trying to make a tapered hole by twisting and turning the blade in the handle before seating it, some of the handles were still a bit out of alignment. I guess the wood may be softer on one side of the handle, so the entire tang just shifts over to where there is the least resistance when it is seated. Anyway, now the chisels have some nice handles which they didn't have before.

I have flattened the back of most of the chisels roughly on our grinder, but I have not sharpened them all. I prefer to do that at home where I can do a better job than out here.

Despite my best efforts to keep the handles clean and good looking all through the process, I succeeded in giving the all a bit of patina. This was not the plan, but I doubt that I will do anything radical about it such as stripping the wax of and give them some oil or varnish at home. Eventually they will get some grime on them anyway.

Chisels listed from top:

E.A Berg 3/8" bevel edge chisel
KB VW Sweden 1/2" bevel edge chisel (short)
Erik Anton Berg 3/4" firmer chisel (E. A Berg)
Jernbolaget Eskilstuna Sweden 27/32" bevel edge chisel (short)
Erik Anton Berg 25 mm (1") bevel edge chisel
Jernbolaget Eskilstuna Sweden 5/4" bevel edge chisel
Jernbolaget Eskilstuna Sweden 9/16" gouge
Keen Kutter 7/4" Bevel edge slick

Before showing backsides of blades.

Before showing top of blades.

After, backside showing.

After, topside showing.


  1. Once again, nicely done! They look great.

    1. Hi Greg.

      Thanks for the nice comment.
      It is not much to show project wise, but it is one of those things that I have long wanted to do.
      It is a shame that the slick is so badly rusted. I had to grind off a bit more than 1/64" from the backside, to remove the pitting near the edge.

  2. They look great, What's next on the build scene.

    1. Hi Robert.

      Thanks for the kind words.
      Uh I am afraid that the building scene for this trip is a bit dull.
      I still have three moulding planes that I would like to give a good workout, but that is not as interesting as building something new.
      I have also brought with me some heavy canvas used for making sails or tarpaulins. The plan was to convert that into a tool roll for the chisels.

      So my best guess is that the next project will actually be a tool roll for the mortise chisels. If that ends up being a success, I'll make a tool roll for the regular chisels as well. And I'll try to fix the planes on a day where I feel for it.


  3. Nice. I need to do that to some of my chisels, too.

    1. Thanks.

      I just read about your trip to Amana.
      Darn I would have liked to be able to go there.