Several years ago, I picked up a chisel at a garage sale. It is not a sought after antique piece; a Sorby, a Ward, or a Wm. Marples, but something about it has resonated with me. I would usually say that a good quality chisel should be bare steel. Something that was originally chromed or nickel plated, probably can be passed over while picking through the flea market. For this chisel, I ignored my own advice.
The chisel is a Craftsman BP. I don’t know anything about its age and couldn’t find much when searching online. It appears that it was originally chromed, but much of that has flaked off. It is probably a 1 – 1/4 inch chisel, although measuring it, it actually looks like 32mm to me, which is ever so slightly larger than 1 – 1/4.
When I bought the chisel the handle was split and it had been used until the handle was severely mushroomed over. I trimmed most of the mushroomed wood away and figured that I would turn a new handle for it some day. I used the chisel extensively when building my workbench and have found that it has become my “go to” tool when reaching for a large chisel. It sharpens quickly and seems to hold its edge quite well.
In November 2014, I was reading on Joe McGlynn’s great website, McGlynn On Making, and one of his posts showed a chisel with a London pattern handle that appealed to me. I commented about it, and in a subsequent post Joe put some more photos of the chisel up for me. You can see that post here: https://mcglynnonmaking.com/2014/11/15/shop-update/
On a separate note, Joe hasn’t posted since last May. I’ve sent him an email but didn’t get any response. I hope that all is well with him. I do miss reading his posts.
A friend at work gave me a couple of pieces of Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) that were in his fire pile. These have sat in my lumber pile for more than a year and been longing to be made into something useful. Madrone is a fairly hard wood, with a Janka Scale rating of 1,460. This puts it in the same range as Sugar Maple and Sapele. I did a little reading online and it seems that Madrone may be suitable for a chisel handle. I figured that it was worth a try, and certainly better than burning the stuff. It has a fine and even texture, so I though it might do well on the lathe.
Time to put the bandsaw to good use. I’m still using the blade that was on the saw when I bought it and I really do need to order something new. I’d like a 2/3 variable pitch ¾” blade. I suppose I’ll have to do this soon, as the 8-10 tpi blade that is on there now, works, but is really not ideal.
In any case, I wanted to make some 1 ½ -inch square blanks.
The plank yielded 2 blanks of usable size, but one was badly checked. That’s what using firewood gets ya!
As one face and one edge had already been jointed, I cleaned up the blanks at the planer.
Then to the crosscut sled.
The blank that I chose to use had a small check at one end, but I cut most of it off and the rest will be removed at the lathe.
The next task to tackle, was how to turn the square blank into an octagon. I didn’t want to build a jig for a single handle, so I tilted my bandsaw table to 45°.
So here’s a problem. Look at the above photo. I had to remove the upright (resawing) section of the fence and the tightening bolt that holds it in place. I then had to run the square blank along the back side of the fence. But… the fence isn’t straight. It has that section that zig-zags. In this case, my blank was short enough that it didn’t matter. As you can see in the above photo, the blank just barely fit in between the offset part of the fence and the blade. But, what if you want to make a 2-foot long octagonal blank. There has to be another way than what I did here. Suggestions? Comments?
Before mounting the blank in the lathe, now is the time to clean up the facets. I think that this is best done with a sharp plane at the bench.
I had heard that Madrone was difficult to work, but it planed like a dream. The plane left it silky smooth with not a trace of tear-out. I smoothed one facet, rotated the blank in the bench dogs, and repeated until all eight facets were done.
I didn’t want the blank to split when I mounted it between the lathe centers, so I drilled a small pilot hole on each end.
At the lathe, I started to rough out the taper by eye.
To ensure that the taper on the new handle matches that of the old, I took measurements directly with calipers.
With the thicknesses of both the top and bottom of the taper transferred, all you have to do is connect the marks with a straight scraper tool.
I realize that I should have taken more photos at this point, but I needed both hands for the lathe tools. I added a sort of coma recta curve at the neck and rounded off the butt end of the handle. I then sanded the turned sections up to 220 before removing from the lathe.
After removing from the lathe I tested the fit.
I applied a coat of Watco Danish Oil and set the handle aside. Time to give the chisel itself a little TLC. I keep a fabric buffing wheel installed in one of my bench grinders for polishing metal parts. I spent some time at the buffer and polished the chisel.
When the finish had dried, I put the handle back in the socket and seated it with a few sharp taps with a mallet. I think that the handle is beautiful, but I think I must admit that I made it too large. The octagonal section of the handle finished out at 1.46 inches thick. This might be good on a mortise chisel, but it’s probably too much here.
I am very happy with the Madrone. It is beautiful wood, and it planed and turned far better than I was expecting. Only time will tell how well the Madrone stands up to mallet impacts, but I think it is hard enough to last.
I have continued to experiment with London Pattern chisel handles, but you will have to wait for another post for more info on that.
– Jonathan White