London Pattern Chisel Handle

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.

My poor, sad, neglected chisel.

My poor, sad, neglected chisel.

Lots of missing chrome. Craftsman BP U.S.A. Logo.

Lots of missing chrome. Craftsman BP U.S.A. Logo.

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.

Don't blame me... It was worse when I bought it.

Don’t blame me… It was worse when I bought it.

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.

Pacific Madrone (or Madrona) saved from the fire pile.

Pacific Madrone (or Madrona) saved from the fire pile.

Jointed on one face and one edge.

Jointed on one face and one edge.

This Madrone has a nice even, fine texture.

This Madrone has a nice even, fine texture.

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.

I ripped a 1 ½ - inch thick plank at the bandsaw.

I ripped a 1 ½ – inch thick plank at the bandsaw.

It doesn't have to be perfect at this point, there is still plenty of machining ahead.

It doesn’t have to be perfect at this point, there is still plenty of machining ahead.

I then ripped 1 ½ - inch square blanks.

I then ripped 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!

This one had too much checking to be usable.

This one had too much checking to be usable.

This will work.

This will work.

As one face and one edge had already been jointed, I cleaned up the blanks at the planer.

Squaring up the blank and cleaning up the bandsaw marks.

Squaring up the blank and cleaning up the bandsaw marks.

Then to the crosscut sled.

Squaring up one end.

Squaring up one end.

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.

Cutting off most of the checked end.

Cutting off most of the checked end.

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°.

Making a square blank into an octagonal one.

Making a square blank into an octagonal one.

I tilted the table on my bandsaw to 45°.

I tilted the table on my bandsaw 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 trapped the blank in between the dogs on my bench.

I trapped the blank in between the dogs on my 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 smoothed the facet with a bench plane.

I smoothed the facet with a bench plane.

I smoothed all 8 facets. The Pacific Madrone planed beautifully. Zero tear-out.

I smoothed all 8 facets. The Pacific Madrone planed beautifully. Zero tear-out.

Marking the center.

Marking the center.

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.

A small pilot hole to help prevent the lathe centers from splitting the blanks.

A small pilot hole to help prevent the lathe centers from splitting the blanks.

At the lathe, I started to rough out the taper by eye.

Mounting the blank in the lathe and starting the taper.

Mounting the blank in the lathe and starting the taper.

To ensure that the taper on the new handle matches that of the old, I took measurements directly with calipers.

Measuring the size of the small end of the taper.

Measuring the size of the small end of the taper.

I transferred this measurement to the blank with the calipers and parting tool.

I transferred this measurement to the blank with the calipers and parting tool.

And repeated this process for the thicker end of the taper.

And repeated this process for the thicker end of the taper.

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.

The tapers match.

The tapers match.

Forming a cylinder for the next section of the handle.

Forming a cylinder for the next section of the handle.

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 a little more work.

After a little more work.

After removing from the lathe I tested the fit.

Testing the fit.

Testing 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.

I polished the chisel at the buffing wheel on my bench grinder.

I polished the chisel at the buffing wheel on my bench grinder.

The old handle and the new.

The old handle and the new.

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.

It looks great, but I think that it is too large.

It looks great, but I think that it is too large.

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.

Outside in the daylight, you can more easily see the pinkish tone in the Madrone.

Outside in the daylight, you can more easily see the pinkish tone in the Madrone.

 

I have continued to experiment with London Pattern chisel handles, but you will have to wait for another post for more info on that.

More soon.

 

– Jonathan White

About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don’t build enough – I need help!

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15 Responses to London Pattern Chisel Handle

  1. Beautiful job of making a new handle. I really like that curve detail on the bottom of it. That makes the chisel handle pop out.
    I think you answered your own question of how to make an octagonal handle. I would have laid it out in pencil like you did for the lathe center finding step and used a block plane to plane it to the lines. Clean it up with a jack or #4 to smooth it out nice and call it done.
    I think Joe was spirited away by aliens.

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks Ralph,

      After I wrote the post I realized that I could mount the resaw fence on the back side of the cast iron part. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks like it will fit.

      Jonathan

  2. Gary Cook says:

    Hi Jonathan

    Really love that little Grizzly planer. Can you give me more details on the model please?

    thanks
    Gary

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Gary,

      My planer is a Grizzly G1021 15″. It has since been replaced in the Grizzly line up by the G0453. The main body of the planer is the same as the newer model, but the newer one has the motor mounted underneath, cast iron infeed and out feed tables, and rollers on the top. These are all great upgrades. I bought mine on Craigslist so took what I could get. I got a really good deal on it though.

      It originally came on an open metal that looked like this:

      http://ahturf.com/store/image/cache/data/moved1212/Grizzly%20G1021-500×500.jpg

      I took the planer off the stand and made a mobile cart base for it. It’s a beast, so I used an engine hoist to pick it up. I also removed the 3 blade cutterhead and upgraded to a Shelix spiral segmented cutterhead. This up grade cost twice what I paid for the planer, but now runs like a $2,000 machine for less than half the price.

      I hope this helps.

      Jonathan

  3. Bruce Thompson says:

    Jonathan. . . I once needed a bunch of octagon handle material for lathe tools. I found a bunch of maple in my wood shed and squared off to what I thought would work, then on to octagon. I installed a 45 degree router bit in the router table, adjusted the fence, made a few test cuts to get equidistance facets and away I went. Turned out pretty well!
    Bruce T.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey Bruce,

      That’s a fantastic idea. Seems pretty simple and it would be far easier than the bandsaw, far more accurate too! It just goes to show how many ways there are to accomplish things in woodworking. I think that is part of the appeal to me, and I love looking at how other woodworkers do things.

      Of course, now I need to build a router table…. Thanks

      I hope you are well. All the best,

      Jonathan

      • Bruce Thompson says:

        As my father would say. . . “six of one and a half dozen of the other, it never ends!” Fly at it Jonathan, every shop needs a router table.
        Bruce

  4. This handle looks amazing. By far the best I have seen.

  5. Hi Jonathan
    That Craftsman logo look like late 30s-early 40s.
    Nice rehab jobs BTW, you sure do great work…

    Sincerely, Bob

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Bob,

      I’ve been thinking about you lately. I hope you are holding up ok. Thanks for the info on the logo, it’s good to hear from you.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

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