The alternate title for this post should be: Goldilocks and the Three Chisel Handles, or perhaps even, Chisel Handle Mk. III.
I anticipate that this will be my last post on London Pattern chisel handles. I never planned to write this much about them, but my earlier attempts at turning these were not to my satisfaction and I couldn’t let it go until I was happy.
I have used Pacific Madrone salvaged from firewood for all the handles. I first turned a handle for a Craftsman BP chisel using 1 ½-inch thick stock. This came out very nice, but I decided that it was just too big for the chisel. You can read that earlier post HERE.
Next, I restored a vintage Greenlee chisel. I milled up some 1-inch thick stock and turned another handle. This one didn’t look quite as good and was clearly too small for the chisel. You can read that earlier post HERE. When I tuned this handle, I thought that 1-inch was going to be a good size and had milled up several 1-inch thick banks. Silly me. Since I had the blanks to use, I decided to make some file handles. Those you can find HERE.
Instead of chasing the sizes all over the place, I did what I should have done in the first place. I sat down to draw out a handle. Most tool makers use millimeters and it does make the math easy, so I decided to do the same. I played with the sizes until I had what I thought looked right.
I have to admit that I’m a little embarrassed about my sad attempt at a technical drawing. I enjoy reading Greg Merritt’s fantastic website https://hillbillydaiku.com, and his drawings are incredible. Really, go take a look! Unfortunately, they make me feel like a pre-schooler let loose with a bunch of crayons when I attempt to draw. My Dad was a graphic artist and architect, my Grandfather and my Aunt, very talented painters. But me… not so much. I even took some architecture classes in college but, the pencil refuses to obey my command. I do a little better with straight lines and a ruler (and as you can see, there are a lot of those below). In any case, after much scratching and erasing, I was left with this:
*** I should add a proviso here. I changed one of the dimensions above while at the lathe. I changed the 65mm octagonal section to 80mm long. It just seemed better that way when I could see it in 3D. You’ll see that further down the page. Also, the drawing above is for a chisel with a brass ferule fitted and likely a bolster on the tang . Obviously, a socket chisel needs a taper instead.
I wanted to make two chisel handles that were the same size and replace both the too large and the too small versions I made in my earlier attempts. I had one remaining pice of Madrone in the lumber rack and I cut a board from it that was about 31-32mm thick. I ran this over the jointer and then through the planer to get it down to 30mm.
I then cut two blanks from this board that were 30mm wide.
In my first post on this topic, I said that I was having a little trouble setting up the bandsaw for the 45° cuts needed to make the square blanks into octagons. Well, I’ve since discovered that you can remove the tall re-saw fence from the main fence (this part I knew), but more importantly it’s mounting hardware as well. Re-installing the mounting hardware from the other side allows the re-saw fence to be used on the back. As Ralph would say, There was much joy in Mudville.
My two blanks were much longer than needed, but this was good as it allowed me to choose the best section for the handle.
I turned and fitted the taper, then turned the cylinder before shaping it into a cyma recta. The taper was the most time-consuming part, as I removed and tested the fit several times.
Other than the thickness of the stock, the biggest change in version 3 of my chisel handles is the way I fit the taper to the socket. I my earlier versions, the taper was quite large and extended well past the end of the socket. You don’t want to make the taper so small that the end of the socket touches the handle, but leaving it too long looks sloppy. You can see above, that my large chisel handle had about a ¼-inch of taper left in between the end of the metal socket and the start of the bulbous part of the handle. The bottom handle was worse, about 3/8-inch was left exposed. On my new handles, I paid more attention to these details and left only about 1/16-inch gap. This looks far nicer and really makes the handle look custom fit to the tool.
Below, you can see all the iterations of the project. At the far top and bottom are the original handles, next in are the first attempts that I made for each chisel, and in the center are the two final handles.
I used my usual finish of Watco Danish Oil, and over two days, applied two coats. Once dry, I seated the handles in the sockets with a few sharp taps of the mallet.
These should make the chisels a joy to use for some time to come. I hope the Pacific Madrone holds up well, but all indications are that it will.
Well, onwards to my next project. A ramped shooting board for my new Veritas plane. Oh, and the wife has decided that she wants an end-grain cutting board for the kitchen. I thought that was a woodworkers right of passage that I had managed to avoid, but it looks like I’m on the hook for one.
– Jonathan White
Traditionally these chisel handles were sized for the chisels, meaning that the biggest size had bigger handles than the smaller sizes, a detail often omitted in today chisels. And has you discovered it does not only look better to our eyes but it also change the balance and feel of the chisel. Well done Jonathan and don’t don’t berate your drawing skills, they are fine.
No need to go full bore artist on a chisel handle it wont convey more info even if it was to look nicer. I usually just make quick rough sketch, as you see in my blog from time to time. And yes I am a much better artist when I apply myself, but rough sketch are often all I need to visualize my ideas.
You got me inspired, I have a few chisels awaiting handles, Ill try yours
Thanks! I guess it is my woodworker OCD, but I have never liked the graduated handle size on tools. Or the graduated length of screwdrivers for that matter, drives me crazy. Why can’t they all line up??? Ok, I think I just opened up too much for public display.
I can’t wait to see how you turn out.
Well done Jonathan
Superb work as always, somehow I always feel inadequate while admiring your precision. When I first scanned through your post only looking at the photos, I actually thought your drawing was looking particularly good.
If one would use a handle like this for a socket type mortise chisel (such as the Lie-Nielsens), do you think one could add a steel/brass/copper hoop around the top end of the handle just above the octagonal section? You know like those on a Japanese chisel handle. It almost looks like it might fit into this particular design with ease, or do you think it will spoil it?
Another job done real well.
You absolutely could add a metal hoop to the top of the chisel handle. In fact, if you do a google image search for “London Pattern Chisel Handle”, you’ll see that many of then have this feature (especially the Sorbys). On a heavier mortising chisel, this is probably a good idea. I didn’t add it to mine as I don’t particularly care for the look and I thought it would be overkill. I haven’t tested this, but I think having a good dome on the butt end of the chisel handle is very important. It means that the center of the handle is the highest point, and thus most likely to be the point of impact for the mallet. The power from the mallet strike then travels through the center of the wooden handle and into the chisel. In my mind, that reduces the likelihood glancing blows and in turn of the wood handle splitting. A square cut butt end (without a hoop) seems as though it would mushroom over or split in no time.
The other thing that you will see in the image search is burned in lines. I think that they are generally done with a wire at the lathe (friction builds up enough heat to burn the wood). I didn’t care for the aesthetic of these either and so omitted them from mine.
Thanks for all the kind comments, I really appreciate it. I think that if you actually saw my shop, your opinion of my precision might diminish. By the way, you’d make a very good cheerleader… Perhaps not a particularly beautiful one, but….
All the best,
The handles look great!
There is not a thing wrong with your drawing. It is clear, concise and conveys all of the information needed to produce the handle.
Thank you for your kind words as to my own drawings. It is much appreciated.
Thanks, I appreciate it. Your drawings really are incredible. Also, I’m still a little amazed that you managed to build a shaving horse in just a day. I’m sure I could have managed to turn that into a monthlong project.
All the best,
I love reading about your trial-and-error process and seeing the various iterations of chisel handles. Very inspiring. More often than not, people blog about the successes they have; they don’t review the process or discuss the mistakes.
Well done. Looking forward to the next thing…
Thanks. If I didn’t write about the trial and error there wouldn’t be much to write about. Besides, if I show my mistakes, others might not have to make the same ones. Just wait till my shooting board post… That has really started out as a disaster. I ended up putting all the wood back in the rack and started over with new boards. More on that in the future. I hope you are well.
All the best,
Those look really great, Jonathan. Thanks for the Wikipedia link about madrone. I didn/t know it was such a hard, dense wood. Makes me want to bring a pruning saw with me on my next hike in the woods!
I thought the same, but the limb wood is useless. It splits and checks like crazy, there is so much spiral tension in it. Forgo the pruning saw and take a chainsaw. That way you can bring up both some trunk wood back.
All the best,
Hello sir do you sell this sort of handles ? And if you do you only make them with this wood ? Thanks in advance
I’m sorry but I haven’t ever made any of these for sale. My to-do list for my own projects seems to be ever growing faster than I cross things off.
All the best,
Hi Jonathan, just turned a couple of handles based on your design out of scrap pine before doing a whole bunch. I love the feel in the hand, but I’m curious, do yours roll around? The way mine came out, the convex portion of the cyma recta is the pivot point and narrower chisels roll on that and the tip, rather than the flats of the octagon preventing this. Ill probably play with it to just taper a bit more from the end of the octagon to the wide point of the curve, but figured I’d ask the source! Nice article and design though, thanks for sharing. Here’s some pics of mine, hopefully you can see what I mean (https://photos.app.goo.gl/2st1qW9g4ERKAjN9A ).
Those look great, nice work! I just went out and had a look at mine and you’re right, the convex portion of the handle touches the bench. However, my handles are on larger chisels (over an inch wide) so I don’t get any rolling. A ¼” or ⅛” chisel would probably roll though. Good catch.
All the best,
That makes sense. My 1″ is fine, but the smaller ones definitely roll. We tweaked the design a little to thin out the bulge and knock down the beginning of the curved section where it meets the octagon and got things working pretty well. Also discovered that white oak splits way too easily for a driven tang chisel! Either way, thanks for the reply and the great article. I may take a shot at doing a drawing like yours with our tweaked measurements. If I do, I’ll share a link here.