Tool handles

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
It's hard to over emphasize the importance the right size and shape of handle makes towards tool satisfaction. Whether it's a saw, file, screwdriver or just about any other tool there is some part that makes contact with one or both hands. This is the part that joins us to the tool, or put another way, allows the tool to become an extension of our hands.

We probably all have had tools that just don't feel right, and others which feel like they were custom made just for us. Getting that right balance between handle and tool is as much art as it is science. I'm convinced tool makers of previous centuries gave this a lot of thought. If you don't believe me, just pick up a handsaw made prior to the 1940's and then hold one you find on the rack in any big box store today. No comparison.

I'm in the process of making a set of plane floats (will comment on these in a future post). This tool is similar to a file or rasp and needs a handle that is comfortable in the palm. This post is how I went about designing and making these handles. Nothing complicated, just a few simple steps. My hope is it will inspire others to experiment adding a custom handle on a favorite tool.

First step is to select the right size and shape for a handle. For this I always go back in time to the tool masters. Hands haven't changed in centuries so why should handles. For my project I chose a couple of chisels that had the shape and feel I wanted. I wanted a handle that was well-rounded and easy to grip, but with enough heft to match the blade it would be holding. The picture below shows the two chisels and the new handle.

IMG_2920.JPG


Ferrules are the metal ring that keep such a handle from splitting, both as the metal shaft is driven in and from constant use. One excellent source I've found for these are the copper rings used in PEX plumbing. These come in multiple sizes. For this handle I chose the one for 3/4" pipe (7/8" inside diameter). The picture below shows a couple of the rings and two types of crimpers. Turn one end of the handle to the inside diameter of the ring, then crimp it in place.

IMG_2923.JPG


I chose holly as the wood to use. I had to remove a small holly tree from the back yard a few years ago. I saved a 3' section of the trunk to dry. It was about 2" in diameter and perfect size for making the handles. Here's a section mounted in the lathe.

IMG_2914.JPG


It wobbles a bit at first but is quickly turned into a cylinder. Holly turns beautifully, is easy to work. Hardly any sanding is required. These are a few pictures of the interim steps.

IMG_2915.JPG
IMG_2916.JPG
IMG_2917.JPG


In the last picture you can see the ferrule has been crimped to the handle. This allows me to use a file and sand paper to finish the ferrule on the lathe along with the handle. Last steps are to bore a hole for the tool shaft, apply some finish and add the tool. Turning one of these handles takes less than 15 minutes but will add years of useful life to a favorite tool.

IMG_2924.JPG
 

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
I make my ferrules from brass pipe fittings, I chase threads on the handle end and cut it to fit flush in the fitting. Then file off the corners on the lathe. Finally take it off the lathe, take apart, and use a little epoxy to form a permanent bond.
4242944E-EBC8-4A50-9CA4-0D990D770056.jpeg


Here are some handles I turned for a guy in Mississippi, he sent me the wood and a sample to copy. I have no idea what he used them for, maybe chisels. He wanted the end with no taper and left long so he could fit them to the tools. They look a little like yours in the bottom of the photo.
966D2745-FE69-4C00-99D5-A8F01478D8EF.jpeg
 

drw

Donn
Corporate Member
Jim, well done! I have never thought about making my own handles, now you have me thinking! Thank you for posting.
 

Scott H

Scott
User
Looks very nice, I am interested to hear more about the planemakers' floats because I am working on the same thing right now (although mine won't have wonderful turned handles.)
 

tvrgeek

Scott
User
Crimp rings. Great idea.
I wonder if they are strong enough for the other end for morticing chisels.
 

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
I wonder if they are strong enough for the other end for morticing chisels.
I have used them on lighter use chisels and they held up fine. The purpose on that end of the handle is mainly to prevent the wood from splitting and/or mushrooming from the pounding. If it was a chisel I were really gonna hit hard I might go with a hard, tough wood like hickory for the handle and leave a half-inch above the ring.
 

Roy G

Roy
Senior User
Jim, nice looking handle. One consideration is that dogwood doesn't get splintery as it wears so it would be a good choice for a tool handle. The mills used dogwood for the spindles holding yarn.

Roy G
 

Hmerkle

Hank
Corporate Member
Jim,
Are you lurking around my house when I am thinking about stuff? LOL
I was JUST looking at various handle designs this weekend and noticed one like Mike points out (the bottom one in your photo) I have seen MANY variations of this design, but this is the first time I saw the "Vase-like" shape taper down and then the sharp corner with a taper to the ferrule - VERY pleasing to the eye, not sure about it in use. There is also another one with an external bead - I need to go find that one again...
 

tvrgeek

Scott
User
Jim, nice looking handle. One consideration is that dogwood doesn't get splintery as it wears so it would be a good choice for a tool handle. The mills used dogwood for the spindles holding yarn.

Roy G
Super tip.
 

Trey1984

Trey
User
Jim, nice looking handle. One consideration is that dogwood doesn't get splintery as it wears so it would be a good choice for a tool handle. The mills used dogwood for the spindles holding yarn.

Roy G
I have a dog wood that my father had to cut and was wondering if and what could make out of it. Haven't found much on it. Is that the only thing it's good for is turning ? Is it easy to work, how well does it take finish, etc... Any info would be greatly appreciated.
 

pop-pop

Man with many vises
User
I have a dog wood that my father had to cut and was wondering if and what could make out of it. Haven't found much on it. Is that the only thing it's good for is turning ? Is it easy to work, how well does it take finish, etc... Any info would be greatly appreciated.
Dogwood is very appropriate for bench dogs!
 

creasman

Board of Directors, Development Director
Jim
Staff member
Corporate Member
I'd forgotten about dogwood as a choice for tool handles. As was mentioned it was used extensively in the mills to make shuttles, bobbins and similar items. It's a very strong, hard, fine-grained wood. It will probably turn very well. Just have your tools sharp.

@Trey1984 I recommend putting some aside to dry. Give it a year or two to dry, depending on the diameter, before you use it. Let us know how it goes. I plan to put up a section the next time I need to remove a dogwood.
 

awldune

Sam
User
Brass plumbing pipe makes a decent ferrule by itself, if you have any leftover bits laying around.

From my own (limited, amateur) experience making handles, I *always* seem to make them too big (thick). I am 6'2'' and think of myself as having big hands, but I don't find bigger handles to be more comfortable.
 

Trey1984

Trey
User
I'd forgotten about dogwood as a choice for tool handles. As was mentioned it was used extensively in the mills to make shuttles, bobbins and similar items. It's a very strong, hard, fine-grained wood. It will probably turn very well. Just have your tools sharp.

@Trey1984 I recommend putting some aside to dry. Give it a year or two to dry, depending on the diameter, before you use it. Let us know how it goes. I plan to put up a section the next time I need to remove a dogwood.
On drying do I need to shave the bark off or jyst leave it like it is to dry and if I do need to take bark off them I need to put latex paint on ends to show down drying correct.
 

David Turner

David
Corporate Member
Persimmon makes excellent tool handles and it is abundant in North Carolina. Murdock has it regularly and has cut 8/4 stock for me in the past. I have made a number of lathe tool handles and they are beautiful.
 

Oka

Board of Directors, Vice President
Casey
Staff member
Corporate Member
The Cut ends of a branch you dip in wax or seal with something else to prevent moisture escaping from the end. Thus, in turn slows and prevents cracking in the wood when drying out.


What do you mean wax the ends?
 

Raymond

Raymond
Corporate Member
I prefer the handles on my lathe tools to be between 14 and 16 inches long; however, I do like a slightly larger diameter handle than what is currently being made on new tools.
 

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