Making a New Chisel Handle Pt.2

Editor’s Note: This is the continuation of an earlier post I wrote about replacing chisel handles.

Grab your torch. I wrap the bolster and blade in a wet cloth and heat the tang with a MAP gas torch. I direct the heat to the middle of the tang but pointed away from the wet cloth so as not to heat it directly. This enables me to heat the thicker part of the metal before the tang begins to burn from overheating.

Once it’s red hot, I press the tang down into the handle’s mortise (with the handle firmly in the front vise). Smoke billows out as I gently press the tang deeper. I don’t rock or twist the tang because I want a clean square tapered hole.

If necessary, I’ll file the tang a bit for final fitting. Sometimes they can get a little wonky and a straight tang will ensure a clean driving operation.

Once the bolster can be fitted about 1/8" from fully seated, I trace the bolster with a pencil onto the handle so that I can get the facets as close as possible before the final driving.

The facets get refined down to the pencil lines. It takes only a light touch with a smoother.

If I can press the tang in about 1/8" shy of seating with only hand strength, I feel confident proceeding with a gentle hammering home.

This is done by placing the edge cross grain on scrap wood and hammering the butt with firm raps. My left hand’s fingers feel the bolster as it drives closer. This tactile feedback is invaluable in this step. I don’t want to split the handle at this point.

The handle is wicked tight with no (or, on a bad day, negligible) splitting.

I clean up the facets at the vise with a spokeshave to make sure they’re all evenly tapering down the length of the handle. I never measure the facets to be even, but just rely on my eye. This gives the handle subtle discrepancies that provide my brain with tactile feedback about edge orientation while the tool is in use.

I saw the extra material off. The saw is tilted out a bit so that I end up with a bit of a swell to the butt.

The sawn butt.

Using a marking gauge, I marked off 1/4" around all sides to guide my chamfering process.

I start with the four major chamfers, which are shy of the layout lines.

Then I connect those four with intermediate chamfers.

Lastly, I chamfer both the tops and the bottoms of the first round of chamfers, yielding a faceted ball end. The rounding of the handle’s butt prevents splitting when mallet driven and provides cushion for the palm when pushing.

The finished handle.

Any cleanup of the facets can be gently done with a paring chisel. I’m careful not to nick my edge on the metal bolster!

A little TransTint dye in alcohol mellows the color.

And burnt umber pigment and shellac to further darkens it and gives it a little character.

A touch of paste wax in Liberon #0000 steel wool, and I’m off to the races.

Total, it’s about a 30-minute project.

If you’ve avoided rehandling your chisels because you’re afraid you’d mess it up, there’s nothing to fear. You can always make a better one later.



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