Thursday, February 23, 2017

Making a Socket Chisel Handle Without a Lathe

I'm not well informed when it comes to chisels.  I know there are many types - bench, firmer, mortise, paring, etc.  Aside from mortise chisels, I don't know what the differences are between types.

A year or two ago I found a couple chisels at a garage sale.  Both are about a 1/4" wide (not exactly 1/4" though, for whatever reason), one has no handle and the handle on the other is loose.  So I wanted to experiment with making a new handle.  This post will be mostly pictorial of making a practice handle from pine for the shorter of the two chisels.
Stiletto at top, unknown brand bottom
Maximum I.D. is 31/64", bottom is about 1/4"diameter, depth is 1 1/16"
Don't remember where I picked up this tip, maybe from Jonathan White of The Bench Blog, but you can model the taper of the socket by stuffing aluminum foil in it.
Stuffing foil in the socket to model the size
Approximating the angle at about 13.5° with an angle finder
The math geek in me made me do this, too, and got nearly the same angle
So I set a bevel gauge to half that angle
I prepared a blank of pine 1 9/32" square and just shy of 7" long.
After finding the center of the socket end, marked lines 1/8" away from center in two directions
Used the bevel gauge to mark the angle on opposing faces to about 1 1/4" from the end
Verifying that the angle looks about right
Then sawed to the lines
Knowing it would be tough to mark the newly sawn faces with that same angle, I measured the shoulder of the already sawn area and it was 3/8".
Drew lines from the endgrain marks to the 3/8" point at the shoulder
This resulted in a "squared cone".  Marked edges to start roughing in a round.
Once the shape got closer to round, I used the chisel's socket to refine the shape.
Stuffing the cone in the socket and rotating ...
... results in marks where more needs to be removed
I then used a curved scraper to remove the dark marks.  I repeated this many, many times until I finally got a fairly even covering of dark markings on the wood.
Done.  The line near the base of the taper is 1 1/16" from the end,
same as the depth of the socket
Handle blank fitted - not perfectly straight
With that done, I needed to shape the handle.  I like the look of the "London pattern" chisels with octagonal handles.  So ...
On butt end of handle blank, I found center and inscribed a circle
Used a 45° gauge to define the extents of lines for octagonizing
and drew those lines on the faces
Then planed to the lines, getting a decent octagonal shape
Decided on transition points
Used chisel, rasp, file and sandpaper to smooth the curves
And here it is, next to the other chisel.
The new handle seems much too long
I suspect this chisel is a paring chisel based on its length.
Here they are next to a standard bench chisel

I don't know if paring chisels typically have shorter handles, but when I repeat this exercise in a harder wood, the handle will be shorter.  Maybe not quite as fat, either.

This was a fun exercise.  Once again making due without the tools most people would say you must have for this.  My handle might not look as nice as Jonathan White's gorgeous handle, but it's a start.


  1. Nicely done. I think you will find the balance much better with a shorter version. Especially when you make one with hardwood. If this will only be for pairing, then an even longer, more slender version would be my choice.

    1. Still undecided about shorter or longer handle. Not even sure if I'll use it only for paring or for other uses. I need to review Hayward, Aldren Watson and other books to see what handle was typical for various types of chisel.

  2. I like using tin foil to make a model of the socket. Years ago, I discovered that the legs and spindles from a common Colonial Style chair were hard maple and already presented some taper. I use the legs for big chisels and the smaller spindles from the back for smaller chisels.

    1. That's awesome, Mark. I love it when we can recycle and reuse old materials. And the quality of the wood probably surpassed that of today's wood - bonus!

  3. Thanks for posting. I had always wondered how to do it without a lather. I do have one question about measuring the angle. Are you holding the center line of the foil OR one side of the tapered aluminum parallel to the bottom of your yellow angle measuring device. I was thinking it should be the centerline as the other approach would have you off by a factor of two. I could be completely wrong on this. I just can't quite tell from the photo.

    1. Hi Joe. With the yellow gauge, I'm measuring the aluminum foil's entire taper, so that's twice the angle that I would get if I was to use the centerline. In my paper calculations I got the angle between the centerline and one side, then doubled it to see if it matched my yellow gauge measurement. It's always good to try two different methods!

  4. Slippery slope here, once you make one handle then you'll stumble onto an Ebay listing for a pile of chisels without handles, some quick math later you'll figure out that it's only $3.60 per chisel after calculating shipping and you already know how to make a handle so they must be had! Don't ask me how I know all of this.

    1. Ha! Funny story. Now, what was that ebay listing? ...