tool making #1: Socket Chisel Handles

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Blog entry by marcb posted 09-01-2011 04:07 AM 5918 reads 1 time favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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So I’ve pretty much disappeared from this site for quite some time, pretty much all the other ones as well. I’ve been spending a lot of time working on/researching and testing different theories on tool making.

One of the first steps I started down was chisel handles and I spent a lot of the last year and a half working out processes for wood stabilization and turning of handles.

Wood stabilization has a rich history, the most modern practice – and the one I’ve spent my time working on – is the impregnation of a resin into the wood, using a combination of vacuum (to pull out air and moisture) and pressure (to push the last little bit in). The resin is then heat cured and you end up with a wood block with all the positives of wood (nice feel) and the resin (tough, near waterproof).

Testing shows that it takes about 10 minutes to take on as much water as regular finished wood takes on in seconds when submersed in water. This basically kills expansion due to humidity. You only have to worry about thermal expansion/contraction which works out to be very slight in this case. The two materials fight each other and minimizes the problem.

Here you can see me using a 1/8” mortise chisel with a cherry handle impregnated with an Acrylic blend. The 12 oz ball peen hammer was used in place of the normal mallet for testing purposes. The mortise is 1 1/2” inch long by 1” deep. A couple times I hammered the chisel in too deep and had to use a 2nd chisel to free it so the sides are a little rough.

And here you can see a 3/8” mortise chisel in walnut were I upped the hammer to a 3lbs cross peen. This handle is a different design which I like a lot for mortise handles. It’s a lot like a fat version of the Stanley 720 design with an arc cutting back towards the butt of the handle. This makes the reversed grip you use for one of these when prying much more comfortable.

Needing to make back some of my investment I’ve recently taken on a couple jobs. These are expanding my design catalog along with exposing me to more socket tapers. There was nothing approaching a standard so each company has its own.

The fist job was for a new design which I’ve seen from several British makers. Here it is in bloodwood on some very nice T.H. Witherby beveled edge chisels.

The handles are turned on a CNC lathe then hand sanded and french polished.

The denser/oiler tropical woods don’t stabilize as nice (very hard to achieve 100% penetration) as some of the other woods, but are quite beautiful when polished.

One of the real benefits to the stabilization (besides making your chisels hammer proof) is that you can stop worrying about the wood properties itself. Many non-ideal woods become usable as the acrylic is stronger than the wood itself.

Burl and spalted for instance now becomes fine for a mortise chisel handle. Below is a set of 4 handles made from burly walnut. Something I would never think of doing otherwise. One of these is currently living on the handle of a 1/8” Witherby mortise chisel I sold.

That’s all for now, I need to go finish my work on the Greenlee socket tapers so I can turn out a full set of handles in stabilized Dogwood.

4 comments so far

View marcb's profile


768 posts in 3697 days

#1 posted 09-01-2011 04:13 AM

Pictures are fixed

View JamesVavra's profile


304 posts in 3340 days

#2 posted 09-01-2011 03:47 PM

Marc – can you give us a primer on the stabilization process?


View tsangell's profile


216 posts in 2717 days

#3 posted 09-01-2011 05:38 PM

What acrylic/resin materials do you like to use? Also, if you know the Super-Secret Bush’s Baked Beans family recipe, please pass it along.

I would love to know how to do this, but if you consider it a “trade secret,” I’ll understand.

View marcb's profile


768 posts in 3697 days

#4 posted 09-02-2011 02:10 AM

The basic process for a small scale home shop is not difficult to setup.

I would actually recommend just buying the chamber/resin that is sold by a small business I found called

My setup is larger and has a few more bells and whistles as I’m trying to get setup for small production runs. Covering that would just be more complex than needed. If you go to that site and look under what I think he calls Cactus Juice he has a tutorial on how to use it.

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