Octagonal Honey Locust Chisel Handles

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Project by fatman51 posted 06-16-2016 08:16 AM 4171 views 2 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I never know whether to post such a project as a blog, or as a project, but I made these handles, and it was quite a project.

Have you ever picked up a dry honey locust branch and decided to make chisel handles? I did so because I have a bunch of old flat tanged chisels that I have reground for fine detail work. Every chisel in the set started out as a 1, 3/4, or 1/2 inch chisel. Some of the assorted makes shown are Great neck, Fuller, or unknown Tool Steel – Made in USA, but most of these were crudely finished Stanley tools from a decade or so ago. In spite of the poor finish and the chincy factory handles, the steel is actually pretty good. All were made in the USA and the lone Great Neck pictured was well beveled on the edges. Being a person who uses chisels of one kind or another every day, I have always kept a few of the unmodified tools around for random tasks well suited for a thin sharp chisel and, as I stated, I have gradually reshaped the irons of many until I created a whole set of finer tools that were in need of decent handles. When I scored a bunch of dry honey locust logs, I collected some of the branches for this purpose.

Rot resistant, close in strength, and somewhat harder than white oak, honey locust seemed like a fine wood to shape some octagonal handles out of and not nearly as toxic to breathe as the ipe I often use to make such things. It is also a very attractive material, as shown in the pictures. Cutting the tree limb into sections, I flattened one side of each with a hand plane and squared them to the desired center on the table saw (I could have skipped this step for most of them), chucked each in the lathe and turned them to my center, cut the octagons on the table saw, and chucked them back into the lathe to finish turning. I used three different sizes of brass or bronze bushings for the ferrules. Wherever possible, I centered the ball end of the handle on the center of the rings such that a similar grain pattern is visible from any vantage on most of the handles. I drilled the pilot holes for the tangs in stages such that they are tapered to match the tangs, which I sharpened so that they would not split the wood when I drove the handles home. I dipped the handles in shellac, letting it flow into the tang socket, which should help the chisel iron stay in the handle.

The picture above, taken from the internet, is an example of the original Stanleys.

Above and below are pictures for comparison. The handles I made lack the finger rest or tang seat of a proper London style handle, making them shorter. My chisel looks quite delicate next to the Buck Bros butt chisel and Narex bench chisel in the picture. Of course, it is not a tool intended for such heavy work as these. The steel is harder and takes a finer edge, but is more brittle. Each of the octagonal handled chisels is well balanced with its handle and ferrule sized and shaped to put the balancing point where the ferrule meets the iron. Where the sturdy honey locust and heavy brass/bronze ferrules can take a beating, these tools are not meant to be beat on with a hammer, but to be used by hand or tapped lightly like a carving chisel. With finely beveled edges these are a good tool for cleaning up dovetail pins and sockets.

The above tool is marked Great Neck, Made in USA. This and the Longer of the two skew chisels, marked Fuller, were better finished than the other tools with better quality, but damaged, factory handles. I did not have to improve on the beveled edges of either of these two tools.

I hope you like my handles and thank you for looking.

Update, June 27, 2016: I was just looking at a couple of Blue Spruce dovetail paring chisels and was struck by the similarities I found with the refined Stanleys featured on this page. For the money I would have spent, I feel like I did well with this set. We have been using them in my shop and I have carried a few of them with me when visiting my father’s and brothers’ shops. They continue to hold an edge, everyone likes the balance, and I would not be surprised to see some more of my local peers order the comparable, and potentially nicer, Blue Spruce models. The shape and balance of such chisels as these is great for small dovetails and fine paring work.

-- The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Benjamin Franklin

12 comments so far

View Mark Wilson's profile

Mark Wilson

2364 posts in 1302 days

#1 posted 06-16-2016 10:33 AM

Fine looking handles, John. Fine looking handles. Now. Don’t get them dirty. I have bits and pieces of Kumquat lying around that look just like that.

-- Mark

View waho6o9's profile


8539 posts in 2816 days

#2 posted 06-16-2016 01:34 PM

Impressive work fatman51 and the consistence is top shelf craftsmanship!

View Northwest29's profile


1664 posts in 2729 days

#3 posted 06-16-2016 03:27 PM

Wow, super nice handles. How long did you dry the wood before starting? These, should last you a hundred years or so.

-- Ron, Eugene, OR, "Curiosity is a terrible thing to waste."

View fatman51's profile


335 posts in 2076 days

#4 posted 06-16-2016 04:22 PM

Thanks Mark. I had to go look through your old projects to find an example of kumquat. Thank you very much Waho6o9. I made a patterns and used numerous different sets of calipers. Thanks to you also Northwest29. They cut that tree down a little over two and a half years ago, which was plenty long enough in Colorado for a limb of that size to dry.

-- The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Benjamin Franklin

View majuvla's profile


13618 posts in 3106 days

#5 posted 06-16-2016 07:05 PM

Now your chiesels look very professional. Beautiful shape.

-- Ivan, Croatia, Wooddicted

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3106 days

#6 posted 06-16-2016 07:13 PM

Nice work on the handles; this is a beautiful set of tools.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View fatman51's profile


335 posts in 2076 days

#7 posted 06-17-2016 01:19 AM

Thanks Ivan and Charles. They do look a lot better than before. Also the balance and grip is improved. They were just a cheap solution to a problem before I made the handles but I am kind of proud to own them now.

-- The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Benjamin Franklin

View hoss12992's profile


4106 posts in 2132 days

#8 posted 06-17-2016 03:27 AM

Those look great. Great job

-- The Old Rednek Workshop

View kiefer's profile


5623 posts in 2906 days

#9 posted 06-17-2016 03:55 AM

You should be proud having reworking these chisels to fit your needs .
The handles look very different from what I have seen or used but make sense and that is what matters when it comes to making your own tool handle it has to feel right .


-- Kiefer

View fatman51's profile


335 posts in 2076 days

#10 posted 06-17-2016 05:54 PM

Thanks Hoss and Klaus. I was after a handle that would allow me to put the ball end in my palm while still choking up with my pointer finger tip on the iron for control with delicate work. I tried several types before going with what is essentially a screwdriver handle.

-- The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Benjamin Franklin

View Mainiac Matt 's profile (online now)

Mainiac Matt

8616 posts in 2567 days

#11 posted 06-21-2016 05:13 PM

I have a Blue Birch (American Hornbeam) branch in the barn just waiting for me to do a similar project.

Yours’ turned out great.

-- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

View fatman51's profile


335 posts in 2076 days

#12 posted 06-22-2016 07:54 AM

Thanks Maniac Matt! I will look forward to seeing pictures when you get to that project. I wish American Hornbeam grew here. I am keeping my Eye out for black locust limbs though. Not that I have anything to complain about with the Honey Locust.

-- The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Benjamin Franklin

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