Tool Mod #3: New Chisel Handles

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Blog entry by swirt posted 12-02-2010 11:18 PM 9312 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Cambering the Iron for a Scrub Plane Part 3 of Tool Mod series Part 4: Making new chisel handles »

So after a bit of practice and getting use to my Bungee Lathe, I finally completed my goal to get get some good handles on my old socket chisels. I patterned the handle off of the handle that is on my Witherby firmer chisel (third from the top)

I made them just a wee bit longer (I don’t like it when my pinky hangs off the end of the handle) and put some octagonal flats around the main section of the body.

Why Octagonal flats? A picture is worth a thousand words:

I used cherry, mahogany and what I think might be butternut (one side is red-ish, one side is purple-ish ??) Hickory or hornbeam would have been better choices, but I had neither available to me. The finish is amber shellac.

They aren’t exactly identical, my lathe skills still need more work in order to duplicate patterns more exactly, but they are a lot closer than what they used to be

I’ll cover the “how I did it” in my next post. (edited 12/10/10 to add the link of making the chisel handles)

If you are interested in more details and the makes of each chisel there is more info at the source.

Source: Replacement Chisel Handles

-- Galootish log blog,

12 comments so far

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3673 days

#1 posted 12-02-2010 11:23 PM

these look fantastic and very comfortable – and who said they all have to be identical?!?

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View swirt's profile


2780 posts in 2996 days

#2 posted 12-02-2010 11:42 PM

Thanks, you are right, nobody says they have to be identical. I’d just feel like a more accomplished turner if I could get any two things I turn to match. LOL

-- Galootish log blog,

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3022 days

#3 posted 12-03-2010 01:02 AM

Looking good. Didn’t want to try the leather? :) It is pretty easy as well.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 2805 days

#4 posted 12-03-2010 02:15 AM

I went through the chisel match issue making a set of handles for my home made lathe tools as
well..some look similar, others ..hhhhmmmmm… You came a lot closer than I managed. Lookin’ GOOD !

-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View swirt's profile


2780 posts in 2996 days

#5 posted 12-03-2010 05:37 AM

David, I thought about leather washers.They would have been easy enough to do since I cut a tenon on the end of the handle anyway to separate it from the rest of the blank.

I chose not to for two reasons.
1) I have no appropriate leather (really crappy excuse, but true)
2) I don’t like the feel of the 4 washered handles I had.

I may end up keeping one set configured with only wood handles for hand use, and maybe set up the firmer chisels with washers for heavier chopping.

-- Galootish log blog,

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3083 days

#6 posted 12-03-2010 06:26 AM


Well done. Nice set of chisels you have there. I have a bunch of old vintage chisels as well. The steel in those old chisels just seems to hold an edge better.


-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View mafe's profile


11730 posts in 3114 days

#7 posted 12-03-2010 10:09 AM

Hi Swirt,
They are looking really good!
I think it would be a shame if the were all alike.
I have also a bunch of old chisels that I want to re-handle, so soon my workshop will be full of chips from the lathe.
But I have been thinking to grind the chisels up so they will change from firmer chisels into bevel edged chisels.
What do you think about that? Why did you choose to keep your flat sides?
I also work on some old chisels, that I want to make into a set of ‘home made’ dovetail chisels, with 45 degree edge, and all that jazz.
Look here:
Best thoughts my friend,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2881 days

#8 posted 12-03-2010 10:21 AM

Swirt those are great handles.
A lot of thought went into them, nearly a study of ergonomics. :)
You will appreciate the wee differences, each one will have it’s own


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View swirt's profile


2780 posts in 2996 days

#9 posted 12-03-2010 09:13 PM

Doc I think you are right about the quality of steel in the old chisels. It amazes me that some of them are well over 100 years old, yet have no rust or signs of fatigue.

Mafe, Great question. I kept the firmers as firmers for 4 good reasons.

1) I have beveled edge chisels in 1/4”, 1/2” and 1” and those meet my dovetail needs as well as my “general” chiseling needs. I don’t have a need for other widths. The 1/8th inch mortising chisel also has beveled sides, but it is very tall for strength on what is such a narrow chisel.

2) The summer I built my timberframe gazebo (what was supposed to be a 2 week project took more like 8 months, but it was a great time and I loved every minute of it) I spent long days with chisels in my hands nearly continuously so I got pretty good with a chisel and big mortises. What I found, is that beveled edge chisels are more likely to have their narrow sides dig into the side of the mortise and deform it if a mallet blow is not perfect or the chisel not held perfectly straight. The firmer chisels because of their thicker sides are less likely to damage the walls of the mortise.

3) The firmers are longer and I think need or benefit from the added strength of having all of their steel present and accounted for. Given their length and their use in deeper mortices, they are more apt to be bent.

4) History. My firmer chisels are probably the oldest chisels I own. The D.R. Barton was hand forged and dates back to the mid to later 1800’s, the Witherby is likely from the same period or a bit later 1800’s, and the other is a PS&W (later to become Pexto) is Late 1800’s early 1900. These would not be good candidates for me to try my skill at tapering. I’ll save that for less sought after tool varieties. ;)

Alba, thanks. I put a bit of thought into them and I am happy that they are proving to be as comfortable as I wanted them to be. It is funny though how I had gotten used to the feel of the old handles. Even though they didn’t feel great, I had gotten used to them, so even though the new ones are much more comfortable, they feel a little foreign still. I’ll have to work on a few chiseling projects to become re-acquainted with them.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2965 days

#10 posted 12-03-2010 10:09 PM

Those look GOOD man! I like the fact that the handles are not identical, gives each chisel his/her own identity! Aren’t socket chisels just beautiful, I love them. Old chisels are the best, I do not own a single modern/plastic handle chisel and I have quite a collection. A few without handles…one day I will get the time…

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View swirt's profile


2780 posts in 2996 days

#11 posted 12-03-2010 10:31 PM

Thanks Div. I like socket chisels and now I really like being able to re-handle them. I have one really old butt chisel that has a tang with a broken handle. I will re-handle that sometime soon, but any future chisel purchases will be the socket variety. I have a couple big timber framing chisels that need new handles, but I will wait on those until I can get some hickory or hornbeam and do it properly.

I have 4 plastic handled chisels (3 stanleys and a craftsman) from the days before I knew better. Sometimes I see them and think, I ought to just sell those on ebay… but then I remind myself that everyone needs some beaters to use in adverse conditions or when dealing with dirty wood ;)

-- Galootish log blog,

View Woodknack's profile


11775 posts in 2404 days

#12 posted 01-15-2013 08:45 PM

Nice job and gives me some things to think about. I just got some mid-1800’s socket chisels with one original handle but I don’t like it—too short.

-- Rick M,

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