Chisel handle fail!

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Forum topic by DaleM posted 09-05-2009 07:40 AM 2283 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View DaleM's profile


952 posts in 2808 days

09-05-2009 07:40 AM

Okay, so I inherited an old James Swan chisel from my father in law. It had been badly abused as the handle had been busted off flush with top of the chisel years ago apparently and someone had continued to use it without the handle, hammering away at the top of the chisel. I ground off all the mushroomed out portions of metal and turned a handle for it on my lathe. All good so far. I made a ring for the top of the handle from a piece of copper pipe. As the moisture in my basement where it was kept was very high, I turned it just slightly large. I then heated it in the microwave, with the plan to dry it a little, then insert the handle in the chisel and place the ring on the end of the handle assuming that they would both be tight after the handle expanded again. That went okay, but I found out it only takes about a minute and a half to make walnut start smoking and stuff to start bubbling out the endgrain. The piece of walnut I was using had a hole through it as it was reclaimed wood, and smoke was coming out of the hole. Okay, first lesson learned. Maybe put the microwave on lower power setting next time. I did achieve some shrinkage due to moisture loss so objective accomplished. I put the copper ring on the end. No problem. Then, I inserted the handle into the chisel and beat the handle against the ground to seat the handle into the chisel. Problem. I’m sure I put more force onto the handle than I would have ever done hitting it with a mallet. I split the handle halfway down it’s length. What a waste of walnut, even if it was previously used. I have more so I will try it again, but I plan on putting a leather cap on the end instead of a copper ring next time. I just wanted to share a mistake I made so maybe someone else won’t have to make the same mistake. Also, maybe I should have left a little wood sticking out just a little proud past the copper ring? Any suggestions?

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

6 replies so far

View lew's profile


11266 posts in 3179 days

#1 posted 09-05-2009 05:10 PM

Thanks for this post.

I found a couple of chisels at a yard sale in the same condition. Made my handles out of hard maple and use the copper pipe like you. So far mine have not split but I really haven’t put them thru any real “tests”. If they split, I’ll try your leather idea.

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 3319 days

#2 posted 09-06-2009 03:21 PM

I would leave a bit of the wood proud of the copper ring. When you strike the chisel, you are really wanting to apply force to the wood and not so much the ring itself. The ring’s main purpose is to keep the end grain together. I haven’t seen anything to prove this but I would also suspect that if the hammer force is applied directly to the ring moreso than the wood inside the ring, the end effect might be the copper ring eating its way down into the chisel handle. Just a thought…

-- Sam

View Chris Wright's profile

Chris Wright

540 posts in 2905 days

#3 posted 09-06-2009 03:40 PM

I’d keep the ring, or ferrel, for any other handles you decide to make, it helps reinforce the striking end. Like Sam said though, leave a little wood protruding from the end. Also, you can take some water and let it soak into the end grain a bit and touch it to an iron to steam the end, causing it to swell up and grip the ferrel better.

-- "At its best, life is completely unpredictable." - Christopher Walken

View DaleM's profile


952 posts in 2808 days

#4 posted 09-07-2009 03:45 AM

Thanks all for the comments. Sam, it appears the copper ring did work its way down into the handle, causing the wood around it to split. I’ll give it another shot with a smaller ring or more wood. I just got the leather idea because I was looking up old chisels for ideas to keep the handles from splitting and some of them had leather which would soften and distribute the mallet blow. Maybe I’ll try that in the future. I’m just looking for reasons to use my lathe and get some practice in partly so I’m not too upset that my first handle attempt failed, just didn’t like wasting the wood.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View dustygirl's profile


862 posts in 3152 days

#5 posted 10-04-2009 01:50 AM

I had some old files in need of handles so I used an old corn broom handle.Worked great and hasn’t split yet.

-- Dustygirl..Hastings,Ontario.. How much wood can 1 gal chuck if 1 gal can't cut wood?

View DaleM's profile


952 posts in 2808 days

#6 posted 10-04-2009 04:05 AM

I made a new handle out of some cherry firewood. It’s nice having a good bandsaw now that I’m starting to enjoy turning. The new handle seems okay. I left some wood sticking out past the copper ring this time so the copper wouldn’t dig in to the handle when pounded on. It seems okay, but if not, I can make another. I have plenty of oak, maple and cherry in my wood pile so I can have lots of fun making more, until I burn it all of course.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

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