How do you finish your vintage chisel handles?

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Forum topic by Brad posted 02-05-2012 08:35 PM 4067 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Brad's profile


1139 posts in 2706 days

02-05-2012 08:35 PM

Topic tags/keywords: vintage tools chisels refinish handles handle finishes

I’ve been putting together a set of English firmer chisels. Now that I’ve flattened the backs and put a fresh bevel on them, I’ve turned my attention to the handles. Several of the handles are ok as is, but several need[ed] to be refinished.

Here’s a couple handles that I’ve already refinished.

I think the chisel handle is made of ash, but I don’t know the wood of the screwdriver handle. After four coats of BLO, they’re both still pretty light in my opinion.

I have more handles to finish.

My questions:

1. What techniques do you use to impart a darker finish on your handles?

2. Would Danish oil or Tung oil make them darker?

3. What finish did the English vintage tool makers use on their chisel handles?

Thanking you all in advance.


[Note that the stains in the bottom-left handle were too deep to remove by sanding without distorting the shape and size of the handle. So I’ll have to resort to Andy’s Liberon wood bleacher or its U.S. equivalent.]

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

4 replies so far

View hhhopks's profile


651 posts in 2343 days

#1 posted 02-06-2012 08:42 PM

Looks good to me.
I used BLO, Poly, oil, shellac…...
You could stain them like any other woodworking projects.
I try to put finish on when the turning is still on the lathe.

I think it is more on the color of the wood and the age.
I want to able touch up on the finish when necessary. Of course I have a trouble tracking what finish I used on what handle. : )

I am interested in know if there is a preference on finish when leather washers are used. I always seems to get on the leather, so I just cover all leather with the finish. I am not sure if that is a good think or not. It seems that the original handles with washer are also coated with some kind of coating.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2806 days

#2 posted 02-07-2012 12:26 AM

The old timers just used sheep fat. That will get the very dark. Any good finish oil will do. On my chisels I just airbrush a few light coats of shellac. You can continue to oil them afterwards as much as you want. Keep in mind Shellac will mingle with most any oil before and after. Poly somewhat. A film finish may not be what you want. Oil is very easy to reapply. Oils will darken but only to the color of the oil.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4903 posts in 3926 days

#3 posted 02-07-2012 12:35 AM

BLO and leave ‘em to age. Don’t rush classics. My thoughts.


View Don W's profile

Don W

18685 posts in 2533 days

#4 posted 02-07-2012 05:03 AM

if i want to darken a tool handle I use walnut Danish oil. Don’t be afraid to let them soak over night in either oil.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

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