As many daily espresso drinkers will tell you, the process of making coffee in the morning is more than a merely a procedure For me it's a ritual, and on some days, an obsession. As such, many espresso makers seek to improve their experience of making espresso drinks by modifying their machines, even if only in ornamental ways like replacing the portafilter handle. Was there anything wrong with the old factory made plastic handle? Absolutely not - check it out in the last picture in the photos above. Why make it better? In the words of my friend randofo, simply because we can.
Step 1: Materials
The hardest part of the whole project was probably removing the old black plastic handle. Held on with a long bolt inside of the handle, it was extremely difficult to remove using a socket wrench since the hole in the handle where the bolt was located was so small that it did not allow the socket to fit inside. I have heard of thin-walled socket heads, which might have fit down the small hole, but I don't have any at my shop. No matter, I simply cut off most of the handle exposing the bolt much closer to the source, thus making it easy to get the socket head on to remove.
Once the old handle was off, we gathered up a hand saw, the wood and some whittling knives and set out to select a piece of wood that had a sufficient diameter to accept the mounting shaft on the portafilter. We came up with the candidates in the photo above.
To continue with the project we also ended up using:
- angle grinder with sanding disk
- random orbital palm sander
- sand paper for hand sanding
- chisel and drill press to cut the mortise in the handle
- "Good Stuff" rub on varnish
Step 2: Remove Bark
Step 3: Expose and Shape Wood
Our branches were pretty straight already, and therefore didn't require much shaping, but for a curved handle, or some other specialty application, I could easily see shaping the wood to fit the contours of a hand, or unique shape for whatever application one had in mind.
Step 4: Shape With Sanding Disc on Angle Grinder
The 80 grit disc removes a lot of material, so press lightly, make short passes and remove material bit by bit until you've shaped the handle.
Our two main handle features were 1) a rounded end to the handle and 2) a flattened top surface to rest our thumbs upon. The flat top surface just gives the handle a little less of a massive look. We made both of these features using the angle grinder, and then smoothed out the sanding marks on the stationary belt sander.
If you don't have these power tools, the same process could be done with a dremmel in just about the same amount of time.
Step 5: Sand Smooth
We loaded 120, 180 and then 220 grit sanding discs onto the random orbital sander and sanded everything smooth. The final sanding was done by hand with some 400 grit paper.
We only sanded the handle with such fine paper because it was going to be something which we touched on a daily basis - there's something about the texture of finely sanded wood - it's milky smooth and really quite nice.
Step 6: Cut Off Branch
Grab a fine tooth saw, Japanese or other, and cut the handle to length. There's no right size to make, just size it to whatever looks good with your coffee machine and fits your hand.
Clean up the cut on the disc and belt sander.
Step 7: Measure and Mark Mortise
Step 8: Drill Mortise
We wanted to be sure that I was drilling as close to perpendicular as possible into the handle. Since the handle is a bit of an organic shaped object I checked my eye by using a level to square it up to the drill bit. It's pretty easy to see when you're in the ballpark of square using this method.
Step 9: Clean Up Mortise With Chisel
There are many more ways to make the mortise, including using only a chisel from start to finish or a mortise attachment for the drill press. This was just the quickest and easiest way for us.
Keep removing material with the chisel until the mortise fits snug on the portafilter shaft.
Step 10: Epoxy in Place
Insert the portafilter shaft into the handle and watch for squeeze-out. Wipe off any excess epoxy with a paper towel. If any epoxy gets on the wood, it's no biggie - the epoxy can be sanded off once it dries.
Let the epoxy set for the recommended amount of time and then some - I noticed that the large thermal mass of the portafilter significantly increased drying times by keeping temperatures low, and therefore slowing down the chemical reaction which dries the epoxy.
Step 11: Finish
Coat the handle in gel varnish and work it into the wood. Wait 20 minutes. Wipe off any excess that remains and let dry for several hours. Repeat the process once or twice more for additional protection since this will be used with a kitchen appliance and will be hand-washed in the sink.
That's it - the portafilter is finished - now go pull some shots!