Introduction: Rehandling Woodworking Lathe Chisels

About: I'm the kind of person who's mind doesn't stop. Literally, I take medication to fix that just so I can sleep at night. I have an unhealthy obsession with making things and believe, firmly, in sharing what I le…

When you invest in a new lathe, they often come with a few basic chisels to get you started. More often than not, they get tossed into my 'seconds' toolbox with my mismatched driver sets, loose sockets and assorted other cast off tools, only to be forgotten, and potentially handed down to another needy woodworker, if only to be rid of them.

Wanting to create a few new 'custom' chisels, I decided to rescue them from my tool graveyard and give them a new form and a new function. The steel, on these chisels is of decent, tho not particularly high, quality, however their recycled use as specialty tools would mean that they wouldn't end up in circulation as often, making their need for constant sharpening less of an issue.

The first step toward their new useful life, was to give them an upgraded and effective handle, based on what I found to be the most comfortable. More than the fact that a longer handle was safer, it also offers the lathe worker more control over the tool as it is being used to shape the blank. The design for these handles are my personal preference, and can be varied as you see fit, however I personally find it very effective and recommend trying, at least, on one of your chisels.

The most important thing about this method is that it requires no glue to set your mandrels into place. It uses a ferrule with a slotted seat to literally 'clamp' it into place, ensuring your chisel never falls apart.

Step 1: Tools and Supplies


  • Woodworking Lathe
  • Hacksaw or angle grinder with cutoff wheel
  • Coping saw
  • Hammer, mallet
  • Punch Tool or Stone Chisel (a screwdriver will work, but could damage it)
  • Drill/drillpress and bits


Step 2: Rescuing the Mandrels

More often than not, the mandrels are simply press fit into the old handles. If you want to save them, it's as simple as clamping the mandrel in a bench vise, using two pieces of wood to prevent scarring from the jaws, and tapping the handle off with a hammer and punch. If you don't have a punch, you can use a screwdriver, but you could end up damaging it.

If the mandrels have been glued into the handles, or if they are barbed, you may have to break the handles to extract them. The easy way to do this is to press the handle in a vice, then using a wood chisel, score a deep line down its length, on opposite sides. Next, reinsert the handle into your bench vise with the scores facing the jaws, then close it forcefully. If the scores are deep enough, the handle will split into two pieces, freeing the mandrel. It's a simple trick that can save you a lot of work.

Step 3: Shaping Your Handle

As I mentioned before, for my handle design, I based the new ones on some of my favorite chisels that are relatively thin bodies, (1" at their widest part), tapering down then widening to a flared butt end. The overall length, of the new handles, I set to 12" which, in my opinion, offers the best control when turning on a smaller lathe.

The first step is to find the center of each end of your blank, then counter punch them so that your spindles on your head and foot stock set nicely, holding it firmly. Using a large knife chisel, and with your machine on slow, begin removing the sharp edges, slowly rounding your blank along its length.

When reducing your blank, ensure you leave, at least, 3/4" at one end for your ferrule (the metal ring that locks the tang of your mandrel in place. Leave a wide section 1", roughly 2.5" long for a grip, then begin tapering down the rest of the handle down to 3/4", widening again to 1" when you reach the butt end. I ended up cutting the butt end flush, but you can create a rounded end if you chose. In my experience, it really makes no difference and is an aesthetic choice.

** Keep in mind you can remove wood, but you can't put it back so take care. It's always better to err on the side of removing too little than too much.

Step 4: Refining Your Handle

First, you're going to need to create the seat for the ferrule. The internal diameter of the metal I was using was 3/4" so I created it a few thousands of an inch larger, so that the ferrule wasn't able to fit on without force. There's a reason for this that I will go over later.

Next is a matter of choice, but is highly recommended. Using a spear point chisel, I carved grooves around the wide end of the handle to act as 'traction', allowing for a firmer grip. They can be aesthetic, but can go a long way to preventing the tool from slipping out of your hand when being used.

Finally, it's time to sand using progressively finer grit sandpaper, and finishing with wet sanding using 600 grit. You should start to see a light 'shine' as you're wet sanding letting you know that it's time for polish. I use a personal recipe for high grade beeswax polish, mixed richer to a 1 part solid to 1 part liquid consistency, that I link to in the tools and supplies section, but you can use any polish of your choice. The benefit of my beeswax polish is that the beeswax not only conditions and protects the wood, it also offers better grip than, say, lacquer.

To polish, spin your lathe on low speed, and use a piece of canvas, infused with the polish, passing over its length. It will begin to shine as the heat from friction embeds it into the wood.

Step 5: Creating the Slot for the Tang

The hardest part of this step is ensuring that the slot is straight, which is where a good drill press comes into play. The size of the slot should be a few thousands of an inch smaller than the tang so that it will require pressure to set into place. Drill it so that 1/3 of the length of your mandrel is set into the handle.

When your hole is drilled, use your coping saw to cut a slot, separating the seat for your ferrule into two pieces. As mentioned before, we will not be using any glue so the addition of the ferrule will, literally, clamp the mandrel into place, holding it more firmly than if glue had been used.

Step 6: Creating Your Ferrule

The ferrule is made from copper/brass/steel pipe with an internal diameter of 3/4" and cut to 3/4" long, then polished. You can use a hacksaw, or an angle grinder, then buff them on a wire wheel to remove burrs. I recommend smoothing out the ends on a belt grinder first to ensure they are symmetrical.

Before you mention it, yes I use gloves when I grind, but in my defense, they are skin tight deerhides. Worse than that, there's no guard on this grinder, and the blade is an ultra fine fast cut wheel which is known to fail explosively, so that's triply unsafe. Take this as more of a "do as I say, not as I do" kind of thing, and I make no apology for it. Creating isn't always safe and nothing worth doing is completely risk free.

Step 7: Setting Your Mandrel

Place your mandrel upside down in your vise, and secure it firmly. If you don't have a plastic vise, like I do, you can use a couple strips of wood to prevent the jaws from damaging the metal. Gently tap your handle onto the tang of the mandrel until it sets.

Now, reinsert your chisel, this time locking the handle into the vise, taking the same care. My vise has plastic liners on the jaws, however you can use a couple strips of leather to prevent damage to the wood. Install your ring onto its seat, pressing it down as far as it will go. don't be concerned if it won't fit over the seat, as you can sand a small taper to help it get started.

Next, use a scrap piece of wood and begin tapping the ferrule down onto its seat until it sits flush with the handle. You should notice that it is pulling the two halves of the seat together, locking the mandrel firmly into its slot.

If, in the process of tapping down the ferrule, you raise some splinters on its bottom edge, just use a utility knife to clean it up.

Step 8: Finished

That's it.

You've created some new handles, using no glue and recycled tools that would have just taken up space in your 'spare' toolbox. You can finish them off by creating custom cutting edges to fit whatever application you see fit.

As usual, I hope you enjoyed the instructable, and thanks for following.

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