Intro: Build a Custom Cleaver Handle
I made this solid wood handle for my cleaver to replace the original rounded one that was extremely worn. When working with cutlery it's best to cover the blade and wrap it securely to protect yourself. Also be aware to keep your woodworking tools away from contacting the metal that may dull your tool or cause sparks.
The final handle wraps over the back of the blade and is a huge ergonomic improvement when using a forward grip with thumb and forefinger along the sides of the blade. It's constructed of solid koa.
Step 1: Removing the Old Handle and New Design
With the sharpened blade covered and wrapped, I held the blade in a vise and used a chisel to slowly remove the original handle. In this case the original had worn and had begun to weaken from water damage so it was fairly easy to do.
Choose an oversized piece of wood and rip cut on your table saw, a channel that will allow your handle blank to fit over the tang and blade of your cleaver. You may want to build a few sketch models in foamcore, foam, cardboard, or clay to find a desirable design before you decide on your final. I wanted a handle that wrapped forward over the back of the cleaver's blade because I like to use it with my first two fingers and thumb along the sides of the blade. French curves or sweeps are great for developing your final profile. You could also design your handle digitally and fix a printed pattern to your blank with spray adhesive.
Step 2: Create a Shim to Enclose the Tang
Construct a shim that will fill the rest of your rip cut and conceal your blade tang. Check for fit and glue the shim in place with wood glue and clamp.
At this point I had done some rough shaping to confirm that this was the design I wanted.
Step 3: Finish Surfacing and Affixing Your Handle to Your Cleaver
With the shim glued and dry you can cut and finish the shim flush to the handle. Continue surfacing your handle to your desired design.
Before epoxying your handle to the blade, it's a good idea to fit it first and mask off the visible metal surfaces so that excess epoxy can be simply removed. You'll want an air-tight fit so that you won't have any moisture entering the edges of the handle. Fill the handle with enough epoxy that there will be excess pushed out when the blade tang is pushed in. Fit the handle to the blade, then remove the masking on the blade to cleanly remove excess epoxy.
After the epoxy has cured, mask the exposed blade and finish your handle as desired. The Koa handle shown is stained and poly-ed.