Intro: Turning a Custom Beer Tap Handle
In this instructable, I will walk you through how to create a basic wooden tap handle that can be used on any kegorator or serving faucet where a tap handle is found. The design possibilities are endless, but you should follow a few basic steps to end up with a great handle.
Wood lathes are typically used to turn things such as spindles, bowls, pepper mills, pens and bottle stoppers. This makes it the perfect tool for turning something like a tap handle.
Unlike most woodworking tools, the lathe is not based on precise measurements or straight cuts. It’s the artists’ favorite tool in the wood shop – which is why I love it. It is about working the wood and not fighting it, creating something that flows with the shape of the wood.
That being said, there is definitely some technique to learn. You’ll have to learn how to make the basic cuts on a lathe, such as beads and coves, and you’ll need to learn how to use a few tools – a spindle gouge, a roughing gouge, and a skew are all good ones for using on a tap handle. Obviously, there are others, but those are the basics.
You can learn the basics in a couple hours at a class, or from some YouTube videos, then it’s just taking the time to practice. I made it at TechShop, which is a great place to get started, especially if you don't have a wood lathe readily available.
Step 1: Select Your Wood
You first need to decide what type and size of wood you want to use for your tap handle. Some woods are easier to turn than others, and all varieties have different colors and patterns. There is a great selection and a knowledgeable staff at Woodcraft in Raleigh (or shop online).
As far as the size of the wood, I have found that anywhere from 1.25" to 2" thick can make for a good tap handle, it just depends on how large you want the finished product to be.
The length can be variable. I often purchase a long piece of wood and make several handles out of the same wood. However, I would not recommend trying to turn a tap handle much smaller than about 4 inches, or much larger than 12 inches. Obviously it can be done, but the best tap handles that I have made are all within that range. Longer pieces just increase the cost per handle.
Some woods that I have used to make great handles are tamboti, cumaru and timborana (all were on sale at Woodcraft at the time I wrote this instructable), but your options are endless.
Step 2: Decide on Your Design
Once you have your wood, now you need to plan out your tap handle design. I find it best to draw out a to-scale drawing of exactly what I want the tap handle to look like. That way, once I have roughed the wood round, I can hold the sketch up to the wood and mark the lines where the cuts will be.
The best tap handles have gentle curves, instead of straight lines, and most handles have a bead or two at the bottom near where it connects to the faucet, and a rounded top. From there, be creative! What do you like most in your favorite commercial tap handles? Try to replicate it and/or give it your own flair.
Step 3: Step 3: Find the Center and Start Turning
Now you're in known territory here (if you are an experienced wood turner). You need to find the center of your wood, mark it, and set up the lathe.
For smaller pieces, you can rough the wood to round at around 800 RPM. I prefer a roughing gouge, though I've seen others use a skew for this.
Once it's round, mark your lines for where you want to cut and execute your beads and coves. Crank up the speed to about 1600 RPM for finishing work. I do enjoy using the skew for the long gentle curves on a tap handle, wile sticking to the spindle gouge for the tighter beads and coves.
Step 4: Step 4: Finishing (sanding and Polishing)
Once you have the basic shape of the tap handle cut (and the back stock is still in place), it's time to sand it down and apply any sort of finishing wax or polish to the wood.
I typically sand up from 180 grit paper to 600 (180, 240, 320, 400, 600). Stop the lathe between each grit and sand long-ways to avoid lines forming around the tap handle.
Once the piece is nice and smooth and you are happy with how it looks, it's time to finish it. I have really enjoyed using the Mylands high build friction polish. It lends a slight shine and really brings out the colors and lines in the wood.
Once you're happy with everything, go ahead and cut off the remaining wood and remove it from the lathe.
Step 5: Step 5: Inserting the Threaded Insert
Now you have a tap handle!....but you can't attach it to anything. You need to drill your hole and install a threaded insert so that the tap handle can be easily threaded onto a faucet.
The center of your wood is already marked, so line up your drill (I love the drill press at the techshop) and drill a hole large enough to thread in a 1/2" threaded insert.
I have done this by drilling a 1/2" hole, but it's a pain in the ass to thread that thing in, especially in harder woods. So I would recommend drilling a hole just slightly larger than 1/2" but still tight enough for the threads to engage. A 9/16" hole is about perfect.
Once the hole is drilled, just twist in the insert and you're ready to attach it to your faucet!