Turning New Handles for Your Lathe Tools




Introduction: Turning New Handles for Your Lathe Tools

About: Just a normal guy who enjoys the water and outdoors. Grew up on the water in the Panhandle of Florida fishing and boating, still live on the gulf today just a little further Southwest.

I bought a used wood lathe about three months ago, it came with a set of really nice Crown chisels also.  The Crown chisels are made with great high speed steel, the only problem was the tiny handles on them, the factory handles were about 8.5 inches in length which is way too short for serious turning.

So I was using these chisels on the lathe and one day it hit me!  I can use the wood lathe to turn new handles and have a perfect set of incredible chisels!  This instructable outlines how I am turning my chisels, it may be wrong or right but it seems to work for me.  So how can you too turn really nice handles on the lathe, well let's get started with a list of materials/tools:

1.  Wood Lathe (kind of obvious but I list it just in case)
2.  1.5 to 2" square piece of hardwood at least 12" long (I used Cherry because it is what I have a ton of)
3.  3/4" Copper pipe coupler, one of these will make two ferrules
4.  Lathe chisels (I used parting tool, gouge, and skew)
5.  Calipers
6.  Drill Chuck for lathe
7.  Appropriate sized drill bit 3/8" in this case

Well, do you have everything ready?  If so let's get started.

Mark the center of the ends with the straight edge and a pencil.  Once you have the centers marked take a punch and make a small hole in the end for the tail stock.  One the end that will go on the headstock I like to tap the spur center into the end for a good bite.  Now mount the block on the lathe and pull up the tool rest, please at this point I like to point out to always wear face protection and a dust mask when turning.

Step 1: Rouging the Blank Round

So everything is mounted now so let's make this square into a cylinder.  Turn on the lathe and start cutting.  As you are roughing out the cylinder you can test for roundness without turning the lathe off, simply sit the gouge on the spindle as you see in the first picture, if the gouge bounces you are not round yet.

So look at the second picture, see the size of the shavings, if you are not getting nice clean shavings and are getting more dust you need to sharpen your chisels.  There is a ton of information on the internet about sharpening lathe chisels so try a google search.  If I get more time I may post an instructable on how I sharpen mine.

So one you are round you need to start thinking about your ferrule, the ferrule is a metal sleeve to go on the end of the handle where the chisel is to prevent splitting oft he wood.  I am using copper because I had it and it is easy to work with and looks really nice buffed up.  So at this point use your calipers to measure the inside diameter of your ferrule, you will use this measurement to size the tenon on the end of the blank for the ferrule to go onto.  Once you have your tenon sized a little over tap the ferrule onto the blank using a mallet or block of wood.  Once the ferrule is on tight mount the block back on the lathe to finish your handle.   

Step 2: Finishing to Shape and Adding Some Nice Details

So once my ferrule is on I use the calipers to mark the depths at certain areas of the handle.  Now this is a personal item but for starting out this is what I use for sizing:

The maximum diameter of 1.5" will be up at the shoulder near the ferrule, say about 3/4" back.
The narrow diameter of 1" will be up from the end about 1/3 of the total length.  So on a 12" long handle the 1" mark would be 4" from the end.
The butt of the tool should be somewhere between 1 and 1.5" in this case I made it about 1 - 3/8"

So you can definitely toy around with these sizes to tune it to your hands or style.  As you can see the final shape resembles a tiny little baseball bat.

So we have a nice shape but let's add some nice decorative touches to, at this point you can do anything, maybe add some finger grooves or some texture.  I decided to make some burned grooves cause they look nice and improve the grip of the tool.  I start out with a skew or a chisel point and make some light grooves on the shoulder of the tool.  Once your grooves are cut take a coat hanger and gently push it into the groove while the lathe is spinning.  Push the hanger till you get a good puff of smoke and check it.  Make the burns as dark and deep as you like.  I placed grooves at the front and back of the tool.

Step 3: Uggg.... Sanding and More Sanding

So lets get sanding.  I start at 100 grit to remove tool marks and work up through the grits all the way to 400.  I think my steps are 100 - 180 - 250 - 320 - 400.  Be sure to sand the copper ferrule with each grit too.

Make with each new grit to remove the scratches from the previous grit.  At this point it is good to remember this is a tool handle and the finish does not need to be perfect but it is good practice.

So at this point we have a nice smooth handle and a decent looking mat finished ferrule, so how can we really make that ferrule shine?  I take a strip of cloth sandpaper and apply some white buffing compound to the cloth backside of the paper.  I then use this to polish the ferrule while the lathe is spinning, try to keep the compound off the wood.  As you can see the ferrule really shines after polishing.

So we have this great handle, now we have to drill it out to mount the chisel into.  So take your drill chuck and put it into the tailstock.  Put the bit against the handle into the hole from the center and turn the lathe on slow speed. Use the tailstock hand crank to feed the drill bit into the handle.  You will need to turn off the lathe and back the drill bit out every inch or so to clear chips.  Once you hole is deep enough pull the drill bit out and mount back to the tailstock live center and cut the other end of the handle off.

At this point you are done on the lathe.  I used a hand sander to finish the end of the chisel where I just cut it off and then put a couple of coats of poly on it. 

Step 4: Insert the Tool Into the Handle

Finally found the lost step....  How do you get the tool into the handle?  Hopefully you drilled a slightly undersized hole into the handle in the previous step.  To complete this step I use a heavy leather faced mallet and my bench vise, the mallet does not mar the wood on the end of the handle and the wood jaws in the vice keep the tool nice and clean.  If you do not have a vise just place the tip of the tool on a piece of soft wood and try to hold things straight while you pound it together.  If you do not have a soft faced mallet don't despair, once again use a piece of soft sacrificial wood to put on the end of the tool handle and then use a regular hammer.  So give this thing a good pounding, make sure that tool is tight and fully seated.  If you have drilled too large don't worry we can salvage it, try cutting some small wedges of wood to drive in with the tool into the handle, you can also use a 2 part epoxy to hold things tight.

One of my future instructables will be turning a nice mallet with leather faces from firewood so stay tuned for that, every woodturner needs one in their shop.

Step 5: So Let's See the Fruits of Our Labor

So here are some shots of the finished chisel beside one of the old ones.  Note the size difference in the handles, it's massive.



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    27 Discussions

    Nice, I always turn my own handles, Ash is my favorit.

    oooooo its a bit like inception--using lathe tools to make lathe tools!!

    Did you use epoxy to glue it in

    Very nicely done I enjoyed reading it, never tried a lathe, looks quite useful.

    Can you use other materials in a wood lathe, like plastic or metal?

    2 replies

    You can turn very soft metals and definitely palstics. They do make metal lathes that are way more accurate for engineering type turnings in harder metals like steel.

    if you get the right lathe and you know how to use it you can turn anything. On a wood lathe though I would only recommend brass, aluminum, and copper, some plastics will turn like a boss, but other ones will melt easily or may be impregnated with things that will ruin your day like glass. Other things that can be turned on a wood lathe are some nuts and seed pods, bone, and antler or horn (be ready for a smell though). also you can do metal spinning on a wood lathe, I won't go into that too much, but check it out on youtube, really cool.

    Nice one. I particularly enjoyed the coat hanger trick for burning. One alternative for tool handles I would suggest would be a Tung oil finish rather than poly. No particular practical reason, I just love the look and feel of Tung oil on lathe turned projects.

    2 replies

    Yeah, I use a tung oil finish for a lot of my decorative turnings but I wanted something tough for the handles since I have been known to use the as mallets too. I have never tried pure tung oil so I might have to give it a try someday. Thanks for the comment.

    I usually just coat my tool handles with paste wax. It wears off eventually, but you get a patina on the tool from use anyway.

    I also use my tools as mallets sometimes, so I find no need to sand to ultra-high gloss and use a special finish. To me, putting a nice finish on a tool like that is akin to getting a monster truck detailed. You can do it, but why waste the effort?

    The traditional method is to pre-drill an under-sized hole, heat up the tang with a fire (or propane torch), and melt it in.

    I've also cut the business end of the handle into a slight conical shape and cross-cut it so that when I add the metal band (final step), it's making a really firm grip on the tool.

    Wow, that will certainly hold things in place. I do drill the hole under-sized and use my 3lb rawhide faced sledge to motivate it together. I have done the cross cut method on some tools also but I put the tang on before putting the tool in and then the expansion of the slit tenon really tightens things together good. Also I have heard of some people just drilling the hole to full size and using epoxy to hold it all together, which would work great too. I think I am going to avoid the fire, I am usually so covered in sawdust at the point of putting the tool together I would probably burst into flames!

    The fire is a little excessive, probably, but it's something they did back in the day when there wasn't as many options. Anyway, most of these tools are loaded in compression, so less is probably fine. Oh---and I read about the fire method mainly in the context of making handles for files. For that, it's a great trick because the tang is relatively short and the life of the tool is not very great.

    I am philosophically opposed to adhesives, in general. In certain situations, an adhesive can be the best choice, but I see a lot of DIY-willy-nilly use of glue and tape. Often, adhesives lead to a very short-term solution followed by failure and a sticky residue. In this case, I think a mechanical connection will be best. You may eventually wear out the chisel or damage the handle. If it's glued on, it may be an enormous amount of effort to fix it.

    Anyway, nice documentation. Nice to see a project that stands on its own. Lately I've been seeing more stupid-trick type projects and projects half documented with a single video, or with just a few pictures. Thanks for putting in the work and making a complete instructable.

    Thanks for the kind words. Regarding adhesives, I am 39 years old and am simply amazed at how they have developed in my lifetime, the epoxies and poly's are simply amazing these days but you really have to know what adhesive to use for which situation and they can be very expensive.


    I added the lost step, thanks for the heads up on that, I just glossed right over it.


    It does seem that I missed a step there. When I get home this evening I will take a picture and write up some narrative on it. Basically I clamp the tool into my bench vice tang up and then use a soft faced mallet to "tap" the tool onto the tang.

    Really very nice instructable, I also use this method to the rings at the ends the sleeves of my turning tools, the advantage is that it be copper or in brass and that this does not rust. Question: Sometimes I machine of old files, to make my wood turning tools, (and sometimes for my metal lathe with old limes quality), not the stuff Chinese, dozen sold to on Ebay !
    What have you to make your big ream "Gouge" because it is very thicker, anyway a Congratulations, and good continuation!

    2 replies


    I am not making the tool itself, for those large gouges though they are forged from a piece of steel into that shape. Other gouges are milled from a round bar. Not a metal worker myself so I will leave that up to the experts.

    Ha, Ok, I thought it was you who made it is anyway a good job, it makes you a beautiful set, I made ​​them myself, I May Machinist's my work, I am Artisan, and I turn the wood for my pleasure, I also made a special system for sharpening gouges in the grinder, you must know, and it makes you a nice clean round in the end tool because it is very hard to sharpen Gouge a regular basis;