Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Garage sale chisels

It may have seemed that I dropped off the end of the earth, but I have been working diligently on maintenance and repair of the house we bought.  We knew what we were getting into, it was reflected in the price and I enjoy most of it (except painting) so it's fine, but it has kept me from woodworking.  The fall rains have arrived here in the northwest and we're between major projects, so it's time to get back in the shop.

I was feeling really rusty so I wanted to do some small things before I tackled a project.  I stop at garage sales occasionally and have run across some nice chisels for less than $1 from time to time because they lack handles.  I don't have a lathe so I haven't bought many, but there were a few I couldn't resist, including two socket chisels from Winchester and Keen Kutter, that had been laying around.  I had some scraps of beech and decided to try making handles for them.

Since I was going to shape the cone to fit the socket with a spokeshave and rasp and wanted to make things as easy as possible, the design was largely determined.  I just continued the dimension of the cone needed to fit the socket until it intersected the edge of the scrap:

You may be wondering what the bit is for.  The cone needed to be 5/8" at the bottom and 3/4" at the top and I wanted to mark it very precisely so I hit on the idea of using the bit as a marking gauge, working off an accurate centerline. That worked well here, but it worked particularly well on the bottom:

 This served as a great guide for shaping:

So, how'd it go?  Surprisingly well.  I got the base to the correct size very readily because of the drilled circle then shaped the rest of the cone slightly oversize by eye.  After that, I just kept putting the chisel on as far as it would go and turning it so as to burnish the wood, taking it off, removing the burnishing, rinsing and repeating.  Took a while, but I got a tight fit.

Here's what the result looks like:

 You can see the oval shape, dictated by the thickness of the scrap.  The handles feel comfortable but I'll have to use them awhile to see.

This exercise got me thinking about shapes of chisel handles.  I got out all of my bench chisels and looked at them (one of the handles I made is at the bottom for comparison):

All except the Lie Nielsen have flats on two sides, which I think I prefer to the round cross section of the former.

Lee Valley has replacement handles for chisels with tangs in its catalog.  They are made of boxwood, graduated in size for the size of the chisel and are octagons with turnings at the top and bottom, which the company says is the classic design "of all time."  They don't look that great to me but I am curious to try one.  By the way, Lee Valley also has a selection of brass ferrules in a wide range of sizes.

This experiment has left me eager to find some more nice old chisels with broken handles at garage sales, although most of the ones I find are 3/4" or larger.  I find that I prefer the steel in the older chisels, definitely better than the A2 steel in my Lie Nielsens.  I don't like A2 chisels at all because they are harder to sharpen, don't hold an edge enough longer to justify the extra time sharpening and I can't get as sharp an edge on them as I can on my old chisels.  That's just me though.


  1. Nice job on the handles and double ditto marks on the old irons vs A2. I find that I sharpen my O1 chisels more often but I feel that they take a keener edge. I'm willing to take that vs working exclusively with A2 stuff.

  2. Hi again Andy,
    have you got any stock numbers for those LV chisel handle offerings?

  3. Yes, Ralph, you can follow the link in the post for the stock numbers, which are different for each size. The stock number for the 5 1/4" one is 27K32.01