Episode #35: Re-handle a Chisel

Note: All of my old podcast videos have been moved to my YouTube channel.  You can now watch this video here:



18 thoughts on “Episode #35: Re-handle a Chisel

  1. So now I know who I have been bidding against on Ebay ;-). I have been accumulating Butcher chisels for much the same purpose (including handles). But, 1/16″? I thought I was done when I finally got a 1/4″…

    I haven’t watched your video yet (I really cannot wait), but I am sitting in a hotel in Colorado with very slow internet, watching the kids in the pool and waiting for the download… Over 40 minutes remaining on downloading a 23 minute video from iTunes…

    I wondered if you ever saw this:


    • Yep. My set of 12 has 1/16″, 1/8″ to 1″ in 1/8″ increments, plus 1-1/4″, 1-1/2″ and 2″. The 1/16″ chisels were common in sets during the period, but few survive since they were so delicate. Mine are a mix of makers though, not just the Butchers. I have seen Don’s article on making octagonal handles. His are true, regular (i.e. equal on all sides) octagons though. I like that style for carving tools, but for the bench chisels, I like the irregular, more rectangular shape I make in the video.

      • I am finally home and able to watch this! Great video. I have always wondered about the tangs not being straight – I guess I always assumed they were just bent (and I suppose some are).

        The “aha!” for me was seeing the process for laying out the handle to match the tang. It is one of those things that seems obvious once you see it, it is obvious but I would have been making handles and then trying to drill holes… (I even have a very old tanged gouge where the handle is loose and pulls off and I have noticed it really only fits in one orientation – but I never really thought about why)

        It seems to me that this layout approach applies to a veriety of techniques (even turning) since you develop the correct center line at each end. Very helpful. Thanks!

  2. Very helpful episode, thanks for doing it. Why beech? How did you decide exactly what size to make each?

    • Beech was a traditional tool wood because it was inexpensive, readily available, and not really desirable as a furniture wood (like maple, it’s not the easiest wood in the world to work using hand tools). I used it because I was able to get it real cheap in 2″ square x 12″ long turning blocks that were perfect for tool handles (i.e. they didn’t require me to rip the blanks to size…less work for me). Anything relatively hard and dense will work well though. Maple and birch work well too. Open grained woods like oak and ash will work (I see a lot of ash handles on old tools I get from across the pond), but the open pores accumulate grime from sweaty hands more quickly than the tighter grained woods, so I prefer beech, birch and maple for tool handles, even though they are harder to work.

      To come up with the sizes, I started with the small chisels, and decided that I didn’t want the thickness to be any less than 15/16″ and that I didn’t want the length to be any shorter than 5″. With those dimensions chosen as a baseline, I added 1/4″ to the thickness to come up with the width. I have 6 different size handles. The handle size increases every other chisel. The bolster end size is determined by the size of the bolster. For the next handle size up, I added 1/16″ to the thickness and width and 1/8″ to the length. These seemed to fit my chisels and my hands well. So the sizes I used were:

      Chisel SizeThicknessWidthLength













      These sizes worked for me. YMMV.

  3. Thanks Bob, very timely as I’m just ending a two-year chase for a set of firmers of all one brand. I’d been planing on making octagon handles, but you’ve sold me on the wider version. Do you think cherry will be all right for the handles?


  4. Great tutorial, Bob. However, I was hoping you might have some tips on removing existing mistreated handles from tanged chisels. Sometimes they’ll come away pretty easily, but others can be pretty stubborn. Short of cutting them off piece by piece, every way I’ve tried has been an exercise in frustration.


    • All of the ones I had to remove came off fairly easily by clamping the blade of the chisel tightly in a vise, and using a hammer and punch/nail set to tap the ferrule around the bolster until the handle comes off. I only had one chisel that this didn’t work for, and the handle was so mangled that I didn’t care what happend to it. So I simply used another chisel to split the old handle off in 3 pieces.

  5. Excellent videos as always! I’d been wondering exactly how to do this after reading Joiner and Cabinet Maker.

  6. Bob I enjoyed this video very much as well, I have a nice set of Witherly’s from 1 /4″ – 1 1/4″ however they are socket chisels. I like the your handles and wonder would these work for the socket chisels as well ? I have some 2″ X 2″ white oak.

    Thanks again !


    • Sure, they would work. Just turn the socket portion first, fit the tool to the handle blank, and then lay out the tapered octagon off of the center line of the chisel just like for the tanged version.

  7. Isn’t there some concern that the lack of a ferrule might cause the chisel to split?

    Might there be some way of fitting a ferrule to this design?

    • Perhaps some concern, but I don’t worry about it. Chisels have been handled this way, without ferrules, for hundreds of years. If the fit is right, the bolster of the chisel will prevent splitting by stopping the tang from driving too deep. I prefer the look and feel of the unferruled traditional design. If a handle splits I’ll just replace it. You can add a ferrule by turning the front portion if you like.

  8. I’m just curious, did you have any problems with the antique chisels not having enough carbon steel at the cutting edges ? because I’ve bought some before that were nothing but iron

    • No. But you have to be careful because it can happen if you buy short chisels. I try to buy chisels that are as long as possible to ensure there’s plenty of steel left. Also, the majority of these old chisels are solid steel tools. The laminated ones are harder to find, except in mortise chisels where they are a little more common.

  9. I had read with interest some other blogs which discussed with great detail the many current and historic methods of rehandling a chisel; drilling and burning, etc. After drilling multiple holes to make a taper and burning the tangs in and ultimately splitting three handles I came upon this site. This method worked great. Having used up a supply of exotic wood scrapes on the initial tries, I ended up using a section of a broken shovel handle.

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