When I retired, I packed all my tools into a big wooden chest and happily passed them on to my son. Now, in my woodworking renaissance, I find I don’t like the majority of chisels currently on offer, so I have resorted to the internet to purchase socket chisels – some are NOS, but most are second hand.
New or old, good or bad, I replace every chisel handle with a longer, fatter handle to suit my large, recalcitrant hands. The reason I concentrate on socket chisels is because their handles are by far the easiest to replace; a sharp sideways rap on the bench and the handles pop right out of their sockets. Tightening or replacing a socket handle is equally as simple; thump the whole tool down a few times on the end of its handle and it’s fit for work.
Fig. 1. A 1/2″ Stanley 750 series socket chisel in typical used condition.
I don’t maul my bench chisels, instead, preferring to push them or gently rap them with a lightweight carver’s mallet. There are plenty of timbers better suited to heavy bashing, but for my use, I chose English walnut (Juglans regia) for this handle (fig. 2).
Fig. 2. The prepared walnut blank mounted in the lathe.
The first step in turning a new handle for a socket chisel is to determine the depth of the socket; this I do by inserting the point of a pencil into the socket, pressing my thumbnail into the pencil, level with the end of the socket, and then transferring the measurement onto the blank (fig. 3).
Fig. 3. The tenon length spun onto the walnut blank.
Using a parting tool, the major diameter of the tenon is sized with the aid of a pair of callipers set to the diameter of the socket’s mouth. Experience (luckily) determines the correct taper, but comparison with the original handle (if the handle is present and if indeed, it is the original handle!), or by frequent fitting in the actual socket is essential for a snug fit.
Twisting the new handle in the chisel’s socket will produce telltale marks on the tenon which indicate how close the fit is. A solitary dark ring around the large end of the tenon signifies the taper needs to be reduced and conversely, a ring around the point of the tenon signifies the taper must be increased.
Uniform marks along the tenon shows the taper angle, at least, is correct – whether the tenon is the correct overall diameter is another issue. If the taper is correct, then parallel scraping and frequent testing will affect a perfect fit (fig. 4).
Fig. 4. The taper angle is spot on, but must be reduced overall to allow the handle to seat fully.
A small gap (fig. 5) must be left between the chisel socket and tenon shoulder to allow for initial settling-in as the wood fibres compress and also for seasonal changes in the wood which can result in variations in the taper.
Fig. 5. The shy tenon.
The next step in turning the handle is matching the taper of the forepart to the exterior of the chisel’s socket (fig. 6). This is purely for aesthetic reasons, but the chisel would be incomplete, in my book, if this step were ignored.
Fig. 6. The handle taper matched to that of the chisel socket.
Fig. 7. The bolster is marked off at 15mm and overall length at 115mm.
Fig. 8. The back of the bolster is roughed out to coincide with my thumb’s position and curvature.
Fig. 9. The handle further refined.
Rather than using sandpaper, I clutch a handful of shavings (of the same species of wood – a denser species might mar the softer walnut) and hold it against the swiftly revolving handle. This has the effect of smoothing the rough turning and burnishing it to a high lustre (fig. 10).
Fig. 10. As a comparison, the blade end of the handle has been burnished, the butt end has not.
Having been a restorer, I favour older looking wood, so I lightly stained the walnut before giving it a lick of polish and waxing it (fig. 11).
Fig. 11. The chisel itself was brightened up and then sharpened and honed ready for work.