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Customize their fit for comfort and performance.
Decades ago, wood turning tools were supplied without handles and the turners would simply model their own. This makes perfect sense, because a handle that fits and feels “right” gives a turner confidence. And who better than the person who will use the tool can adapt the handle to measure?
Turning and installing your own handles is a great design exercise, moving to fairly tight tolerances and drilling the wood on the lathe. To get started, you can either buy unmanaged tools (still an option) or remove their trade handles (really easy). .
Use strong, dry wood
Select the stock with straight grain, especially for the tool end of the handle (use the strongest grain orientation for this critical area). Traditional hardwoods, many exotic woods, and even the local woods you collect and dry are all good options. Do not use weak woods such as pine, poplar, butternut, willow, spruce and fir.
Make sure the wood is dry. If in doubt about the moisture content, allow the handle to stabilize for several days (or more) after roughing it and drilling the initial hole.
I make each handle unique, using different woods and finishing colors, so that I can immediately identify each instrument. I normally start with a stock that is 1-3 / 4 “to 2” square (Photo 1). The length of the stock depends on a number of factors, including personal preferences and the tool itself. Figure A (below) lists the handle lengths that work well for me. It is always better to make a handle that is too long rather than too short.
Soccer toe cap
Each handle of a woodturning tool must have a metal ferrule to reinforce the joint between the handle and the tool shank, or “tang” (Photo 2). Hardware stores and salvage yards are good sources for ferrule stock. Copper joints (used to join copper pipes and tubes) are among the best. They come in a variety of diameters and each can be cut in half to make two ferrules. Choose a diameter that allows for plenty of wood between the shank of the tool and the ferrule, usually at least 1/4 “- if there is any question, choose a larger diameter.
Making a handle
1. The first step is to drill a 3/8 ″ diameter. x 3/4 ″ deep pilot hole for the tongue in the barrel (Photo 3). Note: If the key is smaller than 3/8 ″, match the diameter of the pilot hole with the key. The end you choose to mount the tang should have a straight grain and be free of controls and knots. Clamp the blank in a vise and use a hand drill.
2. Install a center under tension with a cone in the tailstock. The cone automatically centers the pilot hole when the blank is mounted on the lathe. If you do not have a tapered live center, turn a tapered piece of wood to fit the pilot hole in the stock and protrude approximately 1/2 “beyond it. When mounting the stock, center the live center point on the blank. ‘protruding end.
3. Turn the end of the ferrule, or the entire blank, so that it is rounded, using a chuck gouge.
4. Rotate a tenon at the end to match the length and internal diameter of the ferrule: opt for a guided fit. Taper the end of the tenon slightly to help kick-start the ferrule. Drive on the ferrule, first the end of the factory, all the way at the shoulder of the tenon (Photo 4). This orients the rough end of the ferrule with the end of the tenon. Lower this blank edge after reinstalling the blank on the lathe. If the edge is very rough, use a cutter file on the lathe.
5. To be safe, turn a bulb onto the part of the handle that will house the tang (Photo 5). This provides maximum resistance in the event of catching or digging.
6. Rotate the blank to a diameter slightly larger than the final size. Then use a detail gouge / mandrel to round off the back end of the handle.
7. Transform the grip area of the handle into a shape you like (Photo 6). Be sure to test the grip with the hand you will use to control the tool. As the grip area approaches perfection, shape the transition to the bulb to create the optimum feel and balance, but be careful not to make the portions too thin.
8. Sand the handle and 150 grit nut, with the lathe running. Turn off the lathe and sand with grit to finish the job.
9. Remove the tool holder to drill the shank hole (Photo 7). For round shank tools, the depth of the hole should be one quarter to one third of the tool length. For flat shank tools, the hole should accommodate the entire shank, almost to the shoulder of the tool. Fit a Jacobs-style drill chuck into the headstock and install a regular conical tip bit (other types of drill bits will not fit into the pilot hole precisely). Place the pilot hole of the handle against the tip, lift the tailstock and lock it. Advance the center under tension to engage the center hole on the exhaust end of the tool handle. Put on a full face shield and set the lathe speed between 400 and 600 rpm.
10. Turn on the lathe and check that the handle is working properly. There should be little or no “ghosting” at the end of the bezel. If you see ghosts, stop the lathe and re-center the drill bit in the pilot hole. Once everything works well, perform two simultaneous actions to drill the hole: grasp the rotary handle about halfway with one hand while operating the handwheel of the tailstock with the other. Go slowly. If you feel too much resistance, slowly exit the hole to remove the chips.
11. If the hole needs to be widened to accommodate round shanks with a diameter greater than 3/8 ″, simply repeat the drilling operation, using the appropriate larger conical point. Drill stepped holes to accommodate tools with flat shanks. Pierce the small dia. drill the entire length of the stem; drill the largest hole only as needed.
12. Finish the back end of the lathe handle. Just cut the waste with a hand saw and then sand down.
13. Insert the tool into the handle. This step is crucial. I strongly believe in using epoxy to anchor the tool, so start by pouring a generous amount into the hole. Push the handle onto the tab (Photo 8). Stop about every quarter of the way to check alignment, aiming the tool and handling it as you would a pistol. Look for misalignment left or right and top or bottom. Tap the tool with the hammer to make corrections.
14. My favorite tool handle finish is one that comes from heavy use: sweat, dirt, wear, and maybe even a little blood. A pure oil finish is another option, but any film-forming finish (including wipe-on oil paints) will make the handle look too smooth.
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