Turning Chisels, Is Better Really Better?

Click here for the start of this series Up until the middle of the nineteenth century brass pipe was hard to make so ferrules, the brass ring at the base of most tools weren’t used. I just picked up a delta mini lathe over the weekend seeing as it looks like delta is trying to blow them out (they were $199 at rockler down the street, and I see they’re as cheap as $159 on the web). The reason for this is because the grain in the wood is ‘sealed’, where regular red oak has open vessels that allow moisture to readily travel into the wood and cause damage.

Handle makers did not want to waste the smaller offcuts of wood, and this may explain why these timbers became most commonly used for smaller handles, such as those on chisels and billhooks, where other woods, such as beech, sycamore or oak would do equally well. I’ve even watched on eBayUK in the hope that a set might be offered there, but so far, no luck.

While the tool is still hot, I use a pair of pliers to pull it out of the handle. It was not bored with a drill, there are chisel marks or similar along the edges of the mortise. For chisels that will be struck repeatedly, like oire, tategu nomi, chu tataki and tataki, for function, white oak is best. After all the kind thoughts above, I’m minded to stick with the existing handle for the time being, and to see how good the metal is before going further. The top edge of the wood is then shaped to a half round section using the inside face of a gouge (see photo 22).

They may have a wooden or plastic handle attached using a tang or socket, or may be made entirely of one piece of metal. Remember, the wood will compress when you start pounding on it, so there’s no need for the wood to make contact with the socket everywhere. No particular practical reason, I just love the look and feel of Tung oil on lathe turned projects. This one is an inch wide and came from an antique store with its original handle in place.

I am sure both had an impact, but I can say that the Jet tools felt better the instant the custom handles were installed. I’ve cut dovetails in Ebony and Lignum Vitae and not worried about the chisels or their handles. The 1/2″ and wider chisels have a lower 25 degree bevel as the wider blade can stand up to more of a beating. Since I came back from Germany in June, the wood has been sitting next to my desk – never out of sight. But since this is a socket chisel, I’d like to be able to safely whack it with a mallet, so I’m going to add a hoop.

I owe a special thanks to Jim Thompson for sharing his invaluable experience and sage advice when I first started making these chisel handles, and to Steve Knight for providing the inspiration to begin making them. Trditionally, most chisels were ash or hickory, though they usually had leather washers on the striking end. After that makers started just using stock handles that were oversize and leaving it at that. It is unmarked and had a crudely fashioned oak handle I made a couple of decades ago.

And remember if you want the set of Faithfull chisels put a comment below and send me your address. What’s interesting is that the tang was wrapped in thick wood shavings in order to make it fit snugly. I have heard from relatively new wood turners who are successful with the Jet chisels, and that should not be surprising. Most have curves, known in the trade as sweeps, that create convex cuts in a piece of wood. Someone sharpened and shined it. There is some pitting, but otherwise it has typical age/use wear patina for a used chisel.


The diamond point chisel is used for cleaning out corners or difficult places and pulling over centre punch marks wrongly placed for drilling. Native olive might be good, again I have no experience hitting the stuff but it certainly feels like it would handle the abuse quite well. I’m Following up on a recent Twitter discussion (you can follow me @HKToolCo ) on making handles for traditional British pigsticker” mortise chisels.

One of the first steps I started down was chisel handles and I spent a lot of the last year and a half working out processes for wood stabilization and turning of handles. That being said I don’t know of any manufacturer who doesn’t finish their handles with something. Perhaps the greatest point of advantage lies in the fact that these Handles can be used with a hammer, while with the ordinary style a mallet must be used.

One of these is currently living on the handle of a 1/8” Witherby mortise chisel I sold. They are ‘softer’ and have an elasticity that transmit the blow from the hammer in a gentler manner and are said to have a good ‘voice’ communicating what’s happening at the edge better than any other wood. Hand-operated chisels commonly utilize a short round handle that fits the user’s palm. STEP 2: Starting in the middle of the mortise, make alternate cuts in an area just wider than the height of the chisel. The reality is that the wood is brittle, and not really well suited to striking chisels. I prefer to use a wooden mallet on, for example, my English (or Oval) Bolstered Mortice Chisels.

A common option for Japanese chisels is Japanese white oak, aka; Shiragashi (), which again literally translates as ‘white oak’. I will have to try the baseball bat idea, since I already have a small collection to be used as commander handles. I find I often get hot when working and unless the chisel handles are boxwood the sweaty hands can make pale wood look a bit mucky.

A sharp wood chisel in combination with a forstner wood drill bit is used to form this mortise for a half-lap joint in a timber frame. The wood is prepared by marking off square shapes that will accommodate the size of ball to be made, and then relief saw cuts are made to the correct depth (see photo 21). Box wood was one of the three favoured woods for chisel handles including pig sticker mortice chisels and you can’t get harder than that. I usually put a little thick CA glue into the hole on my turning tool handles, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt here.

It may well be the perfect chisel handle wood being tough, durable, strong and with enough flexibility that it will survive for a goodly time, regardless of the punishment dealt to it as it’s calling in life as a chisel handle. Aside from the appearance, there is a time tested reason for the wood used and the feel and action of the chisel can be tuned to what the ultimate user desires. If you are going to push the chisel, say a paring chisel, then it really does not matter what type of wood you use.

The biggest help to me has been the book Elementary Turning ” that we published earlier this year. The Jet handles are straight where your hand grips them while the Crown handles have a contour that feels much better to me. Both handles are roughly the same length. Sometimes only small amounts of wood need to be removed to produce a carving e.g. letter cutting. Now, BEFORE you seat the hoop, do your final scraping or sanding on the handle. All that is left is some shellac, some wax, and this chisel will join the roll of Butchers that I use on a daily basis.

I have never owned a socket-handled chisel I think if I bought some, I would go to the trouble of drilling through twice, at right-angles, and putting in rivets of some sort, to keep the handle in place.. It’s academic to me mind, as I prefer tanged, London pattern chisel handles, as they don’t roll off the bench so easily. I follow marks on the wood as reference bruising to work my cuts to with a chisel. A modern gouge is similar to a chisel except its blade edge is not flat, but instead is curved or angled in cross-section. The most visible difference between the Crown and Jet chisels is their handles.

Turn the necks at the ends of the handle a couple thousandths of an inch larger than the inner diameter of the ferrules. The handle design is responsible for creating a tool that can be comfortably used by a craftsman for extended periods without creating blisters, sore spots and fatigue. Its sides are at right-angles to its flat back—only the tip of the chisel is beveled.