I will warn you, this walk-through is a big one! The results, however, will let a woodworker without a lathe or mad shaping skills to have a reasonably high chance of turning a small chunk of wood into a lovely handle that can be held with comfort and pride!
I have been researching and experimenting with tool grips for quite some time. Recently I have begun to solidify my research and decided it was time to figure out how to make the perfect tool handle, make it well and make it consistently. Part of my goal here is to provide a handle form that does not need a lathe to turn. I wanted to make this something that would inspire and allow budding craftsmen to use, make and repair hand tools.
First off is the specialized shooting board for making octagonal tapers! Then we will make a jig for boring straight holes into the handles. Lastly we will make a bit for drilling straight holes. You will need some decent 1/2″ or so plywood, some screws, a length of drill rod and some nice lengths of stable wood that is about 2″ by 2″.
Here is my shooting board for making handles. Don’t worry too much about it making no sense to the eye. Think of it as Toolmaking Art!
This abstract wall hanging is a tool for making tools! This is a guide for the controlled removal of wood from a handle blank. For this to work well you need a nice and quite square block of wood, a bit longer than the handle you plan to make. The shavings shown are about as thick a shaving as I can make with the plane shown.
All this really is, is a V-Block with a tapers cut into the sides, mounted on a chunk of plywood.
The taper on the left of the V channel is 1 to 16, the taper on the right of the central v channel is 1 to 4.
At the ends of the V-Channel are holes drilled for dowels to keep the handle blank from moving with the plane.
By using this to plane a square block, the corners can be removed to make it roughly octagonal. Then the original sides can be planed down to match the taper of what used to be corners. The end result is a nice octagonal cone.
It can take forever to plane down the sides initially, shaving at a time. so a rough saw cut not too close to the final dimension can help speed up the process.
Then a plane can run along the side of the shooting board and quickly make an nice smooth surface.
Here is the handle blank half finished. If you look close you can see where the plane made a rough cut into the grain. Because of the angles involved, this will usually not happen if you saw off a bit of waste first.
Here is the handle nearly finished. A bit of hand sanding or shaping will still be needed to make the transition between the front and back tapers even and smooth.
Here is how I made the shooting board. First I started with a V-Channel cut into a block of cedar. I like cedar because it is inexpensive and reasonably stable. The V was cut to be slightly less that a 90 degree angle, so that slightly uneven blocks would still be held stable. Note here, that a block that is not very close to square is used to make a handle, the result will be an handle that is not at all close to octagonal!
Here is the back of the same V-Block. I am using my reference cone to check the line I drew for a guide.
Here is how I made the line. I wanted the taper to be 1 to 16. For accuracy, I try to use as much length of measuring tools as I have. So I decided to use a 1.5″ rise to 24″ run.
I ‘Burned’ an inch, that is added an in to the measure, so I was not using the end of the rule.
But instead of doing it right, and measuring along the length, I measured using the hypotenuse. Yep, I made a stupid mistake, fortunately I did not use my measurements.
Because table saws are dangerous, I use a rail saw for power cutting. Since the saw blade runs right down the edge of this aluminum rail, I can place a block of wood beneath it and make a precise cut. So I lined it up with the cone in the V-Channel. The cone is not visible since it lines up with the edge of the rail. But the shadow of the cone is visible . Then I lowered the rail, adjusted the saw and cut the taper.
See how the cone fits nicely with the taper cut in the side of the V-Block.
The center tool handle was made using the shooting board shown. The cone and the handle on the right used the much funkier and less pretty prototype.
Here is the jig for drilling a straight hole. I used screws to hold this together. Three square blocks sitting square with two long sections of plywood. I used a long drill bit, and lined it all up with an aluminum L-Channel to try and drill a fairly straight set of holes. Since I had a lot of area for holes if I messed up, I was ready to drill another and try to do better. The drill bit was tested as straight by rolling it on a granite plate. Then it drilled the first two holes and made a divot at the end for the tool blanks end point to register with.
Before drilling I make a nice divot in the end of the tool handle to center the drill bit in.
Then the handle blank is centered into place with it’s point in the divot.
I hold the handle while the drill bit cuts the initial hole. After getting the hole started, I let go of the handle to see if it is centered and straight.
It is easy to see a ghosted edge if the handle is off center in any way. Below the photo of the spinning handle shows that I have everything right!
Sadly the photo below shows that the end result of drilling gave me an off center hole. The truth is, I fooled myself into thinking this would work. I really did not want this project to be complex and require much metal working, so that you the reader might be inspired to actually follow these directions. Sadly, my goal blinded me to something I knew. Most drill bits wander with a deep cut into wood. Drilling into endgrain is the worst. Constant force make the bit flex and follow the path of the least resistance. This compounds and makes for an irregular hole.
What you need for drilling this sort of hole is the same sort of tool that was used in the early days to drill gun barrels straight. Did I say, used in the early days? This technology has not changed much, apart from putting a hole through the center of the drill to pump oil through to lubricate the drilling, the shapes are much the same, apart from a hundred or so variations.
So what we need here is a shell auger! Here is how I made one. First I took a drill rod blank the size I wanted. Then I ground a skew on the end and a flat taper from the point to about 4″ back on the rod. This rod is 1/4″ soft, unhardened tool steel. Normally this steel is basically shaped, hardened, tempered, and then the finished shape is made. In this case we are just going to file it into shape and use it. It will dull comparatively quickly, but it will be easy to sharpen. Not all edged tools have to be hard.
I filed a flat taper about 1/16″ deep at the end of the rod, so that filing would be less and be easier. It is easy to skate off of a round surface when filing and scar the exterior that you want to remain smooth.
Here is a nice rounded channel tapering to the point. The taper is nice, since as I sharpen this, the end will be reduced, and the channel deepened. The taper means I can keep the same profile as I use and sharpen this tool.
The channel makes a moon shaped profile at the end of the bit. The deepest part of the channel, just barely reaches the center of the rod.
The bevel on the end of the shell auger drops away from the groove edge and away from the leading point of the auger. This gives clearance for the cut to be made.
The actual cutting edge of this auger is the intersection between the longer half of the groove and the end bevel. Because this tool cuts only on the face of the tool, and slowly scrapes material without digging in, it makes a straight and centered hole.
Here it is ready to be used.
Because a shell auger does not start with a center point, I made a hole first with a spur bit to initially guide the auger.
A shell auger is slow, and needs to be removed to clean the hole regularly. It can also get hot quickly. Not that I am afraid of ruining the temper of this one since it was never hardened. It scrapes instead of digging in and cutting so it does not make chips typically, it makes powder.
Here is the tool handle drilled with a shell auger, spinning in place. Perfectly centered on the alignment divot.
Here is a close up of the handle spinning. Shell augers work!
Now when I put a tool into the handle it sits straight and true!
The shell auger made from unhardened tool steel needs sharpening after cutting holes in two handles. With some fine sandpaper on a flat surface the end bevel can be cleaned up. If the channel needs to be cleaned up too, fine sandpaper bent around another section of drill rod will do a good job of polishing it.
There you go, a compete process for making octagonal and tapered forms. Keep in mind that a straight octagon can be made with just a v-block cut to size and not taper at all. Let me thank Ray Gardiner for straightening me out when I was chasing a rabbit down a hole on this, and Steve Wirt for his interest, information and encouragement. This project took me on quite a few detours and turns and I would have been much, much more frustrated by it without their imput.