Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Making Saw Handles

And here's how I make the handles for my backsaws...

(note: please ignore the fact that I used pictures from two different handles in this post... One is bubinga, the other, imbuia)

I start by milling blanks to size—roughly 7/8” thick. I don’t need to be exact on the thickness, especially since I’m making my own split nuts now, so I just plane it until it’s close to 7/8” & all the roughness/tearout is gone.

Next, I trace the handle shape from a template I have. Usually, I’ll size a blank such that I can nest two handles on it & save some wood. I then use a small drill press & forstner bits to cut out the tightest of the curves of the handle.

I also drill the holes for the split nuts at this time. I used to use a rather convoluted process of drilling a 1/16” pilot, using a forstner bit to drill the 1/2" counterbore, then drilling the 3/16” through hole. Now, I’ve developed what I think is a much quicker, more “elegant” procedure. I found a tool called a counterbore (usually used for metal working, I think) that has an integral
pilot. The one I have is made to work with different size pilots, but I couldn’t find the 3/16” pilot I needed, so I just stuck a piece of 3/16” dia. brass rod in it—works perfectly. Now all I need to do is drill a 3/16” through hole & use the counterbore to cut the 1/2" holes on each side of the handle.
(this blank is sort of the “left over” from a previous handle I had made—that’s why it’s oddly shaped)


Next, I take the drilled blank to the bandsaw and rough it out.

I use a setup I first saw here to cut the kerf for the blade. I cut down the blade from an early saw I had made, and I clamp that to an old shooting board (a known flat surface—flatter than my workbench top, unfortunately). I use a few pieces o
f paper to shim the handle to the correct height, and use this set up to begin cutting the kerf.



I’ll need to finish it up with a dovetail saw, but this set up assures me that I have a square, straight kerf.

Now I’ll take some time to work on the blade. I need to finish the blade so that I can mark & cut the mortise for the brass back. I used to shape the handles first and then cut the mortise, but I’ve found that the mortise is one of the trickiest parts of making the handle (at least for me), and I was tired of ruining handles after doing most of the work. I’d rather ruin it BEFORE I’ve done all the work, thank you very much…

So once the blade is made, I stick it into the kerf as far as it’ll fit & use a marking knife to mark the mortise.




Then it’s just a matter of sawing the edges & chiseling out the waste. I have to work slowly, cutting a bit and testing the fit, to insure a tight fit & to make sure the holes all line up correctly.

Once that’s done, the fun part—shaping the grip—begins. I use a series of spokeshaves, rasps, files, scrapers, and sandpaper to shape & smooth the grip.



I have a small machinist’s vice bolted to a piece of plywood, and I clamp that to my bench for work like this. I also clamp a small handscrew into the vice at times in order to raise (and rotate) the workpiece.







The inside of the grip is the hard part. It's tricky to get the tools in here without hitting part of the vice, the workbench, or another part of the handle.



I also need to cut the chamfers at the “front” of the handle (where it meets the blade). The “top,” flat chamfers are simply pared with a chisel:



And the curved chamfers are cut with spokeshaves & files. I used to rasp & file these, but I’ve found that the wooden, low-angle shave works very well.





That's it! Some sanding, shellac, and wax will finish it up once the handle and blade are assembled with the split nuts.





Cocobolo handle with brass split nuts






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