Bench Chisels (Part 1)

Over the last couple of years I have  purchased quite a number of chisels. Typically most people don’t need as many bench chisels as I have, but I am trying to collect a good range of longer bevel edged Witherby chisels. I sometimes purchase a group of chisels just for one Witherby, so I have a mix of of other brands that I’ll keep for students to use. My bench chisel collection is nearly complete, or maybe I should say that its complete enough to start making handles for them. I’m still missing a couple but I will happily live with what I have for now!

I have cleaned up the steel, removed the rust, flattened the back and sharpened most of the hodge podge of chisels. I am quite pleased with the quality of the steel in most of the chisels that I have purchased. Some took a bit more time grinding, but it was good to practice on the poorer quality ones. Flattening the back was boring with a lot of repetition. Sharpening was good and it has made me feel a lot more comfortable with my process and I know they are actually sharp.

Researching into handles has been an interesting journey. There are a lot of choices out there and picking one has been challenging. But I finally narrowed it down to a single shape in a couple of different sizes. This came about from some measure drawings I stumbled upon as well as a couple of examples of chisel handles I had.

Next is material selection, wood is certainly my first choice and that is what I am going with. I have purchased some blood wood and some curly maple. I picked blood wood because it’s naturally red and will not turn brown over time. I am planning to dye the maple blue. Blue and red are my primary colors, and I thought it would be nice to make my handles distinctive enough that I could pick them out at a distance and in a crowd of other tools. I haven’t worked with blood wood before, but it appears dense and hard like purple heart. The curly maple, on the other hand, is something I am quite familiar with. Laminating the two materials seems like a gamble when I am going to strike it with a hammer on occasion, so I did a lot of research into options to make my concern go away. I have chosen to acrylic impregnate the wood and cure it together. I believe this will give me the strength I am looking for.

Before I jump into making a good set of handles, there are a couple of major things that need to be accomplished. I would like to make a duplicating jig for the lathe to turn the handles. I want this jig so I can turn them at least to rough shape and hopefully to near finish. I also need to make a vacuum chamber to impregnate the wood with the acrylic. Then there is all the practice and experimentation with the dying, acrylic impregnation and turning.

Can a person really have too many chisels? Maybe when you have to make handles for all of them…

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