I have a weakness for old square sided firmer chisels, so when I was at the PATINA (Potomac Antique Tools and Industries Association) meeting and auction last weekend and saw a nice 1 1/2" un-handled tang firmer for $6, I had to pick it up. Yesterday I had a little free time so I decided to make a handle for it. This was my first chisel handle and also my first time working with beech. I had a little laying around the shop that I was given a while back and thought that it would be ideal for a handle. I really like the way the beech worked with hand tools. Takes a nice, crisp edge. Made me wish I had some larger chunks for making a few wooden planes.
The process of making the handle was nothing groundbreaking, but here it is. I started off with a 2" square piece of beech and cut it a little over the length I wanted. Made sure one end was square and then marked the center. Drilled a hole in this end just a touch smaller that the tang where it meets the bolster to a depth of half the length of the tang. Then I switched to a bit a touch smaller than the tang width at it's half-way point and drilled this to the full depth of the tang. This allowed the chisel to go into the handle with about a half inch gap between the handle end and the bolster. The drilling was done with brace and bits. From here I marked the outer edges of the bolster on the handle end, removed the chisel and drew lines from there to the other end with the taper I wanted. Then it was just a matter of sawing close to the line and finishing up with a plane. After I had a square, tapered handle, I needed to knock the corners off to make the square an octagon. For this process I clamped my plane upside down in my twin screw of my bench and used it like a jointer, running the corners of the handle over the blade of the plane. This works really well for this and other small pieces you may need to plane. Just watch your fingers. After I had an octagon shaped handle, I trimmed it to length and then took a sharp paring chisel and pared bevels on the end of the handle for comfort. With the handle shaped, I inserted the tang in the hole, squared up the chisel blade to the handle, and whacked the butt of the handle on some scrap wood on my bench to seat the bolster flush to the handle. Done.
With me drilling the hole for the tang by hand, the handle is just slightly out of plumb with the chisel from side to side, but not enough to hurt anything. Overall, I'm very happy with how it turned out. I see more of these handles in my future as I just can't seem to pass up a good deal on a orphaned firmer.