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Common Commercial Handles
Walnut
Rhododendron
Maple
Unfinished with end left on for locating centerline
Getting a Handle on Your Tools

Carving tool handles deserve much more attention than they get.  In the best situation, the handle should be an extension of your hand.  The handle should allow a full range of motion without discomfort or fatigue.  While no one handle will fit all hands or carving styles, we can each choose the handle the works best for us.
Some tools we buy will not have the handle we prefer; that is when we should modify or replace the existing handle to meet our requirements.  Size, shape, and strength are all important features in choosing a handle for your tools.  Just because a tool company has a standard handle for all their tools, does not mean it suits every carver.
Once you find a handle you really like, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have that same handle on all your tools.   The one exception would be Flexcut; the width of the handle insert makes handle conversion difficult.  It is possible to reshape the Flexcut tang, but the results are often less than satisfactory.

Most quality tools are designed for easy handle replacement; since wooden handles often wear out before the steel tool. 
If you are going to the trouble of making new handles, they may as well be attractive.  Using an interesting wood can be rewarding and help identify your tools from those of other carvers.
Here are a few things to watch for in choosing handle material:
Porous woods are difficult to finish; and some exotic woods may cause undesirable skin reactions.  Brittle woods may split and crack during assembly or use.  
Many common woods make good handles; Apple, Plum, Pear, Holly, Maple, Walnut, Cherry, Rhododendron, Juniper, and Boxwood are all good choices.

Thinking about customizing the handle to fit your hand perfectly?
That is probably not a good idea.  Handles should be comfortable in either hand and not fit in one position only.  Customizing should be in terms of length, diameter, taper, and grip.

How should I attach the tang to the handle?
This will depend most upon the tang style.  A tapered tang is installed with a pressed fit.  A square tang is forced into a round hole of the appropriate size.  Round tangs are upset to resist turning inside the round hole.   When a tool is not to be removed again, quick-setting epoxy works well.
What is a good finish for a handle?
Boiled linseed oil is fine for most handles.  Manufacturers tend to apply a clear acrylic finish to their handles.  This works well for the manufacturer as it keeps cost and production time down.  For the carver, grip is more important; boiled linseed oil provides that grip even during extended use.

Do I need ferrules on my handles?
It depends on the handle material, the tool and its intended use.   If the tool will be mallet driven or will see heavy chips, then the answer is yes.  On the other hand, if the tool is for light chip loads or is a palm tool, it probably doesn’t need a ferrule.

How should I identify my tool handles?
There are three things to consider in marking your tools.  First is identifying them as belonging to you.  Secondly is the tool profile; and finally the size.
One identifying system I have seen often is applying dots of paint on the ends of the handles.  One color for profile and another for size; you might even use your initials rather than dots. 

Why do some handles have a flat side?
The flat often seen on handles, prevents rolling and keeps the tool in the correct position for use.  Round tools must be restrained by some method to prevent rolling; but they are more comfortable in a larger range of working positions.

How to put in a centered hole for the tang
The easiest way to install a centered hole is with a lathe or drill press.   Simply drill between centers and the hole will be aligned along that axis.   I like to leave a square section when I turn handles; this has the center indentation still in it.  That takes care of locating one end; the other end you must lay out with a pencil and a center punch.  This indentation is to locate and start the drill bit.  If we use the two indentations, (rather than clamping and trying to align the handle to the drill bit), the hole will be centered.



Ferrule
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My Grandson Alex turning handles on the duplicating lathe  (notice the step ladder)