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Making my own Wood Engraving Tool Handles

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Thu 9th Jul 2020
Blog Categories: Wood Engraving Tools | Wood Engraving Printmaking | All / Filter

Maybe I just have big hands, or maybe the wood working tools I'm used to using having chunky handles, but I find the handles on 'off the shelf' wood engraving tools to be a bit too small for me. Muscular issues including in my wrists/hands doesn't help either. I want them to fit snugly in my palm and use that to push the tool through, and get my little finger tucked in, comfortably. But I can't with what I have and so I don't do much engraving.

But, whilst it isn't something I do every day, I had a quiet lathe (which needed modifying), so decided to make my own handles - this is Part 1 of the story.

The Lathe

My lathe is in fact very simple, and quiet (don't want to disturb the neighbours), but perfectly effective.

It is what is known as a 'pole lathe', which simply means there is no motor to run it, but my foot pushes down on a pedal that drives the wood round in one direction, and a spring (traditionally branch but in my case bungee elastic) brings everything back up, and I repeat the whole process again.

The tool is only applied to the wood on the foot down movement. So it requires not a little co-ordination and won't stand harder woods, but that is Ok for me.

Traditionally it is used on 'green wood' (wood that has not been dried), however I use it on wood that is dry & seasoned, it works on smaller pieces.

I built the lathe entirely myself, to my own design. Traditionally the cord that turns the piece sits on the piece being worked, however with smaller items that doesn't work. So I designed a simple headstock of a 17mm solid steel bar running on two ball bearings with the 'powered cord' turning it, and a shaped end to hammer into the piece to turn it. A simple tailstock with a 10mm steel bar hold the piece in at the other end. It is held together with 3" thick Sapele pieces and large coachbolts, and is clamped to my 1/2 tonne bench. The clamps holding it all together make it look so Heath Robinson, but it works, and only cost about £30 to make (+ offcuts of wood to help make it).

Due to lack of space in my studio, I don't yet have a full photo of it, however I hope to fix that sometime.

Pole Lathe
Pole Lathe in action

The Lathe

My lathe is in fact very simple, and quiet (don't want to disturb the neighbours), but perfectly effective.

It is what is known as a 'pole lathe', which simply means there is no motor to run it, but my foot pushes down on a pedal that drives the wood round in one direction, and a spring (traditionally branch but in my case bungee elastic) brings everything back up, and I repeat the whole process again.

The tool is only applied to the wood on the foot down movement. So it requires not a little co-ordination and won't stand harder woods, but that is Ok for me.

Traditionally it is used on 'green wood' (wood that has not been dried), however I use it on wood that is dry & seasoned, it works on smaller pieces.

I built the lathe entirely myself, to my own design. Traditionally the cord that turns the piece sits on the piece being worked, however with smaller items that doesn't work. So I designed a simple headstock of a 17mm solid steel bar running on two ball bearings with the 'powered cord' turning it, and a shaped end to hammer into the piece to turn it. A simple tailstock with a 10mm steel bar hold the piece in at the other end. It is held together with 3" thick Sapele pieces and large coachbolts, and is clamped to my 1/2 tonne bench. The clamps holding it all together make it look so Heath Robinson, but it works, and only cost about £30 to make (+ offcuts of wood to help make it).

Due to lack of space in my studio, I don't yet have a full photo of it, however I hope to fix that sometime.

Pole Lathe
Pole Lathe in action

The Woods

I am experimenting with which woods to use just now - I want handles that are shaped well and which work, but which also look good - so hoping to use some good hardwoods that also turn well. Some Cherry works well, but Sapele doesn't, but I'm hoping to try more in the next few days (Walnut & Holly being the most promising just now).

The wood needs to be made approximately round before putting in the lathe. I do this by first sawing (using hand saws, no machines) into a long rectangle. Then, using a draw knife, I roughly round the edges off until I get a kind of round piece - I judge this by eye. Then it is ready to turn.

Draw knife
Using draw knife to shape wood

Ready to turn
Pieces ready to turn

The Woods

I am experimenting with which woods to use just now - I want handles that are shaped well and which work, but which also look good - so hoping to use some good hardwoods that also turn well. Some Cherry works well, but Sapele doesn't, but I'm hoping to try more in the next few days (Walnut & Holly being the most promising just now).

The wood needs to be made approximately round before putting in the lathe. I do this by first sawing (using hand saws, no machines) into a long rectangle. Then, using a draw knife, I roughly round the edges off until I get a kind of round piece - I judge this by eye. Then it is ready to turn.

Draw knife
Using draw knife to shape wood

Ready to turn
Pieces ready to turn

The First Rough Handle Experiment

Today I have turned a handle in Sapele - not the best of woods but it is a scrap piece and worth trying. You can see the shape beginning to form - this is a 38mm one, whereas handles are I think nearer 32mm in diameter. The part where the tool fits in needs slimming down, and it needs a bit more 'finesse', but it is getting there. The plan is to finish this one, and try it out on a tool, and see how it fits. I can then adjust as necessary, and then make more in some nicer looking woods (and ones that are easier to turn).

First rough example
Rough First Example of a handle

The First Rough Handle Experiment

Today I have turned a handle in Sapele - not the best of woods but it is a scrap piece and worth trying. You can see the shape beginning to form - this is a 38mm one, whereas handles are I think nearer 32mm in diameter. The part where the tool fits in needs slimming down, and it needs a bit more 'finesse', but it is getting there. The plan is to finish this one, and try it out on a tool, and see how it fits. I can then adjust as necessary, and then make more in some nicer looking woods (and ones that are easier to turn).

First rough example
Rough First Example of a handle

Tags: tool,handles,wood engraving,woodengraving,wood engravers,woodengravers,engraving,engraver,printmaking,print making,printmaker,print maker,relief,block,print,printing


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Blog Categories: Wood Engraving Tools | Wood Engraving Printmaking | All / Filter

All text, images and illustrations © Copyright David Rodgers 2020 unless stated otherwise. No copying in part or whole without written permission.

Disclaimer

All articles made are based on my own personal experience, and may not be suitable for everyone. They are not to be taken as formal advice; always seek personal professional advice before doing anything, especially if it is health related, or might affect your health.

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