Cherry Tool Handles, Part One: Backsaw Handle


Having found myself with enough (free)Black Cherry to replace every handle on every tool I own, I began with the neediest–an old Disston backsaw that has spent years in the spare parts bin. The broken Apple handle was/is usable but unsightly, and it was the first candidate for replacement. If I had known how easy the handle was to make, I would have made one years ago.

While the saw rested in a miracle product called Evaporust, I researched how to make a replacement handle with a Google search. The best post I found was the one that advised the simplest approach–just trace a handle that you like on graph paper, and copy it. I traced the remaining piece of the old handle, and went with it.

The handle itself was split from a much larger chunk of Cherry, and then planed to size. I rough cut the shape with a bowsaw I also made from Cherry and Maple. Then I made my first mistake–I cut out the back end of the handle first, and when I went to rough out the inside of the handle, I promptly snapped off the top. It glued back on easily, but the note to self is rough out the middle first, and then the outside.

With that repaired, I moved to final shaping and finishing. I started out with the universally suggested tool, a rasp, but found it both tedious and seriously slow. After an hour of that torture I said screw it, and pulled out my roll of spoon carving tools. That decision saved the proto handle from the firewood pile, and myself from much more work. A good Swedish Sloyd knife can remove wood much faster than a rasp, and is ideal for the curves on the handle.

The fitting of the handle to the saw blade was simple enough–cut a slot for the saw blade, and mortice out for the iron back. The finish here is super blonde shellac. My last criticism is that the connecting section where the saw blade joins the handle should be beefier, but the function of the saw is unaffected. Overall, for a first attempt at saw handle making it is acceptable, and should last through many years of sawing.

New School Gumbo Paddles

Get Out the Gumbo Pot

Having finally found a decent quality bandsaw (Rikon) that cost less than a car payment, I decided to break it in by making three Gumbo paddles. The handles on all three are Yaupon holly, a Gulf coast species, and the paddle blades are Black cherry. I made two of the bottom ones, for myself and one Brother in law. The large one is for another Brother in law, who cooks ten and twenty gallon batches of gumbo for St John’s Church in Cullman, which was founded by town father Johann Gottfried Cullman. Said Brother in law’s Son in law just happens to work there.

The paddles blades were cut with the bandsaw from the stump of Cherry tree in our front yard. It had been wind blown for about a year, so it didn’t need much drying. The handles as well were band sawn from wind blown Yaupon, and then turned into ovals by planing first with a Jack plane, and finishing with a Block plane. They were left smooth enough that they needed no sanding.

The mortises in the handles were likewise sawed out with the band saw, and then the waste was chiseled out. Final attachment was with a glue joint held into place with French diamond head nails, which serve a double purpose as decoration.

The larger paddle was finished with straight Walnut oil, while mine was finished with a Walnut oil wax finish. I broke mine in on Sunday cooking Beef stew in our fire pit in the Outdoor Kitchen. The paddle is long enough to have kept me away from the heat, and more importantly the smoke, which was whipped up by a ten mile an hour Southwest wind. The final addition was an accessory cord hanger, which in the case was made from some old worn out boot laces. Waste not, want not.

Favorite Woodworking Planes–Partner Planes

Stanley #3 and #5 1/4

Partner planes are planes of different lengths that have interchangeable parts, from the blades on down. The most common example is the Stanley #4 and #5, both with 2″ wide cutters, which make a versatile duo at 9″ and 15.” Less common is the Stanley #3 and #5 1/4, which makes an attractive alternative to the 4-5 combination.

What we have here is a closer match in the length of the two planes, at 9″ and 11 1/2″ (the #4 and #5 are 9″ and 15″ respectively). The idea for the 11 1/2″ inch length, often referred to as the “Junior Jack,” actually came from the Ohio Tool Company. Logically it makes good sense, as the gap between the standard Smoothing and Jack planes is large at 6.”

With either combination you can do the following. I deep sixed the #3 low quality standard cutter, and replaced it with a Lee Valley 1 3/4″ one–a considerable upgrade (Lee Valley just purchased Hock Tools of California, giving them a huge market share for quality blades.) I took the also not-so-great factory cutter from the #5 1/4, and reground it to an exaggerated camber shape, turning the plane into a long scrub plane. I also have a #5 with a re-ground blade as an extra long scrub plane.

At any rate, I can just switch cutters on these partners and have a really long smoothing plane (or a short Jack plane), and a short scrub plane. The best thing about the #5 1/4, no matter how it is used, is the weight–it’s a full pound lighter than a #5. To me it’s a case of bigger is not necessarily better.

Bearded Hatchet–Getting a Handle on It

Straight outa Bulgaria comes this excellent Smith forged bearded hatchet. The advantage of this hatchet design is apparent as soon as it’s handled. The space between the head and the handle allows the hacheteer to carve, or cut, like an extension of the hand.

The company that sells these gems is Thracian Forge, which is a top seller on Etsy. They come un-handled, to save shipping and labor, so I had a Sourwood handle ready made waiting for it. Unfortunately, never having seen a Bulgaria/eastern European hatchet before, I made it according to Western style hatchet head dimensions. It turned out to be three inches too long and an inch too wide at the head. A back saw and a little time on the shaving horse solved that problem.

Eastern Europe has become a treasure for traditional woodworkers, as skills lost to industrialization in the West survived in the East and North. Grab a copy of Woodworking in Estonia, which is actually a Ph D dissertation, and look through the Bulgarian and Ukranian forges who sell on Etsy. I tried to identify the smith’s initials on my hatchet, and finally concluded that they are in the eighth century Bulgarian alphabet, which is still in use. For anyone who wants to know, that is the original source of the Russian alphabet. As the people in Ukraine like to point out, Kyiv was already a capital, at the time when Moscow was still a cow pasture.

Black Cherry Salt Grinder

As an afterthought to making the three Pepper grinders as gifts, I made a Salt grinder for ourselves. This one is also made from green wood, and turned on the foot-powered lathe. A scrap piece was made into a small Christmas ornament.

The reason for purchasing a salt grinding mechanism was simple–it was either that, or pay for shipping on the pepper mills. The price of the grinder was almost exactly the price I needed to reach the free shipping total, and this ceramic grinder looked far better than that used in my previous attempt at making one. The other was such a piece of junk, that I threw it away, and I hardly ever throw away anything.

After turning the two pieces for the body, I let both dry for a couple of weeks before doing anything further. This worked well, as well as better than the Sourwood pepper grinders that I made in less time. The finish, which is Blonde shellac, turned out to be nice and shiny.

I broke this in using it on some fried eggs for our three times a week breakfast muffins. My usual pinches of salt from our salt cellar always results in salt scattered all over the stove, and the cutting board the cellar sits on. This time, no mess to clean up, and super fine ground salt. Another great mechanism for Chef’s Specialties of Pennsylvania.

Barely Scraping By, Part Two–A Trio Of Scrapers

When Jacques Pépin began work as a chef in France at the age of thirteen, one of his first tasks was to scrape flesh off of the bones of cooked pieces of meat. Said scraps were then made into rillettes, pates, terrines, and other meat paste delicacies. Then the bones were used for stock. Waste not, want not.

The same sense of economy makes me a huge fan of scrapers. Sandpaper is expensive, and a disposable product as well. The fact that sander dust is a carcinogen doesn’t help the comparison. A scraper which is the cost of a few packs of sandpaper can do literally thousands of scrapping jobs.

Here are three models of scrapers. The big green machine on the lower left is a Kunz #12, a near exact copy of the old Stanley #12. This German made edition is ideal for larger jobs, like the Walnut table top I am currently refinishing. The list price is a hefty $169, but I found this one on flea bay for $25. Being a miser has its advantages. The design is circa 1870, which was the heyday of hand tool design.

Directly above that is the classic Stanley #80 cabinet scraper. This flea market purchase was only a couple of bucks, and these things literally never wear out. The #80 has a more sensitive adjustment mechanism the the #12, and is capable of doing very fine work.

The most versatile of scrapers is the Stanley #82 on the right, which can use any size or shape scraper blade. The current blade in use is the classic Bahco (Sandvick) Swedish card scraper. The #82 will prove very handy when I start my upcoming chair seat carving projects.

When primitive man scraped meat off of animal bones, did they make terrines out of it? Doubtful. However, they certainly used scrapers as one of the earliest tools. They were also barely scraping by.

Making Pepper Mills Out of Green Wood

Bright and Shiny

This trio of mills are Christmas presents for the in-laws, all of whom can put away some chow. Primitive man that I am, I made these from green (unseasoned) wood, and skipped the whole pricey and unnecessary kiln-dried process. The cost was lowered even further by using wind blown wood from last February’s tornado, a good portion of which is still lying on the ground on our property.

The first, and possibly the most critical step, is wood choice. I have more wood varieties at my disposal than I can literally shake a stick at. So I went with the easiest one–sourwood. That’s the wood I have that is least likely to split, out of everything around here, as it has the lowest T/R ratio–always check the inter webs for T/R info before using a wood for a green woodworking project. I made four blanks, two of which had absolutely no splits. The third had only a tiny hairline split on one end, which I just filled with beeswax. The fourth split along its entire length, and will be recycled into another project.

I began with a part of the tree that is rarely used, except for spoon carving, the limbs. Sourwood is so difficult to split that a small limb usually doesn’t split at all, even from the pith. Because of the roundish nature of limbs, I was able to skip the first step of roughing out with a hatchet, and went straight to peeling bark with a drawknife, and then rounding out the blanks with a concave spokeshave. After that the 3″ x 11″ blanks went straight on to the foot powered lathe.

The roughing tools below are specialty tools made specifically for foot powered lathes. The 2″ chisel and the 1 1/2″ shallow gouge can be used in any combination, though I go gouge, and then chisel. These make fast work creating a perfectly round blank.

Ashley Iles Pole Lathe Tools–The Chisel on the Left has a Homemade Cherry Handle

Conventional lathe tools are perfect for detail work such as forming the beads. Below are a diamond parting tool and a 3/8″ spindle gouge. Once the details are roughed in, it’s Zen break time. The green wood needs to dry for at least a day.

Detail Tools

There are two good reasons to let green wood dry for awhile. It turns easily, but dries to a rough finish. It also dries into an oval shape, which would render it useless as a mill. The level of dryness is easily seen from how much moisture there is in the shavings coming from the turning work.

Grinder design is a matter of taste, as a perfectly round grinder would function as well as a fancy one. I just copied the design of the grinders sold by the manufacturer of the mechanism, Chef Specialties up in Pennsylvania. The width of the three different sized holes that must be drilled are included with the grinding mechanism kit. They are much easier to use than the old Peugeot mechanism that I made our grinder with, though Peugeot grinders are more durable than their cars.

Other styles of grinder kits are available, and I am making a salt grinder out of green turned black cherry. Anyone who would turn dry cherry on a foot powered lathe would end up needing orthopedic help.

Chopping Block/Splitting Block Combo

Ready for Cold Weather

Since we intend to burn copious amounts of wood this winter, I have set up two of these dual purpose chopping/splitting block combos. This one just happens to be right behind our outdoor kitchen, which has no fewer than five different wood burning cooking stations. At least one is utilized every week.

I will begin, however, with the taller chopping block. Though this is almost entirely intended for green woodworking, it is also useful for splitting kindling–I have one of the Swedish kindling splitting tools that looks like a miniature drawknife. However, for any green woodworking project, this is the perfect waist height for rough trimming a blank with a hatchet, whether it is a camp or broad hatchet. It is also great for sitting a beer on.

The lower one will be used the most, as I have cords of firewood that need splitting. This height keeps the wood off the ground, as well as keeping the splitter out of the dirt. My old splitter is an el cheapo big box store product. My main firewood producing station is to have a quality German made Ochsenkopf (Oxhead) spitting axe.

Finally, for large splitting projects, there are always steel wedges, which are best used in combinations of three. The large piece of cherry that rests on the splitting block was split with wedges, as it splits very well. When the wood tells me what to make with it, out comes the hatchet.

Fans of English Hand Tools–Buy Now!

I just got this email from Classic Hand Tools, a great English tool seller–the crashing pound is going to mean large price increases. In their own words:

Our new mob in control in No.10 have tried something radical to boost the UK economy. Only time will tell whether their gamble will be justified. All we know is that the pound has tanked a massive amount and big price rises are now on the very near horizon for your premium hand tools. We will do our best to be as skinny with margins as possible but that won’t stop prices increasing soon. We have been saying this for a while but we didn’t expect the pound to be hammered so hard. Luckily we have got reasonable stock levels on many lines but that won’t last too long. 

Classic Hand Tools

I have an Ashley Isles turning tool on the way already, but I will scour the inter webs to see if I need anything else, although truthfully, I have almost reached the point of Maximum Tool. I suppose there is always good old fashioned hoarding.

Making Sourwood Tool Handles

Unfinished and Shellaced

Sourwood is a fairly common tree in the South, known primarily for its Lily of the Valley like blooms, and the famous Sourwood Honey, the result of the partnership between said flowers and honeybees. One particularly large (for a Sourwood) tree was uprooted when it was whacked by a broken off White Oak during our latest tornado. That led me to search for uses of Sourwood lumber.

The most common answer for traditional uses of this wood was for tool handles. More deep diving came up with spokes and arrow shafts. These things all had something in common, which is the best quality for all of these dinguses is resistance to splitting, even when made from green wood. This is the result of the fact that Sourwood has a very low T/R ration, which means it is unlikely to split while drying from green wood to seasoned.

The T/R ratio is the ratio of tangential to radial shrinkage, which for wood working purposes, should be as close to one as possible. This info is easily obtained for most species via a simple Google search. Species with very low T/R ratios are usually little used or non-commercial woods, such as Southern (evergreen) magnolia, and sourwood. Evergreen Magnolia has a T/R ratio of 1.2, and sourwood is 1.4.

Making the traditional octagonal carving tool handles was simple enough, and only needs two or three tools–a drawknife (optional), a smoothing plane, and a drill. Take a round limb of unseasoned Sourwood slightly larger than the final handle, and rough it with a drawknife or plane into an octagon. Continue spinning it around, and taper it down to an inch or so at the tang end. When satisfied with the results, drill a tang sized hole and whack in the tool blank. The green Sourwood will slowly shrink around the tang of the tool, and will never, ever, come off.

I bought these Italian made carving tools from Mountain Woodcarvers for $6 each, although they are mistakenly selling them as USA made. I didn’t have the heart to tell them about the mistake. They might raise the price.

Spud or Peeler?

Because I have more sourwood on the ground that I can say grace over, I also decided to turn another limb into a handle for a log processing tool, a bark peeler, aka bark spud. This one a a beastly tool that doubles as an axe/brush cutter by having both sides beveled and sharpened. It is made by Ochsenkopf (Oxhead) in Deutschland. After five months of drying, the handle has no sign of a crack or split. Big tool handle is in a permanent world of hurt in this household.


because facts really should be sacred

Ruth Blogs Here

Or not, depending on my mood

A Haven for Book Lovers

I am just a girl who loves reading and talking about books

what sandra thinks

because I've got to tell someone.


a little lunch, a little wine, a LOT of talking!

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

This, That, and the Other

Stories, Prompts, and Musings


Tales of quilting, gardening and cooking from the Kingdom of Chiconia

Cyranny's Cove

Refuge of an assumed danophile...

Exiled Rebels

Serving BL since 2017

this is... The Neighborhood

the Story within the Story

Beauty lies within yourself

The only impossible journey in life is you never begin!! ~Tanvir Kaur

Southern Fusion Cooking

Country Living in the Southern Appalachians, USA--A little of this, a lot of that

Discover WordPress

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The Atavist Magazine

Country Living in the Southern Appalachians, USA--A little of this, a lot of that


Longreads : The best longform stories on the web

%d bloggers like this: