If you’ve been woodworking for any length of time, you probably can look back at a chisel or set of chisels that you found easy to use and comfortable. If those were your only chisels, consider yourself lucky because most woodworkers get stuck with hand tools that cause problems.
There is a lot that goes into chisel handles – it’s not all about the wood or steel. Design and fit of chisel handles to your hands are key to comfort; if the tools are not comfortable in your hands, you won’t practice with them. If you don’t practice, you cannot master the craft.
How Dowels Can Help
With some chisels you have to constantly adjust your hold. If the chisel sits too far back in your hand, so that your thumb reaches to the bolster or beyond, your control is off as is your comfort level. That’s not good. Also, if you grip a chisel with your thumb properly located and apply pressure, say to pare away dovetail waste, and the chisel slips back into your palm, that’s when blisters appear. You don’t want that, either. There is a proper fit.
Walk into your hardwood supplier or a home-center store and pick up a dowel (Fig. 1). That simple exercise is going to provide you with most of the information you need when it comes to proper chisel handles. A short length of the dowel is even the best story stick for when you turn your own handles.