Mortise Chisel Handles

I’m Following up on a recent Twitter discussion (you can follow me @HKToolCo ) on making handles for traditional British “pigsticker” mortise chisels. I promised I would dissect one to see how the handles were attached. Granted, this is just one example, but I think it’s good evidence.

Here is the subject: a Marples 3/8in pigsticker with a broken handle.

Broken Mortise Chisel Handle
Broken Mortise Chisel Handle (click for larger)

The handle broke along the grain due to an off-center blow from  a mallet. Judging by the mushrooming on the end of the handle it was used to being hit very hard. This handle didn’t have perfectly straight grain- it had some run-out along one edge. If you are making mortise chisel handle make sure to use riven stock and watch the grain!

Removing half the handle and leaving the bit in situ we see this:

Chisel Handle Cross-Section
Chisel Handle Cross-Section (click for larger)
Closeup of Cross-Section
Closeup of Cross-Section (click for larger)

There are a couple of things to note here: First, the hole in the handle is tapered . It is a rectangular hole to match the tapered rectangular tang of the blade. It was not bored with a drill, there are chisel marks or similar along the edges of the mortise. Also, the sides of the hole don’t match the taper of the tang perfectly. The tang has barbs cut into the corners of the soft steel tang with a chisel. These help prevent the tang from coming loose.

Mortise Bottom
Mortise Bottom

The bottom of the mortise is packed with what appears to be sawdust mixed with some sort of glue. it did not cut well with a chisel and was certainly not solid well. It had formed to the bottom of the tank. That, combined with the barbs on the tang made it very hard to remove.

Chisel Removed: Evidence of a Burned-In Tang
Chisel Removed: Evidence of a Burned-In Tang

With the chisel removed it’s clear there is evidence of charring along the edges and in the glue/sawdust bed at the bottom. I’d bet that the tang was heated and burned-in to the handle.

Dissection complete. Again, it’s just one example but it provides a good starting point for anyone looking to re-handle a vintage mortise chisel.


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