Slicks and Handles for Socket Chisels

A slick is essentially a large chisel that can be used to pare or trim projections in the middle of a large surface.  Many slicks have cranked handles (angled upwards) to provide the necessary clearance.  They are often used in timber framing but their size makes the overkill in the shop.  Useful or not, it’s a neat curiosity.

A few weeks ago, I arranged a trade with Tom Iovino of Tom’s Workbench.  I sent four assembly squares his way in exchange for a slick he didn’t need.  It arrived with the short, squarish handle shown in the middle.  (The full-size carving gouge is for scale.)

In use, I wanted to be able to brace the butt end of the handle against my shoulder and the old handle wasn’t long enough to be comfortable so I decided to turn a longer one.  I started by removing the old handle so that I could take measurements off it as I shaped the taper.  Since this is a socket chisel (meaning that there is a socket in the metal that the wooden handle fits into), removal was easy with the right technique.  I gripped the blade, with the edge safely away from myself, and whacked the handle against my bench a couple of times and the handle popped out.

I found a suitable piece of wood for the handle (Western maple) and installed it between centers on my lathe.  I first turned the blank round, then used a parting tool to define the size and shape of the taper using the old handle as a guide.  A tight fit is important, so I intentionally left the taper slightly oversized.  I went ahead and shaped and sanded the rest of the handle.

The handle-to-blade connection is purely mechanical (a friction-fit) so I wanted to make sure I got a good, solid fit.  Back at the bench, I test-fitted the handle in the socket.  It didn’t fit that well, but I twisted it around a few times before removing the handle.  A discoloration was left where the wood rubbed against the metal and I used a rasp to remove the marks, then tried again.  When I got an even wear pattern, I fully seated the chisel by driving the butt end of the handle down on my bench top and inertia secured the blade.

I would have left the handle unfinished, but the curly maple I pulled from my firewood box was begging for a finish so I applied a light coat of an oil/varnish blend to showcase the figure.

If you look closely at the joint between the handle and blade, you will see a slight gap between the blade and shoulder of the handle.  This is important as without that gap, the blade could bottom out on the should and not fully engage with the socket.  That means the handle could separate from the blade.  Not good.  Fortunately, if care is taken to ensure a good fit, the handle should lock on very securely.

Before starting work for the day, it’s good practice to rap the butt end of the handle on the bench to ensure that it is indeed fully seated.  If this seems like too much bother, you could apply some shellac to the taper just before you install the handle.  When the shellac hardens, it will lock the handle in place but it can still be removed by applying heat to soften the shellac.  (Thanks to Jeremy Tomlinson of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Inc. for this tip.)

4 thoughts on “Slicks and Handles for Socket Chisels

  1. 1) I’m jealous you have curly maple in the firewood pile ;-)
    2) Can you (maybe a new post) take us through you design decision with the handle? Discuss length, round versus octagonal, the hilt, etc.

    • Torch,

      I’m doing my best to try not to be a wood hoarder. To be completely honest, the figure was somewhat obscured by the rough-sawn surface.

      Thanks for the suggestion about discussing design. This is a good example to begin to describe my design process and I will make it a priority.

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