Thursday, 4 April 2013

Some tool handles

Handles are strange things. A good one feels almost too comfortable to be true and a bad one ruins the using and making experience. It is another example of a largely lost art as nearly all modern tools have very basic handles and that is not only true of less expensive kit. A handle is an organic thing as it must be designed to fit an organic recipient.

I have taken my patterns from some 100 year old examples and adapted them to my own (rather large) hands.

First a job for my Mum, re-handling an old Sheffield kitchen knife which has an extremely thin and flexible blade like a pallet knife and holds a beautiful edge. I used a piece of cherry which, after chiselling to shape, I contoured to suit my hand on a sanding drum in the drill press. The finish is just finishing oil so this is definitely not one for the dishwasher.

Next up is a Spear and Jackson "Professional" tenon saw from the 1970's, which is technically very good and actually holds it's edge longer than my older saws. It is brass backed but was very badly let down by an appalling handle which was very uncomfortable, wrongly angled for control and appeared to be finished in congealed jam.

I copied an old Sheffield design in bubinga and adjusted to my own hand, which is not only pleasing to look at, but allows a much better control of the saw. The matt finish is just a single coat of finishing oil as it will quickly develop it's own patina in use.

I also had a dovetail saw from the same stable which I treated to a copy of a turn of century Disston replica, also in bubinga.

Note the significant difference in angle between the two grips, each optimised for it's particular use by people who understood the practice woodwork, rather than marketing, and probably unfettered by the accountant's dead hand. What is apparent is that the line of pressure from the handle crosses the tooth line about 1/3 of the way along the blade in both cases. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than me might like to comment on this.

Finally a little good news story to raise hope for the future. A few years ago I bought a Chinese made Quangsheng No 6 plane, in most respects a copy of the traditional Stanley, with a few useful improvements.

The quality of manufacture of these planes is much better than the later Stanley's, which had suffered the effects of accountancy engineering to the point where they were virtually unusable. Engineering suicide to the loss of all those involved. This initially opened the way for high quality copies or improved developments which had  become available in the 1990's and were excellent but costly. The Chinese aimed to fill this gap and had done enough to establish a good reputation.

Inspired by this I ordered my No 6 and was initially very impressed as not only were the materials very well chosen and effective but the quality of machining was excellent and almost equal to the costly alternatives.

When I began to use the plane I quickly realised that all was not well and found it difficult to control, with the plane skewing sideways along the stroke. It was possible to overcome this but the essential balance of a quality (and indeed the original) tool was missing. An additional problem was that the adjuster was out of reach, which is annoying and unnecessary.

I quickly realised this was due to the position of the handle, which was much too far back and away from the cutting edge, the converse of what is required. I am at a loss to understand why a product which is an almost exact copy should have such a major dimensional difference in only one aspect, but it had.

To me the plane was unusable and to be fair to the UK supplier, Workshop Heaven, they agreed to a credit when I complained.

So far so good. I was both surprised and pleased when a year or so later a revised version was launched with, (you guessed it), a re-positioned handle. Well done all concerned.

The old version with mis-placed handle


Jamie Hubbard said...

A good read, I like the differences between the saw handles, and lastly, good to know that sometimes people do listen.

Thanks for the Twitter follow.

All the best

Anonymous said...

Hi, its daniel from the facebook forum, that was an intresting read, the handles looked beautiful, especially the cherry knife handle.
Thanks for sharing it to me, im going to bookmark your blog and have a good butchers when i get some time :)
Thanks again and atb, Dan.