Making a Dovetail Chisel out of a Regular Chisel

dovetail chisel modification

I started with an old Stanley chisel from a set that belonged to my great grandfather. It seemed like a good candidate to make a dovetail chisel, which I desperately needed for getting into tight corners when cutting dovetails and bowtie key inlays.

Reprofiling the Chisel Edge

Stanley chisel turned into a dovetail chisel
The middle image is the original profile, and the bottom is the re-profiled chisel.

I used the Lap Sharp Sharpening System, which is essentially a turntable that spins aluminum discs coated with sandpaper of varying grits. It gets lubricated with water during use, to prevent clogging of the abrasives and to prevent overheating of the metal.

Reprofiled chisel with the old handle.

Making a New Chisel Handle

I liked the new profile of the chisel, but I wanted a nicer handle, so I set to making one.

glue laminating African padauk
Glue laminating African padauk

I glue laminated two pieces of 3/4″ African padauk to create a 6/4″ piece of lumber for the handle.

ipe wood on a scale
Weighing ipe lumber on a scale. It was two pounds.

For the top part of the chisel handle, I decided to use ipe, because it is the most dense wood I had available, and chisels take a lot of abuse from mallets. This small piece of ipe weighed over two pounds.

grinding down the tang of the chisel
Grinding down the tang of the chisel

Removing the clear plastic handle was very difficult. I had to saw off the plastic end, and then saw a kerf into the remaining plastic. Then I hammered it with a sledgehammer on an anvil, and it cracked apart.

I used a bench grinder to grind the tang smaller so it fits into the new wooden handle. I also bought a copper pipe cap to use as a ferrule (shown in the right of the image). The ferrule prevents the handle from splitting apart as it is driven onto the tang.

Attaching the Tops of the Handle with Sliding Dovetails

sliding dovetail on the top of the chisel handle
Attaching the handle top with a sliding dovetail.

I used a sliding dovetail to attach the ipe top piece to the chisel handle. This will give it a mechanical strength so it doesn’t rely on end-grain gluing to stay together. The grain of the ipe piece is oriented perpendicular to the padauk piece. This is important for strength, so the mallet is contacting face grain instead of end grain and it won’t split.

I cut the sliding dovetail on the router table while the pieces were still wide enough to make three chisel handles. This made it more accurate and safer to cut the sliding dovetail. Once the joint fit well, I cut the large piece into three handles.

applying expoxy mixed with ink
Mixing sumi ink with the epoxy

I mixed some sumi ink with the epoxy to make it black. I used too much, because it took several days for the epoxy to dry instead of twenty minutes. In the future, I would use a dry ingredient to color the epoxy, like lamp black.

gluing the joint with black epoxy
Gluing the joint with black epoxy

I used more epoxy than I needed, because I wanted to fill any voids.

cutting the chisel handle into an octagon
The joint cleaned up and cut into an octagon (left).

I sanded off the excess epoxy and cut the handles into octagons using the bandsaw with the table tilted at 45°.

Designing and Turning the New Chisel Handle

comparing chisel handles to make a design
Looking at other chisels to pick a design

For the shape of the chisel handle, I decided I wanted a shape that was a combination of these two Marples chisels. I like the round end of the blue chisel, and I like the bulb on the other chisel, so I focus on those features.

shaping the chisel handle and drilling a hole
Drilling into the chisel handle.

I put the octagonal handle on a lathe and carved it into the shape shown here (lower image) and then made a jig to drill a hole into it on the drill press.

Attaching the Ferrule and Handle to the Chisel

drilling into the copper ferrule on the drill press
Drilling into the copper ferrule

I drilled a hole through the copper ferrule on the drill press. This was difficult because if I squeezed the ferrule too hard it would bend, but if I didn’t squeeze it hard enough it would get stuck to the drill bit. It made some very nice looking shavings.

epoxying the chisel handle
Epoxying the chisel handle

I epoxied the chisel, ferrule, and handle together using clear epoxy. I used a cord to apply some tension while it dried to make sure the chisel was straight. This can be avoided by having a more consistent grind on the tang so it seats straight on its own.

I masked off the parts with tape so they don’t get covered in epoxy.

Even though I relied heavily on epoxy for the fit of the handle, which is not ideal, I have not had any problems with this chisel after 3 years of use.

Finishing the Chisel Handle with Oil

applying boiled linseed oil to the chisel handle
Applying boiled linseed oil to the handle

I applied boiled linseed oil liberally to the chisel handle. Shortly after this, the padauk turned much darker. To maintain the bright color in padauk, I find that it is better to only finish it with water based polyurethane and not apply any oil.

finished chisel on a stand
The finished chisel on a magnetic stand.

I build a chisel stand out of walnut with some magnets embedded into it. This was mostly so I could show the chisel to my woodworking group and get some good photos.

display that shows the process of making the chisel and handle
Display to show the process of making the chisel

I made a small display using some of the other pieces to show my woodworking group how the chisel started and the process of making the handle.

the finished chisel on a stand
The finished chisel

The dovetail chisel turned out great, and I love using it. The steel on those old Stanley chisels holds an edge really well. I learned how to use a lathe for this project, and I learned a lot about making handles.

You can see more of my progress photos on Instagram, and my complete projects and plans by subscribing to Bob’s Wood Stuff on YouTube.