How to Make a Handle part 1

The Design

Choose a design that fits your hand, to measure your hand click here. The size of your palm should be close to the handle size measured between the upper and lower horn.

The handle size measured between the upper and lower horn

Smaller saws have smaller handles; check if the front part of the handle fits the size of the blade you will be using.

16″ Small handle on an 18″ blade. The front part is a little too small for the blade
18″ Medium handle on an 18″ blade. The front part is better sized for the blade

By using a scanner/copier you can resize handle templates quickly, either to make it fit your hand or the sawblade.

The Handle Blank

Choose a stable wood, preferably air-dried and quartersawn, to make a handle blank. Woods like Beech and fruitwoods have nice flecking when the grain is quartersawn or riven.

Endgrain of a Beech handle blank
Flecking the side of the same blank

The thickness of the blank makes a big difference to how the handle feels in the hand. It works together with the radius of the round-overs to form a comfortable grip. Many handsaws handles are around 29/32″ (23 mm) thick while some older ones can be up to an inch thick. For instance later Disston handsaws have thinner handles and larger radius roundovers to balance that out. My preference is smaller radius round-overs with thicker handles of around 31/32″ (24.6mm).

Cross sections of the handle grip – thickness vs round-over radius

To make it easier to cut the recess for the blade, make sure the blank is flat and of equal thickness throughout.

Transferring the Handle Design

Print out the handle pattern and place it on the blank, choosing the best position for the handle concerning the grain direction for strength of thinner areas, avoiding defects and zoning in nice looking areas.

Pattern made with tracing paper and laminated with plastic
Transferred with pencil

The design can be glued on or pencilled on. I prefer to use a pencil plus a way to transfer the pattern of the inside lines also. This second inner pattern can also be pencilled onto the other side of the handle after cutting out the rough shape.

The inner pattern aligned with the outside lines

Cutting out the Shape

For cutting the rough shape a coping saw, a band saw or a scroll saw works well. Some parts of the handle can be drilled out with Forstner bits, although I prefer to use saws. Cut out the shape slightly oversize to be able to remove any saw marks and irregularities close to the line. Especially places where there is end grain will tear out easier with sawing and take longer to sand smooth.

Now we have a handle shape roughly cut out and need to prepare it for the next processes. Clean up the rough sawn edges by paring, sanding, rasping or filing them down close to the line.

The shape rough cut out and edges cleaned up

Now it’s easier to align and draw the inner pattern onto the other side of the handle. If you have used a coping saw to cut out the rough shape, try to make the edges 90 degrees to the sides in the previous step so the other side of the handle has the same shape. This helps to align the inner pattern better.

The inner pattern can now be drawn onto the other side

The next phase begins in part 2.