Saturday, July 7, 2012

Screwdriver Handles

I've had a busy couple of months, I managed to complete my schooling and earn a Certificate with Great Distinction. I started working a new job a couple of weeks before school ended, and have been there full time since. I'm happy to be there, of all the machine shops I've toured it is by far the brightest, cleanest, and best organized. My new co-workers all seem to be friendly and intelligent, and I'm looking forward to continuing my education there.

I have been in the wood shop, although the projects lately haven't been too thrilling. I've refinished a few tables and repaired some chairs, quick jobs for a little spending money but nothing worth taking pictures of or writing about. In 2010 I made two sets of screwdrivers, one for my Father-in-Law for Christmas in walnut, and a set for myself in beech. Time constraints made me abandon mine to ensure his would be done, and they sat unfinished until this spring when I had the opportunity to get them done.

I began by handling as many screwdrivers I could find and using the most comfortable as a starting point for size and dimension. Then I selected a piece of stock large enough to yield all nine handles. This would ensure a colour and grain match. For optimum strength and beauty in turned work the grain must run as straight as possible. I laid out lines on the stock parallel to the grain.

I then bandsawed to these lines.

These faces became my reference face after jointing.

The blanks were then planed to size. For best appearance the grain must be as close to perfectly rift sawn (end grain lines running corner to corner) or quarter sawn (end grain lines running perpendicular and parallel to the faces) as possible.

I wanted octagonal handles, as they don’t roll and are comfortable in the hand. The stock is shaped with a 45° bit in a router. For small jobs like this I like to make a miniature router table by attaching a scrap of Baltic birch plywood to my router base. The router itself is clamped in my end vise. This is more convenient than trying to clamp the stock and balancing the router on it, and it brings the work table up to a height that makes detail work like this easier to see and handle. I start by making a shallow pass on all four corners of the three pieces of stock.

I make two passes, and then my third pass is the last on the small handle stock. I make a short test cut on the very end and slowly raise the bit until all eight faces are the same width. Keeping the test cut short keeps the blank from being ruined if I advance the cutter too high.

The process is repeated until all three blanks are octagonal. The largest blank is larger than the capacity of the bit, so a handplane finishes the facet. While I’m at it I use the plane to remove milling marks from the rest of the faces.

A stop block at the mitresaw allows me to cut the blanks into three equal length parts with square ends.

The blanks were then laid out so that the same quartersawn face would be at the top, and labeled with which shaft they would receive, S for Slotted, P for Philips, and R for Robertson.

The shafts themselves have a pair of 1/16” x 1/16” wings which anchor them in the handle and prevent them from spinning when torque is applied. These wings are not in the same plane as the driving tip, so the off angle must be compensated for so that the driver will look square to the handle. The exact centre is marked, and the wing holes are laid out on the angle, the distance from centre to centre is the same as the diameter of the shaft itself.

The blank is then clamped in a vise and the drill press is used to drill a 1/8” hole for the two wings. The bit is withdrawn frequently to clear chips and advanced slowly. It is important to have the holes square to the end and without wander.

The turned portion is then laid out on all three blanks at the same time using a square. A mark is made at the transitions between the ferrule and the end bead, the end bead and the finger cove, the cove and the octagonal part of the handle, the octagon and the end dome, and at the end of the handle.

The blank is then placed between centres on the lathe, and as it turns, the reference marks are continued all the way around. A parting tool is used to set the reference diameters, a set of rounded nose calipers are used to determine the correct cut depth for the ferrule.

The diameters are set for the bead, the cove, and the end dome in the same fashion; these calipers are used without change for all three handles to ensure common dimensions.

The details are turned; a simple template is made to match the sweep of the finger coves.

The handles are sanded but not completely parted off yet.

I don’t like the way the octagonal facets have a nice semi-circular end near the cove, and a blunt end near the dome. I decided a nice touch would be to hand carve the ends to match. I started by laying the half circles out with a pencil and a pattern. I used a combination of wheel gauges and washers.

A gouge with the correct sweep was chosen. Because this is a straight chopping cut, I sharpened the edge with a single low angle bevel and honed frequently. The cut began with a straight downward chop, and then the gouge is leaned over to wrap the cut around the end dome.

A sharp paring chisel removes the chip and rounds the background to match the curve of the end dome.

Now the handle is placed in the drill press vise and the shaft hole is drilled. Note that the shafts are different lengths so for a common appearance the holes need to be drilled to different depths. They are then returned to the lathe, finish sanded, and the end parted off. I’m pleased with the way they turned out, they are comfortable in my hand, and the carved ends have a floral look. I like the feminine aspect it lends to the tool.

I used store bought ferrules for my father-in-laws walnut set. I also made a walnut presentation box for them, leather lined. Usually he gets a tie and a bag of licorice allsorts for Christmas, so these were a nice surprise that I was happy to give.


  1. Beautiful work, Darnell. Let's see you build some furniture now! :)


  2. Wow! Nice! And thanks for the walk through.

  3. Ditto on the walk through. This project looks great in both woods. I admire the 2 year commitment to finish.

  4. Thanks Chris. My time is too short for major projects this summer, but I've got a couple of small things on the go. Stay tuned!

    Thanks Marilyn, you're welcome.

    Thanks Lou. I had no choice but to finish them. When I set them aside I had far too much time invested not to. I'm just glad they got done!

  5. Metal Lathe + Wood Lathe + Time & Effort = Nice Product

  6. Awesome info! I was honestly just thinking about something similar to this other day so, it was almost weird when I ran across this. You would be surprised how many people simply have no idea when it comes to this kind of stuff. Anyway, thanks for getting this cool info out there and I am sure I am not only one who appreciates you taking time to post this for masses.


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I'm a woodworker on the Canadian prairie.