Making New Cocobolo Handles/Totes and Knobs for my Hand Planes -A How To

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Blog entry by BigRedKnothead posted 12-23-2014 12:25 AM 12772 reads 22 times favorited 27 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I got a wild hair to upgrade the wood on my Lie Nielsen planes from the stock cherry to cocobolo. There’s always more than one way to get the job done, but I’ll share my way. There’s lots of good pics along the way to help. So here goes.

Safety note: Most all of us are at least mildly allergic to rosewood and other exotics. Where a mask….or you’ll wish you had. Just drilling cocobolo makes my eyes and nose itch.

The Handles:

You’ll want some 1×5” (at least) stock. It needs to be that full inch thick. Quartersawn is preferable. If your remaking handles for a stanley plane, Lee valley has great templates on their site as seen in the background. Since I’m making handles for an LN, I’m just using the old ones as patterns.

I think the best way is to roughly lay them out, then figure out where your gonna drill the holes for the posts. Doing that here:

First drill a hole that is the correct diameter for your brass posts/heads. Drill this down a little ways so you know your into the handle. You’ll finish the depth later. Then drill the post hole all the way down. I picked bit that was even a little bigger than the stock hole- to give myself a little wiggle room. Your gonna need a long bit too. I had to buy one. Do everything you can to drill these straight. However, don’t freak out if it doesn’t come out the bottom perfect center. You can make some adjustments with a rat tail file or something. If you really jack it up, glue a dowel and try again. No one will ever know.
UPDATE- I’ve gotten better accuracy by marking carefully and drilling from each edge so the holes meet in the middle. You don’t need a long bit for this.

Now that you have post holes, you can line up the handle or pattern.

Figure out the correct forstner bits for your curves. Most of mine were around 1 1/4”. Then cut of the rest of the waste with a bandsaw, jigsaw, or coping saw.

If you cut these out with paper patterns you should be good. Since I attempted to trace another handle, I had to eyeball and rasp a bit to get the profile just right.

You can save a lot of rasp work with a 1/2” router bit. Notice you only round the sides! And please use a clamp if you do this.

LJ DonW uses and old transitional frame to hold totes still, which is ingenious. Don’t have one of those lying around, so I put a spade bit in the vise for a solid “post.”

Bust out the rasps and files. This is what will make this nice….and not so machine made. Round all the edges further. Make it your own. If your gonna do a lot of these, pick up a Gramercy handle makers rasp. It’s the perfect too for the job.

Every handle is gonna need countersunk holes for fitting each plane. Just gotta figure what you need and make it happen. Also a good time to finish drill the hole for the brass in the top of the handle to the correct depth.

Handles with a screw at the base can be tricky. My solution to mark the screw hole was to snip the head off a screw and drop it in the threaded hold(pic above). Then push down with the handle in the correct position, marking the bottom kinda like a dowel marker. Drill hole from below.

Unless a guy’s got some fancy right angle drill, you just have to make the coutersinks by hand.

Now lots of sanding. Actually I use a light touch with a random orbital sander 180 grit to get the rasp marks off. For hand sanding, I like to use adhesive back PSA sandpaper because it stick to my hand.

Lookin good. I like to use a coat of danish oil to highlight the figure. Wait a night and seal it the sealcoat (dewaxed shellac). Last some minwax paste wax and buff.

The Knobs:
These are gravy for any experienced turner, but here’s how I got ‘em done.

With some 2×2 spindle stock. cut a piece just a hair taller than the old knob. Drill a hold a size or two bigger than your knob screw threads….but don’t drill it all the way through! If you do your drive center will wobble. I went about 3/4 the way down, then finished the hole with a small pilot bit to give my opposite center for the lathe.

Get it round. Use a caliper to measure the largest diameter of the knob, get it all down to that.

Mark that “fat” area of the knob, then taper down to the measurement of the base of the knob.

Then carve out the cove to the correct diameter. All the while I just kept eyeballing the old knob for the correct profile.

This is really the key to not having to part off any waste. To get the roundover I needed near the livecenter, I use a carbide detailer. Normally you’d never want to cut with the side of the diamond on this tool, but notice it is tilted in toward the piece in a scraping action. Then sand it up. If the knob is a bit tall, take some off the base on a disc sander.

Last drill the neccessary countersinks in the top and bottom.

Same finish regimine.


It was a lot of work making all these, but they look great. They’re not machine perfect. They feel more custom made- which I like. I’ll post them up as a project when I can.

Hope the blog helps anyone who’s got the cocobolo itch.

Take care knotheads, Red

-- "At the end of the day, try and make it beautiful....because the world is full of ugly." Konrad Sauer

27 comments so far

View Don W's profile

Don W

20057 posts in 3654 days

#1 posted 12-23-2014 12:34 AM

Well done Red. They are a lot of work, but they do look great!

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Luke's profile


290 posts in 3773 days

#2 posted 12-23-2014 12:54 AM

Nicely done. I have a block of cocobolo reserved for some handles just like these. Did you have any skin reaction while working the wood?

View CL810's profile


4120 posts in 4074 days

#3 posted 12-23-2014 12:57 AM

Favorited this for future reference. I’ve made a few handles and knobs and I agree, that custom feel, feels good.

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View terryR's profile


7646 posts in 3395 days

#4 posted 12-23-2014 01:05 AM

Looks great, Red!
We do it differently, but the same!

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View BigRedKnothead's profile


8574 posts in 3068 days

#5 posted 12-23-2014 01:12 AM

Luke I didn’t have any reactions….but everyone’s different.

Terry- I had some ideas from Don’s blog, but the rest I just winged….like I always do;)
Always interesting to see other takes on a task.

-- "At the end of the day, try and make it beautiful....because the world is full of ugly." Konrad Sauer

View Mean_Dean's profile


7057 posts in 4233 days

#6 posted 12-23-2014 01:14 AM

Well, these definitely turned out great—well worth all the work!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View summerfi's profile


4385 posts in 2773 days

#7 posted 12-23-2014 01:50 AM

Great job Red. Really adds to the look.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works -- ~Non multa sed multum~

View JL7's profile


8786 posts in 4051 days

#8 posted 12-23-2014 02:04 AM

Cool stuff Red….The sticky back sandpaper trick for hand sanding…..great idea!

-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

View putty's profile


1301 posts in 2693 days

#9 posted 12-23-2014 02:15 AM

Nice job Red,

one of a kind planes!!!

-- Putty

View bobasaurus's profile


3713 posts in 4270 days

#10 posted 12-23-2014 02:48 AM

Thanks for the writeup, I’m saving this for later. I have a few planes that could use new totes.

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View BigRedKnothead's profile


8574 posts in 3068 days

#11 posted 12-23-2014 05:00 AM

Thanks guys.

Bob, I noticed that even when I’m logged in, there are some words that have links. Links I didn’t add – your pet peeve;) If this site doesn’t knock that off, I’m gonna stop posting tutorials.

-- "At the end of the day, try and make it beautiful....because the world is full of ugly." Konrad Sauer

View Woodknack's profile


13557 posts in 3466 days

#12 posted 12-23-2014 05:07 AM

Good job Red.

-- Rick M,

View Mark Kornell's profile

Mark Kornell

1171 posts in 3617 days

#13 posted 12-23-2014 05:38 AM

Bam! is right! Nothing wrong with the original cherry, but the cocobolo takes it up a few notches. Wizard level +1 for you.

-- Mark Kornell, Kornell Wood Design

View JayG46's profile


139 posts in 2945 days

#14 posted 12-23-2014 10:33 AM

These came out awesome, Red. Thanks for posting the tutorial. I’ve been meaning to upgrade two of my old Stanleys and this is going move it up the priority ranking!

-- Jay Gargiulo, Naples, FL "Once you understand the way broadly, you can see it in all things."- Miyamoto Musashi

View Roger's profile


21054 posts in 3890 days

#15 posted 12-23-2014 12:27 PM

Super nice Red. Very well done.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

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