Make your own custom heirloom screwdrivers #1: Make your own screwdrivers: Start to Finish

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Blog entry by Loogie posted 10-30-2010 03:44 AM 21476 reads 23 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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—== If you decide to make your own screwdriver, please send me a photo or a link to a photo. I’d really like to see what others come up with. ==—


I’ve been wanting to make my own set of wooden handled screwdrivers for several years but I was never able to find a source for screwdriver shafts. In 2008 while attending the Woodworking In America conference in Berea, KY I had an opportunity to chat with Rob Lee, the owner of Lee Valley, a supplier of premier quality woodworking tools. I told him that I though they should make a turning kit for screwdrivers and that I was sure many more woodworkers would be interested in creating their own screwdrivers. He wrote the idea down in a little notebook and said that he’d pass it by his product guys when he got back. I didn’t think too much more about it. Then, this summer a Lee Valley catalog arrived in my mailbox and inside the from cover was a Screwdriver Turning Kit, exactly as I had requested with three each for phillips, blade and square drive. I immediately went to my computer and ordered all nine shafts.

After the shafts arrived, my next stop was the hardware store to find some brass compression fitting nuts to use as ferrules. The shafts are sized metrically, but they work out to even 1/64th” measurements. The compression fittings however do not come in that large of a range so the middle sized shafts have a slight gap around the shaft, but the large and small shafts are dead-on.

Let me preface this post by saying that I am a complete newbie at turning. In fact, this whole process was kind of a trial by fire. I am not trying to say that that this is “the” way to build these screwdrivers, it’s just the way I chose to do it. I decided to document the process to make it easier for those who may decide to undertake this endeavor themselves.

Here’s what I started with. I had a chunk of 8/4 Jatoba that I had been saving to make some turning tool handles. I ripped in into 1 1/2” wide pieces to maximize the yield. Then I turned all the pieces round on the lathe. I recommend against doing this. As it turnes out a 1 1/2” cylinder in about the hardest thing to hold on a lathe – at least with my equipment (told you I’m a newbie). None of my chuck pieces would close down to 1 1/2”. I recommend leaving your stock square and securing it in the chuck and then turning the portion you need. One other learning point was that I really cut my stock too short which lead to problems trying round over the top end of the handle.

Starting materials

As you can see, the shafts have two “wings” that have been stamped out from the shaft to keep in from rotating in the handle. For most of the shafts you can just slip the ferrule on over the end of the shaft, but for the two largest blade shafts the blade is too large so I had the cut two small slots to clear the “wings” so that I could slide the ferrule on from that end of the shaft before installing it in the handle.

Step 1: Round the stock and then turn a tenon on the end that just allows the compression nut to thread onto the tenon.

Create a tenon

Step 2: Drill the hole for to match the diameter of the shaft. Measure the distance from the bottom of the wings to the top of the shaft and add in the length of the tenon. Drill the hole that deep so so that the wings will be fully enclosed in the handle.

Drill hole to match shaft

Step 3: Thread the compression fitting back onto the tenon. This is your last chance to adjust the fit. You should be able to thread it on by hand, but not too easily. It’s really important to get this fit perfect. After you have it on, slide your live center up into the ferrule.

Thread the compression nut

Step 4: Use a parting tool to set the diameters that you want key parts of the handle to meet. I set the widest part of the handle, the narrowest, and the widest part of the thumb flare.

Create your depth guides

Step 5: Turn the handle shape you desire. The brass can be turned using normal turning tools. I found the the smaller the tip of the tool, the easier it was with the brass. I used a small spindle gouge.

Rough out you shape

Step 6: Sand and finish your handle. I chose to finish my handle off of the lathe. I used four coats of Deft spray lacquer. It dries quickly and retains a nice shine. In addition, the laquer works well on the brass and will keep it from tarnishing.

Refine & Sand your handle

Step 7: Unscrew the ferrule by hand and set it aside. Insert the shaft into the hole until the wings just come into contact with the wood. Orient the wings so that they are running perpendicular to the grain. Mark the location of the wings on the wood. The wings on my shafts were not quite centered which is why I marked them.

Mark the flanges

Step 8: Cut a kerf thru the remaining part of the tenon. Be sure not to go into the finished wood.

Cut the tenon for the flanges

Step 9: Make a kerf inside the hole to allow the wings to seat. I tried my first handle without doing this and it split badly. To make this kerf I ended up using a jigsaw blade. You can see my makeshift tool in the next photo. I just fashioned a quick dowel and then cut a kerf down the middle to hold the jigsaw blade. It’s not pretty, but it worked. I had to grind the back side of the jigsaw blade down to fit in the hole for the small and medium shafts.

Kerf the shaft hole

Step 10: Insert the shaft into the hole. It should required a decent amount of pressure and maybe even a few mallet blows. For this reason I did not use any glue. The shafts are plenty secure without it and now I have the option of cutting the handle off at a later date to re-handle them. If you are installing a blade shaft make sure you have the ferrule on the shaft before installing it.

Install the shaft

Step 11: Re-install the ferrule.

Thread the ferrule back on

Congratulations! You just made your first screwdriver!


-- Mark

20 comments so far

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3270 days

#1 posted 10-30-2010 03:56 AM

Nice job. Looks good.

Now I got the fever to get a lathe even worse. Thanks.

View a1Jim's profile


117534 posts in 3876 days

#2 posted 10-30-2010 03:56 AM

Pretty darn fancy

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 3758 days

#3 posted 10-30-2010 04:22 AM

another item to add to the wishlist :/

-- San Diego, CA

View Roger's profile


20973 posts in 3103 days

#4 posted 10-30-2010 04:29 AM

Really nice work. Great turnings. I’ll bet they feel real good in the hand

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

View DrAllred's profile


137 posts in 3122 days

#5 posted 10-30-2010 05:09 AM

Another great Christmas gift, lets see that is item #7658 on the list.

-- David, Mesa Arizona

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3358 days

#6 posted 10-30-2010 05:48 AM

I built a set from the same kit. Counting mine, this is the third set I have seen here on LJ’s in the past few weeks. Yours are very nice. I actually bought the brass ferrules from Lee Valley also. They work pretty well. I see where you cut slots for the table on the screwdrivers. If you read in the Lee Valley catalog (or it may be online), they tell you to drill the hole the size of the shank then to drive the shank into the handle. That is how I installed mine. I just clamped the handle in a vise, put the shank in as far as I could then put a block of wood to protect the tool tip and hammered them in. It made for a really tight fit. No play or fear that the shaft will slip inside the handle. I really like that wood you used. I’m actually thinking of doing mine again. Mine are round like yours and sometimes, they can be hard grip when you need a lot of torque. I am thinking of attempting to make some octagonal handles that would be a little bit larger in diameter and easier to grip.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 3187 days

#7 posted 10-30-2010 01:05 PM

Nice set, dude! Next time you might want to use a bastard file on the brass to save your turning tools. It will probably be faster too.

For myself, I’d have cut the blanks to a hexagonal section and turned the ends while leaving the main handle hexagonal. Then I’d sand the corners off slightly to ease the grip. This results in a handle that is easier to get a strong grip on.

Your set reminds me of an old time mechanical engineer’s set. Love the look of the wood and brass together.

Your choice of wood may explain the splitting when setting the shaft. Another choice might give the kind of results Docholladay got setting his shafts. That, or he’s just lucky. (grin)

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3166 days

#8 posted 10-30-2010 01:20 PM

Those are very nice and you did a great job on them. BTW, you made the presentation very nicely as well. It was an enjoyable read. Thanks

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Alan's profile


443 posts in 3703 days

#9 posted 10-30-2010 04:59 PM

I just finished my set last of these as well but won’t post them until after christmas as they are a gift for someone. I installed my shafts like docholladay, and also used some 5 min epoxy. Mine are round and I made all the Philips out of Arbutus, the Robertson out of Black Locus and the standards out of Laburnum. Also like you I made the handles larger for the larger bits. They worked out great and plan to make a set for myself when I get some free time. Great job on explaining how you did yours.

-- Alan, Prince George

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3972 days

#10 posted 10-30-2010 05:05 PM

Nice job on those screwdrivers.

View Loogie's profile


100 posts in 4079 days

#11 posted 10-31-2010 12:31 AM

Thanks guys!

Doc & Tiny, I may still take my handles to the belt sander to put a few flats on them if I find they slip, but I have one antique screwdriver which I modeled these handles from and I love it. It has never slipped in my hand at all and it feels very nice.

Tiny, I also tried the bastard file on the ferrules but it chattered a lot and didn’t leave as nice a finish IMO. Thanks for the idea though. I wouldn’t of thought of that.

-- Mark

View mafe's profile


11784 posts in 3388 days

#12 posted 10-31-2010 01:37 AM

So good blog, so nice screwdrivers.
Thank you a lot.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Dusty56's profile


11834 posts in 3987 days

#13 posted 10-31-2010 01:40 AM

Your handles came out perfectly : )

I’ve only made one project to date with this Jatoba / Brazillian Cherry wood , and I really like it .

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View Roger's profile


20973 posts in 3103 days

#14 posted 11-10-2010 02:48 AM

Great step by step blog. Very awesome project/s. They’d look good in any shop

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

View jaedwards575's profile


90 posts in 3357 days

#15 posted 11-17-2010 09:58 AM

I’ve ordered some and plan on making a set for my dad for Christmas. I like the look, and make model these after that. A quick question, How would oak hold up against the drilling and pounding technique vs the kerfing?

-- Aaron Possom Town, TN

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