Finish on chisel handles?

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Forum topic by P89DC posted 04-11-2019 01:22 PM 614 views 1 time favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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26 posts in 599 days

04-11-2019 01:22 PM

I bought some Narex chisel and the handles are raw wood with light stain. I was planning to finish the hornbeam wood with heavy duty polyurethane varnish.

Is there a better finish technique for chisel handles?

What does Lie-Nielsen use on their superb chisels?

15 replies so far

View DBDesigns's profile


217 posts in 358 days

#1 posted 04-11-2019 01:44 PM

I spend a lot of my time re-habbing old Chisels. Part of that process is turning new handles. (Usually made from dogwood which is harder than rock maple.) I have a gallon container of Minwax spar poly that I dip the handles into. then I clamp them upside down in my vice and let them drip into a sacrificial bucket until they are dry. There is always a little drip that hardens on the end of the handle but you can cut that off with a razor knife or sharp chisel and you are good to go. I prefer satin or semigloss finish but it is really just a matter of taste and feel.

Also, if you have a leather pad or metal strike bolt on the end of the handle, the poly will coat them as well.
Good luck and happy sharpening!

-- I remember when Grateful wasn't Dead

View SMP's profile (online now)


849 posts in 267 days

#2 posted 04-11-2019 03:36 PM

I think this would be personal preference. Some people hate the plastic-y feel of poly or other film finishes on handles and want to feel the wood. Some people don’t mind. I personally use satin Arm-r-seal on some of my handles, feels fine to me and really stands up to abuse. I personally don’t like the feel of semi gloss or gloss, I used minwax wipe on poly before on an old hammer and had to steel wool it down with 0000, but now feels fine to me .

as to LN, you could always ask them, they usually get back on questions pretty quick. It could be some proprietary blend. My guess by feeling their new chisel handles is some type of hard wax oil.

View Phil32's profile


533 posts in 264 days

#3 posted 04-11-2019 03:39 PM

in addition to wood preservation we need to consider the long term effects of the finish on our hands. As a woodcarver, I am sometimes in contact with my tool handles for hours at a time. Fortunately I do not have many allergies.

-- Phil Allin - There are mountain climbers and people who talk about climbing mountains. The climbers have "selfies" at the summit!

View DBDesigns's profile


217 posts in 358 days

#4 posted 04-11-2019 03:40 PM

Acknowledge your “wood feel” preference. Maybe danish tung oil would be a good solution. The main point I wanted to make is the process of dipping and dripping!

-- I remember when Grateful wasn't Dead

View CaptainKlutz's profile


1227 posts in 1855 days

#5 posted 04-11-2019 03:51 PM

It always depends on how you want your equipment to feel when you touch it!

Japanese chisels arrive with heavy varnish dip coating. First thing I do is sand it off, and apply a danish oll (usually Tried True, occasionally Watco). I like feel and grip of lightly oiled wood on my striking chisels.
One consideration is how you use the chisels. Put satin Arm-R-Seal on couple of pairing chisels, as I handle them with heavy grip and they seem to pick up dirt/sweat from my hands more easily .vs striking chisel. The poly keeps the handles cleaner looking, and is easier to clean grime off.

-- I'm an engineer not a woodworker, but I can randomly find useful tools and furniture inside a pile of lumber!

View JayT's profile


6159 posts in 2572 days

#6 posted 04-11-2019 04:04 PM

I also use Danish oil on tool handles. Gives some protection without that plastic feel.

Haven’t seen the new L-N chisels, but most manufacturers would use lacquer.

-- In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View SMP's profile (online now)


849 posts in 267 days

#7 posted 04-11-2019 04:18 PM

Acknowledge your “wood feel” preference. Maybe danish tung oil would be a good solution. The main point I wanted to make is the process of dipping and dripping!

- DBDesigns

I have looked into the dip and drip method, and am actually trying it soon on some wooden spoons I am going to be making, using a 50/50 tung oil/citrus solvent blend. Have also seen people do this with BLO. I do have some tool handles I’ve used BLO on and it doesn’t seem to hold up as well for my taste. I have a feel:ease of maintenance ratio where Arm’r-seal tends to win out. I have used Watco Danish oil as well, but I only have a dark walnut, so I only use it when I want to darken the wood. But I do like the feel.

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5368 posts in 2712 days

#8 posted 04-11-2019 06:34 PM

I hate the lacquer finishes some manufactures put on their handles and will remove it and replace it with a Danish oil type finish or just BLO.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View OhioMike's profile


82 posts in 2524 days

#9 posted 04-11-2019 08:01 PM

I use boiled linseed oil (BLO) on mine. It imparts a nice amber color and does not feel like plastic.


View chriscarter's profile


11 posts in 452 days

#10 posted 04-11-2019 08:45 PM

BLO and paste wax.

View P89DC's profile


26 posts in 599 days

#11 posted 04-12-2019 12:50 AM

Thank you for all the thoughtful responses! I’m a seal-the-wood poly guy and I see I’m in the minority. I was thinking about dipping the handles as mentioned, I’ll dilute the poly 50% with oderless mineral spirits and all the runs will run out. (I know the manufacturers say no more than 5% but what do they know?)

And Narex chisels are a great product. Went to Woodcraft, checked out their Chinese made woodriver chisels with money in my pocket. I was not impressed. Narex is cheaper, higher quality and Id rather support the Czech Republic vs China…...

View OSU55's profile (online now)


2250 posts in 2350 days

#12 posted 04-15-2019 05:47 PM

I use poly thinned 1:1, applied like danish oil – wipe on, keep wet for 10 min or so, wipe off. Control the plastic look with # of coats. 1 or 2 looks and feels like danish oil or blo, more coats start to build a film.

View PPK's profile


1367 posts in 1170 days

#13 posted 04-15-2019 06:40 PM

Oil Wax! Can’t beat it for tool handles in my opinion! I don’t like lacquer or varnished handles.

I make my own oil wax by heating and mixing BLO and beeswax, adding turpentine.

-- Pete

View jonah's profile


2068 posts in 3660 days

#14 posted 04-16-2019 12:35 AM

I’m a big fan of the Narex chisels. I haven’t done anything to mine – they feel just fine as they are. I might throw something on if they got really beat up, but they’re in good shape now.

View Jamie_Sharp's profile


2 posts in 32 days

#15 posted 04-21-2019 05:38 AM

Good info. I have been leaving mine dry and letting my hand oils work there way into the wood. Leaves a dark but somewhat uneven finish.

With everyone having there own preference it seems unfinished is best for tools you intend to sell.

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