Repair a broken tool handle the correct way

Repair a broken tool handle the correct way

“Replacing a shovel handle is one of those disappearing rural skills that shows basic mechanical competence—just as wrapping duct tape around a broken handle denotes the opposite.” Getting a wood handle’s grain direction right ensures the strength of a replacement handle. Mount the new handle so that the oval rings of wood grain run up and down the sides of the handle relative to the blade. Handles break when the tool is strained along those ovals. A look down the blade toward the face of the handle should reveal only straight, parallel lines of wood grain.

All replacement tool handles are made slightly larger than they need to be to fit tightly in a tool head. That’s why the main job of replacing a handle involves taking off just enough wood for a snug fit, but no more. This job is easy when you know what to look for.

With the tool handle standing upright on a hard, flat floor, hold the tool head on top then pound both down with three or four sharp blows against the floor. Inertia propels the head onto the handle – at least a little ways –making marks in the wood in areas where the handle is too large and binding. With the handle gripped in a vise or between your legs, use a spokeshave to whittle away all tight wood about 1/4” to 1/2” down from the place where the head stopped traveling while you pounded. Repeat the standing and pounding procedure, remove the head, then continue whittling  down the new high spots that have been revealed. Half a dozen sessions like this and your tool head will be far enough onto the handle to lock it there. You’re good to go when a 3/8” to 1/2” of handle wood extends beyond the top of the metal head.

The are two kinds of wedges used together to hold tool heads on handles. Wooden wedges fill the full length of the slot found in the end of all tool handles extending front to back, and one or two metal wedges get hammered in at an angle across the wooden wedge to further expand the wood and hold it tight. Firm blows from a steel hammer are the best way to drive both these wedges. Saw off both the excess handle and wooden wedge so they extend 1/16” to 1/8” beyond the metal tool head, then drive a metal wedge or two in place. You’ll find they go in more easily if you sharpen the end of the wedges with a file first. By leaving the handle to extend slightly beyond the head, the wood swells more under wedge pressure, holding the head more firmly and for more years of use.

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