Improve the Comfort & Feel of Your Tool Handles | Popular Woodworking Magazine
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DSCN2220I use round-head mallets almost all of the time. I find that they are very effective in driving my gouges and chisels decisively into the wood. There are cases where I prefer to use rectangular-head hammers and mallets, but most of the time I reach for one of my “rounds.”

I bought my first rounds from William Alden back in 1998. They were turned from hard tropical wood and their conic handles culminated in a rounded pommel. After using them for some time, I concluded that the handles were a bit thin for my hands so I decided to wrap a sash rope around them in a “common whipping” configuration. This minor change drastically improved their comfort level.

In recent years, I discovered a novel product to thicken up the handles and provide a very secure grip – hockey tape. I got my tape at a local sports store for $7.99 (for a package of three) and learned how to use it after watching a YouTube video (links provided below).

My three William Alden mallets. From right to left: Untreated handle, handled wrapped with a hockey tape, biffed up handle using a Common Whipping technique.

My three William Alden mallets. From right to left: Untreated handle, handled wrapped with a hockey tape, biffed up handle using a common whipping technique.

If you think about it, the hockey tape can be used to thicken up and enhance the grab on other woodworking tool handles too, such as knobs and jigs. In fact, you can change the shape of any handle to better fit your hand by wrapping tape around it. For example, if you begin by wrapping more tape at the middle of the handle, then continue to wrap the handle from top to bottom, you will create a football-shaped handle that corresponds to the natural anatomy of the hand.

By wrapping some tape, trying the handle, then adding more tape as needed until the right feel has been reached, the tape becomes the most effective agent of ergonomics in your shop. And because it is made of cotton/polyester fabric, I believe it can absorb sweat and reduce the tendency some tool handles have of becoming slippery. The adhesive used on the tape is intended to provide good traction to the handle material, yet it is not a permanent adhesive, meaning it allows the tape to be removed as needed and replaced as needed.

Next time I will talk about mallet geometry and my experiment to produce the best mallet for my needs.

To learn common whipping:

To learn how to use hockey tape:

— Yoav Liberman

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Showing 2 comments
  • Charles

    Have you considered using what is called “repair tape”?
    You can get this at any hardware store. It has NO adhesive, so it will never become sticky or leave a residue if you remove it. It LOOKS like common, adhesive-backed, electricial tape, but it has NO adhesive. Instead, it will only stick to itself. It is the pressure of built up wrappings that keeps it in place on the handle you are wrapping. In the package, it has a sheet of plastic to separate the the tape from contact with itself. I have used this product (any brand) for many years for all kinds of things, including building up handles like in your article. It is intended to repair broken things, and it works very well for that. I have used it to repair broken ‘goose-neck lamps’. “You can get it in any color so long as it’s black.”
    Be sure to follow the directions by stretching the tape to TWICE its length as you wrap. I don’t know the science behind how it works, but it is amazing stuff.
    Be sure the label says something like ‘non-adhesive repair tape’. Again, this is not electricial tape.


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