My grips are mostly made from a batch of "soft maple" scraps or trim offcuts from a local furniture maker. The pieces are just over 1 inch thick and one to two inches wide, rough on one or two edges, and about three feet long. The wood is normally made into theater seat arm rests. I've also used oak, walnut, rosewood and even bocote.
When I first started making grips I sawed the rectangular block in half lengthwise and then cut a rectangular slot down the middle of the inside of each half with the table saw. Then I glued the halves back together. Later on I realized that most of the tang is round and doesn't need a rectangular hole. The sawing and gluing added work, weakness and sometimes a visible seam.
I cut pieces 4-1/2 or 6-1/2 inches long, depending on whether the grip has quillons or not. I take care to make the cutoff ends square to the sides, because I stand them up in a drill press vise to drill the tang hole.
Before I drill the grip, right after I cut the pieces to length, I draw diagonal lines across both ends to find the centers and then punch a good sized dimple with a center punch where the lines cross. It helps get the hole started in the exact center of the piece. It helps keep the piece accurately vertical when the cut end is accurate. However, now I normally use a square standing up on the drill press table to align the wood parallel to the drill bit. The smooth side of the wood against the rear jaw of the vise keeps the grip aligned in that plane.
I tried drilling through the grip block but standard drill bits aren't long enough to go all the war through. I could drill from each end, but the holes often didn't meet exactly and left a "jog" in the center which made it hard to get the tang through. That was one advantage to the splitting and gluing method - no limit to the length of the hole.
I had gotten a couple 1/4 inch drill bits about nine inches long from a flea market, so I tried drilling straight through. It works out very well, but I had to learn to drill accurately in order to keep the hole centered in the grip.
Once the hole is drilled, I put the still rectangular piece of wood in the bench vise and make one end of the drilled hole rectangular for the blade tang to fit snugly. This is necessary in order to get the grip onto the tang. It also keeps the grip from rotating on the tang while you're fencing.
I made a special tool for making the hole rectangular. It's an extremely simple tool. Four pieces of fairly coarse tooth 1/4 inch band saw blade about a foot long are welded together at one end. That's it. I hold the end of it in a pair of Vise Grips for a handle. It works as a narrow file or rasp. I push it through the tang hole and cut one side of the hole flat. Pulling it to the side with one hand at just one end enlarges that end for the rectangular shape of the tang.
Picture of grip ends with rectangular hole.
However, the tool is a bit too big to fit thru the round hole at first. Since it's only welded at one end, I start by pushing only 3 of the pieces thru the hole and enlarging it a little until all 4 will fit. All the teeth are on the same side of the "rasp" and point in the same direction, toward the handle. So when I use it I have to cut each side of the rectangle as a separate operation. It takes four steps with 3 blades, and the four more with the whole tool.
Now we can finally start shaping the outside of the grip. I prefer to make the grip oval shaped or flat sided with rounded corners. That way my hand knows the orientation of the blade. With a round handle you can't tell which way the edge of the blade is facing.
I usually have to hold one end of the grip in the bench vise with the grip pointing straight up after it's been rounded off. When the sides are somewhat flat it can be horizontal, but the vise's hold isn't very secure.
Wood rasps and then files cut the rectangle down to rounded or oval quite quickly. If the ends are made 3/4 inch in diameter, you can use 1/2 inch steel electrical conduit or 1/2 inch copper pipe for ferrule rings around the ends. The ferrules prevent splitting and add some nice decoration.
After shaping, file it smooth and sand even smoother if you like, for looks. I stain the wood dark brown or black and put on some oil finish or some furniture wax. Don't make grips so smooth that they're slippery in your glove.
I've also wrapped some grips with leather and I like the results. It can add quite a bit to the diameter of the grip, though, so make smaller blanks for covering. It's hard to get an accurate fit. I've used contact cement and Elmer's glue to hold the leather on and both seem to work out just fine. After I wrap the glued leather on the handle I wrap the whole assembly tightly with string to hold the leather on tightly while the glue dries. But the cord often leaves marks in the leather. I just think of them as increasing the 'traction' your hand gets on the grip.
Picture of finished grips.
---home ----- back to Swordmaking Page -----------e-mail me. -- created September 26, 1998 ; updated April 27, 2002