4 Shop-Made Handles

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This article is from Issue 37 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Simple and safe techniques for making knobs and pulls

Often taken for granted, well-crafted handles (knobs and pulls) say a lot about a piece of furniture or cabinet, especially handles that both please the eye as an accent and serve their function effectively. Ergonomically, their size and shape for the average drawer must accommodate a child’s small hands, and those of an adult, providing comfort and plenty of purchase. Mechanically, a good knob or pull should open a drawer without separating from it, no matter how much ballast a pack rat has hoarded within. It should never come loose or spin on the door or drawer. And while it takes more time to design and create stylish custom handles, the good news is that shop-made ones give you something unique compared to ho-hum store-bought offerings.

I’ve worked through the safe machining of four very popular handle styles, including a round Shaker knob, an Arts & Crafts knob, a coved desk-drawer pull, and a U-shape pull. As shown here, you can attach them using tenons, wedged tenons, dowels, and screws. I’ll also touch on two quick scaling methods below.

For any special items in this story, see the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide.

Scaling Handles To Match

While the handles here replicate store-bought sizes for cabinets and furniture pieces, you can scale them to any size you need with either of these easy solutions. Solution 1: Draw the desired handle on graph paper to full size. Reduce this image to the needed size at a copy machine by lowering the percentage from, say, 100% to 80%. Pick off measurements from the reduced copy for the desired handle size. Solution 2: Use a construction calculator like Inchmate 2000 that lets you multiply fractions by percentages.

Turned Shaker knobs

Shaker knobs appear in many understated furniture pieces and cabinets. Generally, 11⁄4" to 2" are common diameters. I like that I can turn a pair of knobs with tenons from one piece between centers. For a better hold, wedge the tenons in place during installation.

1 Cut a 6"-long blank from 11⁄2" dowel or turning stock and mount it between centers. At 1,500 rpm, round the blank to 13⁄8" diameter using a roughing gouge.

2 Mark the locations of beads, coves, and tenons shown in Figure 1. Now, use a parting tool (or bedan) to establish the finished diameters.

With the tool rest above center, move the scraper in from the outside edges to form the cove.
Form the rounded end profile of the knob by working from the center out and taking small cuts.

Insert the knob’s tenon in the jig and clamp the jig’s kerfed end to secure the knob. Then flush-cut the tenon, and split it with a backsaw.

3 With a roundnose scraper, form the coves (Photo A), ensuring that the profiles match. Now reduce the waste diameter between the pulls to around 1⁄8". Stop the lathe and finish separating the pulls with a handsaw.

4 Install a scroll chuck. Secure the tenon for one knob in the chuck. Position the tool rest at an angle to the knob’s end and, with a spindle gouge, form the end profile (Photo B). Shape the edges, as well as the base. Sand through 220 grit. Repeat for the other knob.

5 To split the tenons for the wedges, make the Kerfing Jig above. Flush-cut the tenons to rough length and kerf them (Photo C). Cut tapered wedges that match the tenon’s diameter.

Arts & Crafts knobs

This handsome square knob, with its face-grained beveled end, takes shape at a disc sander and router table. I use a dowel to secure it to a door or drawer, but a screw works just as well.

1 Plane and crosscut a 1 × 1 × 6" end-grain piece of stock (I used a 6 × 12" piece of 5/4  white oak) at your mitersaw or tablesaw, ensuring the sides are clean and square. (The resulting blank makes two pulls safely.) If you want end grain at the end of the pulls, rip the blank stock along the grain into 1 × 1" square blanks.

2 Adjust the miter gauge in your disc sander to 15°. Use a combination square to strike a mark midway across the blank’s ends. Bevel the ends of the four-sided knob blanks (Photo D) to create a gentle pyramidal crown.

3 Next, chuck a 3⁄4"-diameter core box bit in your table-mounted router and adjust the fence 3⁄4" from the bit’s center (or 3⁄8" from the cutting edge). Raise the bit 1⁄4" and slowly make a cut on all four faces of the blank (Photo E), routing end-grain edges first. If you experience tear-out or burning, make the cuts in 1⁄8" increments.

With the miter gauge set at a 15° angle, sand opposing facets to the line; sand the adjacent facets.
Use a follower block and clamp to move the workpiece over the bit. The setup allows for safe control.

Set the stopblock 13⁄8" away from the blade, and then, with the blank supported by the miter gauge extension fence, cut off the knob.

4 Cut two 13⁄8"-long pulls off the ends of the blank at the tablesaw as shown in Photo F, repeating the process to create as many knobs as needed. Ease the front edges of the pulls with a sanding block.

5 Mark diagonal lines on the inside end of the pulls to locate the centers. Now, clamp the pull upside down to your drill press against a stopblock and fence with a handscrew and drill 1⁄2"-deep holes for 3⁄8" dowels.

6 Cut the dowel tenons to the needed length. Glue the dowels in the knobs, and let dry. Then glue the knob tenons into the mating holes.

Desk-drawer pull

In addition to frequent opening and closing, desk drawers are often loaded down with clutter and prove heavy. Solidly mounted coved pulls let you grip them with all four fingers. Here’s an easy way to make several.

1 Rip and plane 3⁄4 × 11⁄4" stock that is 16" long for the safe machining of two pulls. Now, mark the top and bottom edges of the stock 51⁄2" in from the ends with a pencil to denote the overall pull lengths. Mark off the centered 31⁄2" cove zone between the pull ends.

2 Chuck a 1"-diameter core box bit in your table-mounted router, raising it to 3⁄4". Adjust the fence 1⁄2" from the outside edge of the cutter. Align the cove marks in the workpiece with the bit’s cutting edges to setup the startblock and stopblock and to locate the cove 1" from each pull end. Now, lower the bit to a 1⁄8" height. With the router on, use a pushpad to pivot the piece against the fence and startblock. Move the front end into the bit and advance it to the stopblock. If desired, cove several workpieces at this time. Continue raising the bit in 1⁄8" increments and routing to form a 3⁄4"-wide cove 1⁄2" deep (Photo G). Adjust the stops to rout a cove at the other end of the workpiece.

Ease the workpiece against the fence and startblock, and cut the 1⁄2"-deep cove in 1⁄8" bit-height increments.
Round over the coved workpiece by cutting in 1⁄8" increments and using pushpads for safety and control.

3 Mount a 1⁄2" round-over bit in the table-mounted router and mill the outside top edge of the workpiece (Photo H). You can also use the fence for this.

4 Crosscut the pulls at 51⁄2" at your mitersaw or tablesaw, ensuring the coves are centered between the ends.

5 Mark the radii on the pull ends and rout them on the table with a round-over bit and back-up board or disc-sand them to shape. Finish-sand and drill pilot holes in the back faces. Center and attach them to the desk drawers with glue and screws.

Work the flush-trim bit counterclockwise along the interior of the blank to shave off the waste; control the action with a custom pushblock.

U-shape laminated pulls

Here’s a twist on the contemporary metal wire pull—a wood wire pull using contrasting woods. Threaded brass inserts epoxied in the pull ends guard against splitting the lamination while giving mating screws a reliable grip for attaching to drawers and doors.

1 Thickness-plane enough 31⁄2"-wide stock in two contrasting woods for the needed number of pulls. Make the blank’s outside layers 1⁄4" thick and the inside layer 1⁄8" thick. (I used maple and walnut.) Now glue and clamp the laminations together. Let dry and then scrape the squeeze-out from the edges. Joint and rip the laminations to 3" wide.

2 Crosscut the lamination material to 31⁄2" long. For safety reasons, the pulls are machined in pairs.

3 Copy the Pull Blank Template, (Figure 5), on the opposite page and adhere it to a 3 × 31⁄2" piece of 1⁄4" hardboard. Drill 3⁄4" holes at the inside corners. Then, thread in a scrollsaw blade, and cut along the straight lines. File and sand the edges straight and smooth. Cut and sand the radiused outside corners.

4 Use the template to trace out the same shape on the 3 × 31⁄2" laminated pull blank. Drill the inside corner holes on the blank and cut out the interior just proud of the cutlines.

With the pull blank clamped flat on the base, run the sled along the fence to part a pull to width.
Use a stopblock, fence, and handscrew to accurately drill centered holes for the insert nuts.

5 Align and attach the template to a pull blank with double-faced tape. Because of the close-in nature of the machining, make the Hold-Down Pushblock, (Figure 6), or use a handscrew to hold and safely control the workpiece when routing. Chuck a bottom-bearing flush-trim bit in a table-mounted router and flush-trim the blank even with the template (Photo I).

6 Chuck a 1⁄4" round-over bit in your table-mounted router and, using the pushblock, rout the inside and outside edges on both faces of the blank.

7 Make the Pull-Cutting Sled (Figure 7). Now, wrap the blank at both ends with painter’s tape to reduce tear-out, and make the cut (Photo J).

8 Mark center on one end of a pull and set up a fence and stopblock on your drill press for drilling the holes. Now, clamp a pull to the drill press fence and drill 1⁄2"-deep holes at each end that are sized to your threaded inserts (Photo K). Epoxy the inserts in place in the holes. Finally, finish-sand the pull to 220 grit, apply finish, and attach with mating screws to a door or drawer. 


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