Handling More

It’s my seventh day since my hand surgery and the advice sheet from the Pulvertaft Hand Cebtre in Derby and Burton NHS Hospital said, ‘Plan to avoid activities which involve strong grip for one to two weeks after the procedure as the hand [s] may be a little tender. However, you will not do yourself any harm.’ I have diligently taken care of my hand exercises and these exercises make a big difference to how my hands feel each day as they heal. I have been on self-imposed light duties for the week and as I experience no swelling, no infection, zero pain anywhere, etc I decided to be back at some not too-heavy woodworking today., the eighth day. I put in 3 hours of handwork at the bench using hand tools but nothing that caused any jarring or stress to my palms, fingers, etc. As I worked, I transferred the usual or normal hand, arm banging and such to my fingertips and other areas of my arms, hands, forearms, upper arms and shoulders. This change of technique worked very well for me. Much of the work I did was good from my hands. But I think it is worth mentioning here that I am not a medical provider and I am sure everyone’s hands will indeed be different before and post operation. That being the case, follow the advice your are given from the hospital or clinic. that is what I am doing for me with the customised health care the doctors and medical team in occupoational and physical therapy gave me.

Okay! I had an old and vinatge R. Groves 14″ tenon saw that needed rehandling. It was my first ever Groves saw and whoever owned it before me replaced the handle with a sapele one. The work was crudely handled (pun intended). Because it really felt comfortable I just kept using it and never replaced the handle so today was a good light-duty day to see how my hands would feel and I decided that if I felt any misgivings or discomfort I would stop without hesitation.

I created a template I cut from 1mm plastic sign material taken from one of my other 14″ Groves tenon saw, one I use all the time. Using a sharp knife to follow the pencil lines it snaps precisely to the line. I traced out the outline directly from the handle with a pencil, compensating for the roundovers, then went freehand over the lines with the shrp-pointed knife.

Snapping is easy on 1mm sheet plastic and the exactness of it is amazingly simple and accurate.

Setting the template in place and aligning the grain for preference is the next step.

I used the bandsaw to rough out and this saved using my hands as I was trying to go easy on them where I could. This included the saw kerf to take the saw plate. But I felt my hands were good enough to chop the small mortise recess for the brass back. Of course, I needed to use the coping saw to cut the distance between two bored holes top and bottom of the hand hole.

With the shape roughed out there is quite a bit of shaping to the round to match the handhold and fingers. This seemed to be an hour’s work or so. I went quite gently between the rasp, the chisel and the spokeshave. These three tools did most of the work.

It’s important here to notice the height of the handhole opening. It’s so surprising to see how people hold the saw when sawing. This is the correct handhold. Three fingers only through the hand hold with the fourth finger pointing along the side of the handle as shown. this gives controlled verticality to the saw plate and direction to the cutting strokes. Plastic saw handles usually allow for about five fingers.

It’s surprising the beauty and fit of any vintage saw handle smoothed and shaped by hands two hundred or so years ago. The saw handle I am making the saw for is from a saw the company that began making somewhere around 1770––250 years ago and 70 years before the Henry Disston factory started making.

I used pencil rubbings for different aspects of the saw, to get the precise centres, particular shapes and such, but I often found myself improvising and freehanding lines I wanted to work to for a different aesthetic.

It’s importqnt to get the holes centred on those in the steel plate. This steel does not drill at all easily . . .

. . . I will check again later before I drill.

The best scraper is a thin one. This one is just slightly inder half a millimetre thick and bends readily for most of the work of scraping. I also have a scraper made from a worn out Zona modeling saw and that is a third of a millimetre and really flexes well.

The saw is now fitting my hand nicely and this is the wonderful thing about customising saw handles.

There is no stain on the back one. Just a clear finish of shellac.

I chose yew for the wood because it makes a really good saw handle and it darkens to a rich colour over about a year. I also did my plane handles with the same wood and I think this will complement those too.

Already the saw feels wonderful even though I have a little morre finessing to do. I could indeed use it like this but I think another hour will give me the comletion I want. I went for a friction tightness between the handle saw kerf, the mortise recess and the plate. Even in cutting these long dovetails the handle stayed in place.

Fits like a glove now. not too much left to do before I drill, fit and finally install the brass saw nuts.

Some scallops can be refined with the bevel down of a wide chisel but don’t forget that . . .
. . . the finest level of finessing comes from the bevel upm with a very firm amd consistent pressure.

It’s almost 5 p.m. My hands feel truly good––wonderful, really! It’s not the big things so much as the small ones. I can clasp my hands effortlessly now. When I shower and wash my hair no fingers get in the way. But at the bench, my hand tools slide into and around the handles and I have no need to tuck one finger into my palm.

Remember I never had pain in any of what has happened through three decades. But the one affected finger in each hand impacted the others who came alongside in sympathetic support. This created muscle memory in those fingers too and the exercise is as much about dismantling this as keeping the tendons from being encased in the scar tissue repairing on the inside of my hands. Finger grip/hand and hand extension to the tips of my finger, all of them, seems to have the most radical impact on the whole hand.

Defining the handle on my saw is an allegorical poem I am writing for a four-dimensional experience; imagistic, if you will. As I’m working I’m listening to a favourite musician singer I listen and I compose and make. She’s singing The Promise as she plays her guitar.

My friends, finding our way back to what truly matters is critical to our future and by this, we feel healing and well. My hands are finding their way back to what they once were. This rhythmic pulse expresses in my work and working. My mind is synergised to a level I physically feel as liveliness and I wonder how this can be just from shaping with a spokeshave and chiselling with a chisel held inside the palms and fingers of my hands.


  1. Paul,
    Glad to hear things are progressing well on your hands. Looking forward to the video on making the saw handle. Of course, at my current skill level, I’d be happy if it came out as good as the one you replaced though I would strive for better. I have an old Disston my dad kept in the back of his 56 Ford pick up for rough cutting lumber when he needed some for home improvements, etc. It got left out for 6 months so he gave it to me figuring I could restore it and use it. The plate will be easy enough to derust. The handle is rough to the point where I don’t think sanding will fix it. Good opportunity to do like you did above.

    1. Hi Paul, glad to see you are recovering so well. I just have one question, did your doctor have any information as to what caused your injury? I have worked in the construction industry for 44 years. We are always being coached not to use our hands as hammers. I was wondering if all the years of dumping chisels with the palm of your hand could have been part of the cause? I know you are not hitting it hard but a million gentle taps ad up.

      1. Absolutely not. I am extremely careful with my hands and would never overdrive them. This is mostly a manual worker’s issue and whereas many seem wont to attribute this to somehow being some kind of a Viking or descendent to a Dane, it seems that it goes back way beyond that and is in some peoples’ DNA. Who knows? I don’t take too much stock in this. Someone somewhere read a book on it and became an expert to get a PHD or something. Not too much of any use. My doctor, however, did say that my hands, wrists, arms and upper body are all in excellent shape and especially so for a 74 year-old. She even said keep doing whatever you are doing. “It’s obviously good for you.”

      2. Absolutely not. I am extremely careful with my hands and would never overdrive them. This is mostly a manual worker’s issue and whereas many seem wont to attribute this to somehow being some kind of a Viking or descendent to a Dane, it seems that it goes back way beyond that and is in some peoples’ DNA. Who knows? I don’t take too much stock in this. Someone somewhere read a book on it and became an expert to get a PHD or something. Not too much of any use. My doctor, however, did say that my hands, wrists, arms and upper body are all in excellent shape and especially so for a 74 year-old. She even said keep doing whatever you are doing. “It’s obviously good for you.” Also, another friend of mine, a sports psychologist and veteran to high-impact sports explained the full benefits of my hand work in developing high levels of resilience long term. This has indeed been very true for me comparing my health, physical strength and ability to others my age, so no changes needed here.

  2. I’m glad to read you and see your hands are recovering well. I hope your hands will give to you many years more of beatiful woodworking.

  3. Pulvertaft – you’re in good hands there. You’ll be playing the piano within a fortnight.

    They’ve dealt with my Dupuytrens and reassembled a wrist with fourteen titanium screws so you’ve got craftsmen at your level.


  4. This could not have arrived at a better time. My brother asked if I wanted our great. Grandfather’s rusted saw that needs a handle.
    You bet!

  5. Please don’t over do the work. Protect those hands. With that said it appears that you are going slow and easy. I’m glad to see you are healing quite nicely. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. Thank you Dennis. I am happy with progress and at the same time I am surprised how quickly things have progressed. I am following the medical team’s advice to the letter which is actually to get back to work and to do it with care so that’s what I have done.

  6. Good to hear your hand is on the mend with no issues. I have a brass backed Tyzak tenon saw that I shaped for my hand, it’s the one I always reach for. Most of my Stanley plane handles fit perfectly but I have one that’s a bit newer that needs to have the hard facets rounded over. I guess at some point Stanley decided to cut corners and stopped refining the handles. Maybe it was when the world went to power tools.

  7. great to see you coming along with your recovery Paul, love your teachings, i do know what it is like not to be able to what you love. wood working has been my savoir, even though I can’t do much even a couple hrs a day give me such pleasure, take care ,DW.

  8. Paul. delighted that you are back in the saddle and giving the world your woodworking wisdom and experience.

    One thing on the saw handle: I have made a couple but have made them in 2 halves because I didn’t trust my skills at getting the blade in the handle square by sawing. How did you do it?

    1. Mike,

      I think he mentioned that he cut the kerf on the band saw this time to save over-doing it with the new hands! However, I guess that if you were just to cut a saw blank to rough dimension, with flat square sides, you could simply cut the slot for the blade, and then adjust for square from there if you were slightly off. Given that you’re making saw handles in the first place, I’m going to assume that you have the ability to get very close to square straight off the saw. Just go for it!

  9. So pleased your recovery is going well Paul. As ever, another inspiring post – I must have a go at making a saw handle!
    As it happens I already have a piece of Yew I could use. I understand the dust from this wood can cause respiratory issues. Did you feel the need to take any special precautions while making your handle?

    1. Hard to comment on this, Mike, everyone should take the necessary precautions with toxic woods. Remember there is usually little if any dust from cutting edges like chisels, spokeshaves and filing tools as such it’s when you use power equipment like power-sanders (which I did not) and other machines that the atmosphere becomes charged with potential harmful toxic dust. Even so, yes, it isn’t what I do but what precautions you take for your health and your working conditions and environment.

      1. Thank you Paul. Understood. We’re all responsible for our own health and safety.
        I don’t use power tools either, but in the relatively confined space of my workshop/shed, even by hand, I find the dust from rip sawing down lengths of Oak can irritate my throat, so I make sure there’s plenty of ventilation and wear an FP3 mask when doing so, which really helps. I’ll do the same with Yew.

      2. Kia ora Paul,
        I too join the chorus of wishing you a swift and complete recovery to you.
        I have been wondering about (hand) saw dust – how do you handle it after a considerable time sawing at the bench?

        I’ve recently did some rip sawing of rimu (not toxic per se, but definitely irritant), and the way I cleaned the bench was my usual method of spraying a mist of water on it while gently brushing the bulk of the dust into a dustpan …then misting also the air around me/the bench to try and ‘catch’ the airborne particles.

        Have you any advice or trade tips on this kind of cleaning operations?

        Ngā mihi nui (best wishes),

        1. I do not have any water spraqying near my bench and do not worry about the type of dust you mention. A sweep once a day or the clearing of a work area will be much less toxic than walking a mile to work in a city like London in its pre ULEZ days. The swept shavings has only minimal dust and with not using [power equipment like buzz sanders and beklt sanders in my day to day I am pretty clean generally.

          1. Aye, understood. Thank you for your response I may be overreacting then 😉 wouldn’t be first time I come to such realisation.

          2. I’m not so sure you are overreacting in considering dust, Paulo. I am not in your workshop and dust buildup can happen especially when we get locked in because of weather and such. I’m glad that you are taking it seriously as I do in my cleaning and dust collecting when I use the bandsaw because machines do generate a lot of dust with proper dust collection.

  10. Best wishes for your rapid recovery Mr. Sellers. You are an asset to the world at large, and so please take good care of yourself.

  11. Paul,
    As usual you provide inspiration as a bonus to the instruction you provide.
    Work with the Hands, Heart and Mind always seems the best medicine.
    So pleased to see your rapid recovery !
    Love those Yew tool handles, very tough to get here in America, What would be a similar wood that I might find here? I was thinking Cherry?

  12. Damage to hands and fingers gives me the heeby-jeebies! So, following your progress has taken a touch of intestinal fortitude and a few moments of looking away and going to my happy place. But I’m so glad that it’s working out so well for you. I mean, they’re your hands! And you’re the OG of HANDtool woodworking. Phew…!

  13. I was thinking clear plastic might be better for the template than opaque, making it easier to see the wood grain you are leaving on the handle. Perhaps your decades of experience mean you don’t need that visual assistance, but I would 🙂

    1. I used what I had, as usual, it always works. I just keep things simple. No need to see the grain. I mean, I did not have clear plastic, am I going to stop the work for days to wait for clear plastic to come from a supplier? Not really and I like yellow!

  14. It’s great news Mr. sellers. Here’s to continuing rehab and return to full duty. I gain great inspiration from you. I’m late to the hand tool (a primary tools) and am enjoying the learning as much as small project outcomes. I’ve retired from public work and this is my mental and physical activity to keep me young-at least in heart. Cheers and all the best from Tennessee.

  15. God bless Paul, and I hope your recovery continues to go well. The issues of using your hands for your whole life is familiar, I’m sure, to many here. Having some arthritis in my hands from the years of hard work, I can relate. But, fortunately for me, I don’t need surgery just a few anti-inflammatories from time to time. This getting old is not for the weak. Thank you for all you do and what you teach us. Right now I’m building my workbench from your videos. Be well, and I hope you continue to recover, post-haste.

  16. Paul:
    Glad you are mending well and have full use of your hands. Very happy for you. Your comment about your muscle memory being tied to the modified grips necessitated by your locked fingers and needing to make adjustments is greatly appreciated. It brought to mind changes I’ve made to how I hold certain tools to avoid extreme hand pain due to a medical condition that fortunately has not affected my dexterity or range of motion. While we were young I don’t recall anyone warning us of the changes aging brings. As you move forward, I hope you will continue to discuss adjustments you’ve made and maybe throw in a few pointers on what has worked best for you. There’s a lot of us older guys that I believe would benefit from your insights as we deal with increasing limitations.

  17. When started looking at the article, I first scrolled through and thought, “that all looks like conifer wood. Why would Paul use conifer wood for a tool handle?” Then I saw the word “yew.”

  18. Congratulations Mr. Sellers, I am glad of your speedy recovery, and along with it it is also very good news for us your followers and pupils to enjoy your master video classes.
    Best wishes,

  19. Wonderful news. Many prayers for a continued and full recovery. I’m late to the hand tool wood working world -retired now and using this time to learn new things. Your work and videos are instructive and inspiring. Again heal well, fully and quickly. Cheers from Tennessee.

  20. I wonder why make template, wouldn’t it be simpler to place handle directly over wood to copy it?
    Get well Paul.

  21. Good to know you’re following your surgeon’s orders for your recovery. Be sure to refrain from doing too much before you’re really ready!

    1. Too late. Back in the saddle with no issues. The medical team did not advise me to, “refrain from doing too much” either and the exercises are more rigorously ‘stretching‘ than anything I do in woodworking anyway.

  22. Thanks Paul for the update. You have “handled” your post operative recovery beautifully.
    Michael O’Brien

  23. hey Paul can you give me a hand? now you can! that handle looks sick!!! beautiful grain and that shellac looks…professional!

    P.S. PS is back!

  24. Hi Paul. This is a treat to read. So good to see you recovering well and full of positivity.
    Very best wishes and as always, kindest regards.

  25. I’m SO relieved to read that your hand injury was not permanent; I can only imagine what that might have done to your psyche. Now that you’re a ‘bionic man’, may God continue to bless you.

  26. It’s now 13 years since I had my hand done at the at the Pulvertaft by prof Chris Bainbridge. I had an open fasciotomy rather than the needle method as I was advised that at the time that was the gold standard. I was working as a professional guitarist at the time and was back on stage within 3 weeks able to reach far better than before the surgery. 13 years on no sign whatsoever of it returning and the finger is dead straight.
    A superb clinic and a fabulous surgeon.

    I’m sure your procedure will be just as successful.

  27. Good to hear your recovery is going so well 🙂
    And what a lovely saw handle! I’ve tweaked the handles of several newer second-hand saws (inc. several S&Js. – pity the handle hole is so big! 🙁 But they work 🙂 ) – better but, of course, not as nice as yours! 🙂

    Yew seems a bit special. I made a yew bow and, with the left overs, rehandled a chef’s knife for my son and rehandled a favourite broken saucepan. The latter is attractively striped with colour. Didn’t want to waste any of it.

    Although long-lived yew is most commonly found in churchyards and graveyards in UK these days, it does grow elsewhere. Yes, I believe the berries are poisoness and part of the plant is used to create an anti-cancer drug, so perhaps some or all of the rest of the plant is poisonous?

  28. It’s a pleasure to “hear” about your medical progress as well as your joy in the details of the handle project. Thanks for sharing both!

  29. I am sorry to hear that you are struggling and glad to hear you are mending. May help and maybe not. I have a repetitive injury due to using a mouse for years. Yes everyone laugh. I changed hands and note can keep working. Your situation maybe different. Would changing your main hand work? It would be a big change changing as something as simple as this. Especially sawing a straight line. But if it meant you could still enjoy what you love I am sure it would lead to much pleasure in keeping doing what I have spent years following you do. We don’t get younger.

  30. Stay with the plan, Paul! Sounds like you’re getting exactly the result your care team had in mind for you. And you’re right… the little things can add up to an exceptional improvement in quality of life… and work. 😁

  31. Hi Paul,
    I’m glad your recovery is going so well. My wife had the same surgery five months ago and is still not 100%. Sadly, she gets a bit depressed about this from time to time, despite doing all the exercises religiously. Your blog is inspiring her. So thank you!

  32. Nice to hear things are going well and also not bad for a few hours of convalescent work. Maybe the typing of your blog is helping too. A 500-word essay must exercise every one of your fingers, no need for any further work. Keep up the good work!

  33. It is so good to read that you are working again with your hands and that there are no complications after the interventions!

    You inspire us all!

  34. I’m glad to learn that your surgery was a success! The surgeons have given you a tuneup in your hands, and in your heart!
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful wisdom! It is a fine skill you share, in the way of woodworking,
    and life!
    God’s Blessings on a complete recovery!
    Robert Burchard

  35. I am quite thrilled to hear you are recovering well from surgery, and without pain at that!
    I know this isn’t a section for requests, but wonder if a series on handle fit is warranted?
    I have found that my right hand hurts after using certain planes and saws, usually those with large handles, and I would love to make new handles for those, but other than “smaller”, I don’t truly know what to aim for. It might seem silly to someone who is used to making things to fit their hands, but I don’t really know where to start.
    I’ve found a collection of saw handle patterns, and I’ve read recommendations like “the horns on a saw handle should be tight enough that you can hold it open-palmed”.
    Maybe I should just give it try and see what happens, but I imagine there’s a wealth of information I’m missing out on.

    1. Yes, definitely reconsider who the adviser is too for goodness sake Such balderdash sweeps around forums and things, a bit like bench heights where thousands followed a guru and thousands ended up suffering bad backs and neck pain for years until they questioned the author and his actual authority on bench heights. One famed supplier with a blog and then many others say such things as “the Hang of the saw should be this or that” and if you follow their advise the saw will be pretty near useless to you. It’s the pitch to the teeth that makes the saw work this or that way and we have a generic pitch but then custom file it to suit various cut types and thern the different woods too. No rocket science. My advise to you is to try any saw you can specific to the task, a dovetail saw with a pistol grip or closed handle should feel different to a 14″ tenon saw and so on. If the owner will let you try it for fit then that is all you need. From there you can customise your saw from a paper tracing fopr shape. After that it is simply a question of sharpening. For a dovetail saw and smaller work like trim and tenons, shoulders, etc, I believe there isa no better suited saw than the inline gent’s saws which is a one size fits all handle that fits without discrimination as to age, ability or gender. The Crown version described on my commonwoodworking.com site says all you need.

  36. Thank you for the feedback Paul!
    Indeed gent saws seem to have an advantage here, as the handle shape is simpler.

    My biggest problems are with a rather heavy jack plane made from oak, and a hand saw I use for ripping boards to width during “stock preparation”, if that is the right term.
    I don’t know any other woodworkers, but I will make an effort to try out any saw or plane handle I come by, and make tracings of my favorites.

    I think I’m doing okay with sharpening actually, as I’ve found your guides extremely helpful.

    The link for the ebay reseller for the gent saw on commonwoodworking is dead by the way.

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