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I have an old wheelbarrow with wooden handles. It works great, but I keep getting splinters from the handles. Sanding the handles hasn't solved the problem. The surface is too rough. I thought about treating it with something used to resurface a deck. Before I do something like that, I thought I'd check with the experts around here.

How should I treat the handles to prevent splinters?

N.B. I think the handles are ash, but they are so old that it's hard to tell.

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  • Hi, welcome to Woodworking. A photo would be good here if you can manage it, although possibly not absolutely necessary it may tell us something. I presume the wheelbarrow is heavily weathered, in addition to just being old? If I'm right then it's possibly just further sanding will do enough to solve the problem, just lots more of it (to get down deep enough that you get to unweathered wood). This will however remove a lot of material, possibly enough to slim the handle portion down too much so they'll look odd and/or be slightly weakened. – Graphus Apr 26 at 8:28
  • "I thought about treating it with something used to resurface a deck" Could you name the exact product here? It's possible this could work (and is along the lines of one of the solutions I would present in an Answer, using finish to consolidate the wood) but many deck products are really preservatives more than anything else and don't have enough glue-like stuff in them to be of much benefit. However it could be well worth coating the entire wheelbarrow in this to help extend its life. – Graphus Apr 26 at 8:31
  • I'll try to add a picture. – Craeft Apr 26 at 13:01
  • I don't have a product in mind. I just have heard people say they have had some success smoothing wood with similar products. I didn't want to randomly try a product, because I don't want to make the handles slick! – Craeft Apr 26 at 13:03
  • You probably don't want a penetrating finish, but one that forms a strong surface bond and bridges the voids. – jdv Apr 30 at 17:41
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I used cloth adhesive tape. It worked well and probably has a better grip and feel than duct tape. You could also get some sports tape, like that used on hockey stick handles or baseball bats.

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  • Nice outside the box thinking! – FreeMan Apr 30 at 14:53
  • Not going to lie. I use white hockey tape everywhere in the shop. As long as you know that it is semi-permanent it wears nicely and can turn dodgy good-enough tools into actually usable ones. – jdv Apr 30 at 17:42
  • Seems like black hockey tape would be the way to go, @jdv. Hides the grubbies from dirty hands better. (Maybe you don't get all that dirty with woodworking, but I get plenty of Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair in my garage, too.) Great idea, though! – FreeMan Apr 30 at 18:07
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    As a Canadian, I was born with a roll of hockey tape in my hands. And black hockey tape is "marking", which is not great in a shop full of blonde wood. White tape is non-marring non-marking, and all dirt fades to a nice patina that is fine for me. For a greasy shop, use whatever. For a wood shop, use white tape. Voice of experience here. – jdv Apr 30 at 18:08
  • I am going with this, because it is the simplest option. – Craeft May 2 at 15:36
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It sounds like you keep your wheelbarrow outside, as I do. I recently sanded my wheelbarrow handles and treated them with "spar urethane" to solve the same persistent splinter problem you've described, and I expect it will prevent further oxidation and degradation of the wood during continued outdoor storage. "Spar urethane" or "spar varnish" is a polyurethane or varnish that includes a UV blocker. It should protect both from sun and rain. I used the same stuff for the rigging and spars of a home-made wooden sailboat that lives outside but under a cover and in that application I have needed to reapply after 5 years or so. The wheelbarrow is not under a cover and may need more frequent touch ups.

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As I say in the Comment above, it is possible that just sanding deeper would resolve the problem with splinters1. It depends on the level of weathering whether this is viable; you don't want to sand too deeply and change the profile of the handles too much and/or weaken them, plus there's no non-destructive way of knowing in advance if it will work.

So the other option that first occurred to me was to consolidate the wood that's there. This can be done in a number of ways but essentially, or literally, you will be glueing the splinters in place.

Coat them in something

  • Exterior varnish. Spar varnish1 is a type of exterior varnish but intended for more fully exposed contexts, it's softer and may get slightly tacky with use in hot weather.
  • Paint. A suitable exterior paint could be enough to do what's needed, although I'd expect varnish to work better (since varnish is "all binder" so to speak).
  • Epoxy. Some might suggest a penetrating epoxy (CPES) here but again cost may be prohibitive, and it may not work as effectively as just straight epoxy adhesive anyway.

Cover the ends with rubbery grips
I'm familiar with these from metal wheelbarrows so they immediately came to mind as a possible solution. I didn't know if they were available to buy separately but I tried a search and they are, not really surprisingly. No idea if any are made that will fit your handles but worth investigating I thought.

Tape 'em
Obviously you could just use duct tape or something similar here, although the grip wouldn't be great many a tool handle has been fixed or bulked out with duct tape! There are grip tapes though which would probably do everything needed here, prevent splinters forming and improve on the current grip so win-win.

Wrap in string, cord
If you don't use a synthetic you can protect the natural fibre if necessary by overcoating in varnish or epoxy.

And last but not least....

Do nothing, just wear thick gloves
:-)


1 Underneath the surface of weathered wood there is very frequently sound wood, and sometimes surprisingly close to the surface (although I expect that's not the case here).

2 A true marine spar varnish is probably overkill, and also an expensive purchase for just the one utilitarian item. Plus you probably won't find any for sale at the usual places you might be looking to purchase anyway.

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If the wood itself is reasonably sound, just rough, and the damage is deep enough that it will take considerable sanding to eliminate the gouges, I'd consider using a wood filler or epoxy to fill in the depths. Doing so will also help lock in the little bits that are sticking out trying to jab you every time you use it.

It's been quite a while since I've used wood filler, but the ones I remember were a fairly thick, putty like substance that would stick in place once pushed into the gaps. Trying this with epoxy would require a fairly thick epoxy mixture designed for filling so that it doesn't just run down the handles and/or drip to the bottom.

Once the surface has been filled to levelish all the way around, sand it smooth, then coat with one of the materials described in other answers to protect both the filler (particularly wood filler, not so much epoxy) and the remaining wood.

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  • Would you recommend any particular brand of wood filler? – Craeft Apr 27 at 19:18
  • @Craeft, "It's been quite a while since I've used wood filler", so... no. :( Take a wander through your local hardware store, see what they've got. – FreeMan Apr 28 at 11:14
  • @Craeft, KwikWood, P.C. Woody, QuikWood.... or, standard epoxy adhesive blended with sanding dust to any suitable consistency. – Graphus Apr 28 at 20:14
  • I was going to recommend epoxy. Cheap and relatively easy to apply and then shape afterwards. – jdv Apr 30 at 17:57

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