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I'm looking for a way to cut a handle hole into a cutting board using only hand tools. I don't have a router and would like to complete this project using what I have. Looking to do something like the handles in this image:

Live edge cutting boards

Image from refinedelements.com

Any suggestions?

  • Don't forget to properly attribute your images! – Matt Apr 2 '16 at 16:10
  • Sorry about that. Glad you took care of it. – mattmar10 Apr 3 '16 at 3:26
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Drill 2 holes (brace and bit if you're being serious about "hand" tools) with a forstner bit (or hole saw), then connect them with a cut using a coping (or jig) saw. Chisel/file/sand as needed.

To expand a little... in order to help with tearout, drill from both sides by marking centers on each side and drilling halfway through each. Those look like 1" to 1-1/4" holes, if you're buying deliberately, but really, any old size should work well enough. (Bonus attribute if you're doing this with a hole saw is that the wooden plug is really easy to remove when there's half of it already sticking out of the hole saw.) Personally, I wouldn't use a spade bit, as they seem to tear a lot, which would require more cleanup.

The very attractive pictures were of fairly thick stock. If your project isn't quite as thick, I'd leave a bit more meat at the edge of the hole.

Everybody has a different preference for setup with the coping saw, but if you haven't tried it already, set it up to cut on the pull stroke. You might find you have better control and less blade deflection.

Cleanup on the inside would be easiest with a round or oval rasp, followed by something a bit finer. (You could also rough it with a sharp chisel or gouge.) After roughing, transition to sandpaper. If you roll the sandpaper into a cigarette sized roll, it'll hold shape fairly well and be able to knock down the edge to perfection.

  • Thank you for the suggestion. Not being overly serious about hand tools; I just don't have a router or drill press or anything. I do have a cordless drill. If I drill the holes with a cordless drill, what size should I shoot for and how do you control tearout? – mattmar10 Apr 2 '16 at 15:06
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    That probably deserves its own question. But in short, you drill a pilot hole all the way through that centers the larger bit (forstner or hole saw). You drill almost all the way through the first side, then flip it over and using your pilot hole to line the two up, you finish the drilling by starting on the second side. Note that if you use a hole saw, the center bit might make drilling a pilot hole unnecessary. But a forstner bit will cut a cleaner hole. – Charlie Kilian Apr 2 '16 at 15:22
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    Both of those concepts I think are fairly well covered in other questions here. Just search for tear out and you can find several good related answers. As for size have a look at my answer but the idea should be the same width as your handle to remove as much waste as possible. – Matt Apr 2 '16 at 16:08
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    Even a spade bit would to the job. Drill from both sides to avoid excessive tear-out. The hole will be unsatisfactorily rough, but you have plenty of work ahead that will smooth out any roughness by the time you are done with the removal of material. – Ast Pace Apr 2 '16 at 18:53
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    This is probably the perfect answer but a little more detail on how it's done would be beneficial to turn it into the kind of Answer valued on SE — bit options, controlling blowout at the back, options on rounding the edges and any other details you can think of. – Graphus Apr 3 '16 at 7:14
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With hand tools only, I suppose the way is to use a coping saw. You drill a small hole inside the waste of the handle, and then pass the coping saw's blade through the hole. This will allow you to remove most of the waste.

To round the edge of the hole I would use a chisel for the bulk of the removal, and then sand for a comfortable edge.

  • Thank you for the suggestion. I will research the coping saw method. – mattmar10 Apr 2 '16 at 15:04
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Drill first and pare with a chisel would be the easiest way to remove the most material faster and you would clean up the inside edge with a paring chisel.

Using auger bits that are the exact width of you hole you are trying to make, like those you would see on eyed auger or bits with a brace, you can easily remove waste and not have to worry about going "outside the lines". Stagger the holes and you will get a similar shape like that of the ones you have pictured.

Mortise in progress

From Chris' Project Page

As you can see from the above image (mortise in a workbench) most of the wood was removed with auger bit. The screw tip and the shape help to naturally create straight holes. Be careful when you are exiting out the other side. Either used waste wood (clamp well) or count the rotations it take until the screw just shows proud on the other side. This way you can turn the work over and have cleaner edges on the outside.

You can also use a rasp to help put the initial curve on the handle.

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