We have all seen them, those beaten up chisel handles whose stricken handle tops have succumbed to the brutality of hammer or mallet blows. Those battered chisels, no matter what type of wood their handle was made of, or whether they had been originally crowned with a metal hoop to retain their end grains, will display a soft and crumbly fibrous surface that looks and feels like stiff straw.
Recently I got a chisel like this and decided to rehabilitate it. First, I extracted the remains of the retainer brass hoop. Then I rasped and filed away the disintegrated grains. Lastly, I applied a coat of epoxy to strengthen the weakened matrix.
I believe that the best agent to pull the fibers together is thin epoxy. The low viscosity adhesive will penetrate between the fibers and into any cracks and voids in the wood. In order to apply thin epoxy on the top of the chisel handle and to prevent it from dripping outside the perimeter, you might need to border it with a temporary collar made of masking tape. The epoxy that I used was a 15 min formula of medium viscosity, like that of freshly-bought honey. I applied it with a spatula and guarded the parameter of the handle top until enough of it saturated the surface. I believe that keeping the thickness of the epoxy buildup above the surface to a minimum will guarantee a chip-free area. Remember, what we want to achieve here is a composite of resin and fibers and not a transparent plastic cap.
Using super glue (CA adhesive) or progressive application of lacquer or varnish, allowing each layer to dry completely between coats will work too.
Check out this video to see how the new surface reacted to my brass mallet.
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