Wooden Purse Handles

I got a request a few months ago from my sister-in-law to investigate how one would go about making wooden purse handles, because she’s been in the habit of making purses lately. We talked about a few ideas–some involved bending, some involved joints, and some were not so strong. I was particularly concerned about strength of cross-grain when cut thin, because we all know how well that often turns out for plane totes. And I said that I would get around to making some at some point.

It was one of those projects in the back of my mind, where was I trying to figure out a way to do it where the end result might not totally suck. And so there I was one day, watching some Harry Potter movie on TV, when I thought I saw a glimpse of a purse with wooden handles being used as a prop. Pause and rewind with the DVR confirmed it.

Then I thought, “why don’t I do a Google Image Search” on wooden purse handles? Well, duh, turns out that there are a lot of ideas out there.

So I came up with a drawing that seemed to minimize the danger of cross-grain stress and milled some wood. The wood might be walnut. I’m not really sure. Maybe I should break out the loupe some day:

I cut out part of the drawing to use as a template (I just traced it onto the wood):

Notice the segmented slot in the drawing–I’ll get to explaining this later.

I cut out the rough template with a coping saw (one side at a time, not gang-cut), then taped the two sides together and clamped it into the vise:

Then I shaped them with my ever-trusty Shinto saw rasp and Gramercy sawmaker’s rasp:

I don’t know why this is so, but the more I shape handles, the more I like it. In this case the edge profile of the two handles when put together is similar to one edge of a saw handle.

With each side shaped, I put in the slots for hanging the textile part of the purse (the part that I will not make):

You can see here that the slot is segmented. That’s to keep whatever is wrapped around it from bunching up on one end when the handle is tilted (this is a problem on one prototype that I saw).

Cutting these slots was difficult. I don’t have a 1/8″ mortise chisel, so I had to pare out the slots. If I ever have to do something like this again, I’ll get a mortise chisel and be done with this task in ten minutes instead of the who-knows-how-long this took me.

Next up was to cut recesses for clearance of the textile parts on the inside. This design feature is so that the handles can close flush to each other. This was easy once I got the hang of it. It was the standard procedure of using a chisel to waste out most of it and a mini routing plane to clean the floor of the recesses. I got the plane in a trade a while back (thanks, Darren!):

Then I smoothed everything out and put on the first thin coat of varnish:

They need a few more coats, then they should look quite nice. I have only about a week to complete that task, so I only have time for that much, anyway.

Perhaps one day, I’ll have a photo of the complete project.