Seam Ripper Handle Tutorial

Originally posted 7 November 2012

This tutorial is to show how I turn handles for seam rippers.  It is an adaption to my tools and process from the tutorial done by Kenneth Ferrell (bitshird) on IAP. The tools I use are:

  • a Nova chuck
  • a ¼-inch spindle gouge and / or ½ inch spindle gouge
  • a ¾-inch (or ½-inch) oval skew
  • a thin parting tool
  • a 60-degree live center
  • a drill chuck
  • .373 (letter O?) drill bits
  • .201 (number ?) drill bit

I start with a Dritz seam ripper. I cut the end off of the clear plastic handle.  I cut it about 3/8-inch (or so) past the little knobs that stick out of the side of the handle.

Below is the clear handle portion – two of them actually – after I have cut them. I discard the longer piece and glue the short piece into the turned handle at the end of the process.

“Debur” the portion of that handle that you will glue into the handle that you turn on the lathe. A sharp knife works well for this.
For the turned handle, I start with a standard pen blank.


Determine which end of the pen blank you want to be the end with the seam ripper in it.

Use a center finder to determine where the center of the blank is.

I used a Sharpie to mark these blanks so they would show up in the picture, but a light line from a sharp pencil or even a marking knife does well.
With the Nova (or comparable) chuck mounted on the lathe, place the unmarked end of the blank in the chuck and lightly tighten it down.

Bring the point of the 60-degree live center close to the marked center of the blank and lock the tailstock in place.
Bring the point of the live center into the blank at the marked center and hold it there while tightening the chuck securely.

Use the 60-degree live center  to put a good dimple in the end of the blank at the center.
Loosen the tailstock and draw it away from the blank.
Remove the live center from the tailstock and install the drill chuck.

I use the larger bit to start with, but if you are doing a series of these you can start with the last bit that you used.
Ensure you have the lathe set to the desired speed for drilling (slower is better). Bring the tailstock up to the blank and switch on the lathe. Drill the hole about ½-inch deep.
Change the drill bit to the smaller bit.
Bring the drill bit to the depth of the previously drilled hole.

Drill the smaller hole to a total depth of about 1-5/8 inches.
Switch back to the live center and bring the tailstock up to the blank and lock it down.

Use the hand wheel to bring the live center into the blank and center it.

If you want to maximize the length of the handle, you can bring it partially out of the chuck at this point and tighten it down, you only need to grip about a ¼ inch of the blank with the chuck to drive it securely and the live center will keep things centered on the other end.

I always start by rounding the end of the blank near the tailstock.  I use a 1/4-inch spindle gouge for this.

Then I shape the remainder of the handle for the seam ripper. Your imagination is your guide. Shape it any way you want to.

As you near completion of the handle, leave about 3/16 to ¼ inch in the center of the handle to drive it as you put the finishing touches on the handle.  You want to sand it down, and you may want to burn some decorative rings into it with some wire.

Finally, use a skew to part off the end of the handle nearest the chuck. You can use a parting tool for this is that is more comfortabel for you.

Sand the nib off the end of the handle where you parted it off.

I like to hold a piece of sandpaper on my leg and move the handle against that. It just naturally conforms to the shape of the end of the handle.  Work up through the same grits you did while the handle was on the lathe.

Finish the handle for the seam ripper with your favorite finish. I’ve used wipe-on polyurethane on all these except one.In the picture below, you can tell the difference between those that have WOP on them and those that do not.  The extra shiny one in the center of the finished handles has a CA finish on it.

Epoxy the part of the clear plastic handle that you cut off in step 1 into the handle. Use caution that 1) it is centered and 2) it remains straight until the epoxy sets up. Also, excess epoxy can plug the hole at the bottom of the clear plastic handle – even if it isn’t plugged – it needs to be open enough to let the cutter seat down into the clear plastic portion. Test each one for fit.

Blow the dust and the chips off the handle, insert the blue/colored portion of the seam ripper and give it to your favorite seamstress!