Goumi Handle Making

Hello and welcome to my blog!  In this post I will be describing the process of creating a replacement handle for a Japanese chisel, by hand, and without a lathe.  I have a set of Kikuhiromaru chisels, new old stock, that I have been using for just about two years now.  The chisels were stocked with rosewood handles, and while beautiful, are wearing quickly.

The types of wood used for Japanese chisel handles typically includes; gumi, akagashi (Japanese red oak) and shiragashi (Japanese white oak).  Oire-nomi (butt chisels) handled in ebony or rosewood come with a caveat that the wood is not ideal for use on striking chisels, as was the case with these Kikuhiromaru chisels.

Ideally, the wood chosen for a handle offers durability, strength, resistance to splitting, and elasticity.  Having had the experience of using all of the above options in wooden handles over the past few years, my preference has shifted toward the traditional handle materials; akagashi, shiragashi and gumi.  My favorite of those being gumi handles, with a core in the center.


Gumi handles of the highest quality are made from branches, these branches have the core in the center and have grain running perfectly straight from end to end.  Second to that are handles made from a larger piece of wood, still the grain should be running from end to end.

By chance a fellow woodworker, John Aniano, contacted me asking if I might know wether or not Japanese gumi and goumi, which is found locally, are the same.  As it would turn out they’re both names for the same species; Elaeagnus multiflora or cherry silverberry.  John happened to have a few splits of Goumi that he had harvested and kindly offered to give me one of the splits to use for making handles.


My work begins by cutting a section of the split just slightly longer than what is needed for a handle.


Next I took measurements at the top, middle and bottom of the current handle.


Japanese chisel handles are slightly tapered toward their centers.  This taper allows the hoop to remain tight as the handle wears and the hoop is continuously driven lower.

Next I remove the existing handle from the chisel, and then remove the hoop and ferrule from the handle.  I happen to have a car part which fits perfectly under the hoop allowing me to drive the hoop off of the handle.



The hardware, currently lacquered to remain silver in appearance, just will not do for a light colored handle.  Light colored handles are typically paired with blued hardware, where dark handles are usually paired with light colored hardware.   I removed the lacquer and finished the parts to a point at which they can be evenly blued to a dark appearance.

This is also a good point to check to ensure that my ferrule and hoop have been deburred.


The old handle, having been separated from its hoop can now be used to transfer measurements.  After doing so my next step is to take a coarse set plane and turn the goumi from a triangle shape into something closer to round.


The handle was further refined with a spoke shave, giving it a slight taper toward both ends.  The next step, cutting the tapered receiver for the ferrule, starts by marking the handle with a kebiki gauge.


I shaved away the handle with a knife until the ferrule seated completely.  Applying graphite to the inside of the ferrule to amplify the high spots during test fitting.


Next, I drill a hole in the handle to receive the chisel’s tang.  The hole is made square and the fitted to the tang with a 6mm chisel.


Finally the step, or shoulder, above the ferrule is removed; a process I’ve detailed in a previous post.  The handle is scraped smooth to remove any noticeable facets and last the hoop installed as detailed here.  Three down, seven to go.



Thank you for following along, and I look forward to your comments.






  1. Brian,

    Excellent overview as usual! I’ll be tagging several wild gumi subspecies (Elaeagnus angustifolia and Elaeagnus umbellata) “trees” in the wooded section of my property in a few days. Once the leaves have fallen and the trees go dormant, I invite you to come over to help harvest as many branch and trunk sections as you might need. Also, I’ll be pruning back the Elaeagnus multiflora shrub again. Might be nice to try making a handle from a branch section to see if it wears better. Has got to be some reason why they were traditionally done that way!


  2. Very nice and a great amount of information on handle-making in a quick read. It’s great to see that quality handles can be made quickly without a lathe. Btw, that marking gauge looks like a fine tool.

  3. Great post. I have to ask as to why you chose to change your handles to Gumi opposed to what looks like a rosewood or ebony of some sort? I know the rosewood and ebony can be more brittle in use but does not seem like you have suffered a failure due to being brittle. I am also curious as to how you removed the handle from the chisel. This does not seem like it would be easy while not breaking the original handle. Keep up the great blog, I really enjoy watching other hand tool woodworkers and how they get along with different tasks. Rounding that section of wood is not that easy using hand tools if you don’t first make it square. I typically have to work from a square piece to make a precise round.

    Anthony Eaton
    1. Hi Anthony, thanks for your question. These chisels see very regular use and one handle split off a section of grain which had run out. I decided rather than wear them to nubs, or otherwise ruin them that, to replace them with something more appropriate.

  4. Yet another well written and informative post Brian. As is per your usual. Makes me want to replace a handle just for the fun of it. I won’t, but it is tempting. 😉 At least I know where to go when one of my handles does give up on me.

  5. Brian, I know this is an old thread but still one I enjoy reading. I wanted to ask about the kikuhiromaru chisels. I currently have a cheaper set of japanese chisels that are reasonably easily chipped even from fairly light work. I’m looking at purchasing a set of better chisels. I can’t wait 4 years for Kiyohisa though haha. I’ve found some kikuhiromaru for sale but there seems to be different terms used for the chisel such as “toushou” or “Echigo Sanjo” is this related to the steel used or does kikuhiromaru always use the same steel? Thanks in advance.

    Rhys Hurcombe
    1. Hi Rhys, Indeed not many people want to wait four years either. There are multiple levels of quality from Kikuhiromaru in my understanding. I don’t know the Japanese names of those levels, but for me I like the white 1 steel handmade chisels that they make. So Yamashita sells them on his website. They’ve done quite well for me. Every other smith I like has at least a year wait.
      Best Regards

  6. I appreciate the information so much. I have been building Bamboo Fly rods for some years now, and understand the need for good tools AND most importantly how to look after them. I am currently learning about Japanese cabinetry and have just bought my 1st set of chisels, unsure made by whom, from a car boot sale. Your information = invaluable

    Chris Kriekenbeek

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