I was asked to build a ledge style handle for this custom ELEVEN2. The main benefit of ledge style handles is the are very comfortable to carry because you can wrap your fingers inside the handle and carry the board with a more natural grip.
The finished handle looks great but if you decide to build something similar you have to be VERY careful the finished handle will remain waterproof. There is no point building a beautiful board and having it leak. I normally use plastic handles because they are manufactured as one piece and have a very low chance of problems. Knowing that this handle had to remain waterproof very thin pieces of wood that were coated with epoxy on both sides to minimize any risk of water infiltration. This is not the easiest way to build a wood handle (Other options below) but from a style point of view, the only thing you see is the routed slot and the smooth bottom panel.
Here is a picture that was taken before the top was installed. This wooden box has been fully sealed with epoxy and is waterproof. The bare unfinished wood on the top of the box was installed slightly proud of the fishbone and planed to the correct height.
If the board was sliced in half this is what you would see. The very top piece represents the top panel of the board. The sides and bottom of the box were built out of the cut off corners from the bottom panel. In this case they are 4.5mm or just slightly over 3/16th of an inch. This box was wrapped in 4 ounce fibreglass cloth so strength wasn’t a concern.
To make the handle parts I started with a foot long piece of scrap 2×4 and ripped a piece 1.5″ x 1.25″. These measurements are not really important as they will be cut again. It is safer to profile up a larger piece than trying to use a router on a 4″ long piece. This keeps your fingers away from the router bit it makes no difference when it is cut to length.
This piece of wood receives a 1/2″ round-over at the router table to soften the bottom edge. This will be the contour for your hand will feel so use whatever radius feels good to you or prevents you from buying another expensive bit.
This step is optional but it feels more comfortable to have a slight angle on the grip and I figured it would ensure any water that ends up in the handle runs out when the board is upside down.
Cut you handle stock to length and assemble the 4 sides (only 2 are pictured so you can see what is going on inside.) with Titebond 3 or epoxy. This handle was glued with epoxy and I fired a couple of brad nails into the handle stock from the outside to hold it together as the epoxy cured.
With the epoxy still wet from the step above I flipped the handle over and sealed the inside surfaces with the rest of the epoxy. This step ensures that the areas that will be hard to reach later are fully sealed. I prefer plastic handles because I know they are waterproof. I was super careful sealing this handle because if it leaks you will have water inside you hollow board. The excess epoxy was allowed to drain out with gravity onto a piece of 6mil plastic sheet. Make sure the handle is on a piece of plastic or wax paper because it will glue to whatever it is sitting on. At this point the bottom of the box (not pictured was also sealed with epoxy with the good side facing up.
With the epoxy dry I sprayed the inside with Monster Paint to give the surface a sanded, non-slippery grip and to hide any drips that might get past my tape. This is not an area that you want to be sanding later.
At the table saw I cut the angled handle stock flush and adjusted the overall height of the handle. Approximately 2″ seemed to feel correct.
The bottom was attached with epoxy and the outer surface was covered with a piece of 4 ounce cloth and a laminating coat of epoxy. This layer of cloth is being used structurally and only received 1 coat of epoxy. I was pretty confident that the inside was waterproof but wanted to make sure that the overall structure was bombproof.
After the top panel was installed the handle was opened by first carefully drilling a hole in the centre. This was followed with a 3/8″ router bit with a bearing on the bottom set about 1/2″ deep to ensure it didn’t cut into the handle stock. The 3/8″ radius nicely dressed up the corners rectangular box opening. This was followed by a 1/4″ radius bit to soften the top edge.
The wooden handle above is a much simpler handle to build. To build a handle like this you simply drill a series of holes through a block of wood and then add a bottom. You can also use this approach to build a ledge style handle buy adding a second layer of blocking with a football shaped area for your fingers before adding a bottom. I recommend sealing all surfaces to prevent wood movement.