Step 4: Make The Handles

The Planet Whizbang wheel hoe handles are made of wood, just like handles on the old Planet Jr. were. In fact, I have an old Planet Jr. wheel hoe and I duplicated the same pistol-grip handle pattern that was a distinctive feature of that tool. Such a shape allows you to grip the handles and comfortably push-pull the tool as you walk down the garden row.

I have seen a newer-model wheel hoe being sold with horse drawn plow-style handles, like shown in this next picture (top handle):

Those plow-style handles are beautifully made but they are best suited for holding while following and steering, not pushing and pulling. The ergonomics are all wrong for a wheel hoe. Form should follow function. Therefore, I do not recommend such handles for the Planet Whizbang. The Planet Whizbang handle shown in the above picture (below the field plow handle) is far better for a wheel hoe.

Some other wheel hoes on the market have handles fabricated from bent metal tubing, and they are outfitted with plastic bicycle-style handle grips. No thanks.

The old Planet Jr. Handles were made of ash, which is a traditional tool-handle wood. Ash is dense, straight-grained, strong, and durable. You can’t go wrong with ash. But I’m going to show you how to make hoe handles using common pine lumber.

Pine is not nearly as dense, strong, and durable as ash, but it is inexpensive, easy to work with, light in weight, and sufficiently strong to do the job.

You have a few different options when it comes to getting hoe handles for your Planet Whizbang. You can just make them yourself, following my simple directions (which start a few paragraphs down from here). You can have a woodworking friend make them for you. Or you can purchase handles from me (Click Here For Details). The hoe handles I sell are made for me by a woodworker in my community. They are ash wood and very nice. But they are also relatively expensive. The choice is yours.

The instructions that follow are for making basic pine handles. A 5ft length of 1x6 clear pine board will do the job (typical 1x6 boards are 5-1/2" wide). “Clear” means no knots. Actually, a few very small knots are acceptable, but the clearer the better. You also want a length of board that is not cupped or warped.

If you are selecting from a pile of boards at a lumberyard, look them over real good to get the best board you can find. Sight down the length to see how straight and true the board is. You can usually find a decent board in the #2 pine stack. That will cost you less than a “premium” board. But if you have to pay a bit more for a really good board, do so.

Lay the board on your work bench and draw the outline for both handles according to the grip pattern and handle specifications found inside the Planet Whizbang Metal Parts Kit. If you are building the hoe form scratch, you can get the same grip patterns in the inexpensive specifications package I tell you about at the Specifications Page.

Cut the grip pattern out with scissors and trace around it as shown in this next picture:

The total length of the handle is 52-1/2”, as this next picture shows. This length is suitable for average-size people. If you are taller or shorter than average, you might want to modify the length of your hoe handles. Click Here for more information on this subject.

With the handle outlines in place, use a jigsaw with a sharp blade (a 10 or 12 teeth-per-inch blade will work nicely) to carefully cut each handle out of the board, as this next picture shows.

You can leave the bottom end of the hoe handles square or round them over a bit. Use a sander to smooth out any unevenness in the saw cut.

After sanding, use a router with a roundover bit to shape all the edges.

Drill two 3/8” holes on the hoe-end of the handles. Bolts through these holes will secure the handle to the body of the hoe. Mark the holes as shown in the following picture. The first hole is 1-1/4” from the end. The other hole is 5-1/2” from the end (4-1/4” apart). The holes are in the center of the handle width.

Note: Here is a good place to point out that the width of the handles is different for pine and hardwood (i.e., ash). The pine handle (shown in these pictures) is 2” wide. The hardwood handle is 1-3/4” wide. The pistol-grip pattern is also slightly different between the two. That’s why there are two different pattern sheets in the hardware parts kit. Here is a pine handle and an ash handle, showing the difference in size and shape (pine is on the right, ash on the left). Please note that there is more finger-grip room on the hardwood handle. Most people find the hardwood pattern more comfortable. There is no reason you can't use the hardwood pattern on a pine board—just as long as you realize the pine is not as strong as hardwood.

Measure 42-1/2” from the bottom end of the handles and mark to drill the hole for the handle spreader dowel. An inexpensive 3/4” spade bit will do a fine job drilling the hole.

Sand and finish the handles. For the pictures in this tutorial I put a stain on the pine handles and then a couple of coats of exterior polyurethane. Such a finish looks good for pictures but it is not necessarily best for an outdoor tool. A couple coats of boiled linseed oil is a more traditional outdoor tool finish.

The fellow who makes the hoe handles I sell told me that a mixture of 1/3 linseed oil, 1/3 turpentine, and 1/3 paraffin wax, melted together, makes a great outdoor finish, but I haven’t tried it yet. Steve Solomon, author of the excellent book, "Gardening When it Counts" coats his wood-handled gardening tools with a yearly application of coconut oil.

Making The Handle Spreader Dowels.
A spreader dowel between the handles serves to space them apart at a convenient distance. This length of dowel must be tenoned on the ends. The dowel is 1” diameter and 14-1/2” long. The tenons are 11/16” diameter and 1-1/4” long. An inexpensive Ramin wood dowel will do the job. If you are making hardwood handles, you can get a hardwood dowel to match.

You can purchase an already-made Planet Whizbang Handle Spreader Dowel (Click Here For Details). Or, if you have a tablesaw, you can make your own spreader dowel as I’m about to show you.

Important: It is my assumption is that you know how to safely use a table saw. If you do not know how to safely use a table saw, do not make this part.

I should also point out that if you are thrifty and resourceful, you don’t even need a dowel. Just find a suitable length and diameter of tree branch (preferably dead and seasoned) and use a knife to carve tenons in the ends as needed. Why not?

This next picture shows the set-up I use to cut the tenon end on spreader dowels

What you’re looking at is an old and well-worn Craftsman table saw. The rip fence (at top of picture) is adjusted and locked into position 1-1/4” away from the saw blade. The saw blade is set to 5/32” high, and the miter gauge (set at 90-degrees) is positioned so the center of the dowel (when held against the fence of the miter gauge) is over the center of the blade. A clamp on the end of the saw table holds the miter gauge from moving. This simple set-up can be used to create a tenon.

The first step in the creation of the tenon is to lower the dowel down onto the blade, keeping the end tight to the rip fence and the body of the dowel tight to the fence of the miter gauge. Then spin the dowel slowly around to cut a saw kerf, which will be the shoulder of the tenon. You can see this being done in the above picture. Here are a couple more views of the same operation:

Now, to remove the unwanted wood and form the rest of the tenon, you are going to do something unconventional but perfectly acceptable. With the saw still running, and the dowel still tight against the miter gauge fence, slowly pull the dowel away from the rip fence. As you do this the set in the teeth of the blade (a carbide-tooth blade is recommended) will carve the wood away and your dowel will then look like this:

Pretty neat, eh? Now, in like manner, continue to feed the dowel back and forth (slowly) across the blade, and give the dowel a slight turn after each pass. Perform this procedure repeatedly around most of the dowel and it will look like this:

In the background of the above picture you can see the clamp that is holding the miter gauge from moving. It is blue and blurry. In this next picture we have completed the turning and shaving to create a very nice tenon.

At 11/16” diameter, this tenon is undersize for the 3/4” hole in the handle. It should fit in the hole loosely and that is what you want. The reason for this is that the handles come off the body of the hoe at an angle. An undersize tenon facilitates assembly. If you did not undersize the dowel and wanted the tenon to fit snug in the hole, you would have to cut it at an angle. That’s not a simple woodworking operation, and it’s not necessary.

There is one more thing you need to do to your formed tenon. Use a sharp knife to chamfer (bevel) the end. This end will stick out the hole in the handle and be visible. The chamfer gives it more eye-appeal. Here’s a picture showing the tenoned end with a knife-carved chamfer:

Make a tenon on each end of the dowel and your spreader dowel is done!

Click Here To Go To The Next Step (Step 5) Of This Tutorial