Custom Tap handles

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After so many years, I eventually became bored with the standard black tap handles, so I undertook a new project to carve a few tap handles of my own. I have the luxury of having a DIY woodworking shop in town and was able to use a wood lathe. I ended up having a lot of fun doing this, and wanted to share it with you.

I began with four blocks of oak. The lathe work was actually pretty easy if you have someone around to show you the basics (I was lucky in that regard). The main part of the tap handles were carved down on the lathe. I thought about doing a set of four identical handles, but apparently this takes some degree of skill and I found it both easier and more fun to make four different ones. Design is entirely up to you, but getting a rough idea of what you are going for is helpful with each handle. By the end of each one my design had changed, mostly to cover up screw ups during the learning process.

tap2Once the main part of the handles were carved, I drilled holes in either end. This is the tricky part as the drill has to be lined up pretty close to perfect to get the hole in the center and headed straight down the middle of the handle, otherwise it will look crooked when screwed onto the faucet. A large, floor mounted drill in the woodworking shop comes in handy here rather than trying it by free hand with a normal drill. The top hole will need to fit a 3/8 or 1/2 inch dowel. The bottom hole will fit the threaded insert to screw the handle on the faucets. Some testing here to make sure all pieces fit will save time later.

Next, cut the dowel pieces. I chose to leave about 1-1.5 inches showing and about another 1.5 inches more on each end to fit inside the tap handle and the top piece for extra strength. So total length about 4-4.5 inches. The dowel can be sanded down a bit to fine tune the fit.

Next, create the top pieces for the handles that will hold the labels. I had some spare oak lying around. I initially had the idea for circular tops (hockey puck-like) with hollowed-out centers to house labels with plexiglass in front…..huge headache! I ended up braking half the tops, and found that in the end that concept was not at all worth the effort.

The second concept was much easier. I cut out some rectangles of oak (approximately 3×4 inches and about an inch thick). These measurements may vary based on the spacing of your taps. The edges were smoothed with sanding and holes were drilled in the base of each to allow the other end of the dowel to insert.

By now all three pieces of each handle (base, dowel, and top) are cut and ready. All pieces are then well sanded, primed and stained. I chose to stain them all separately then assemble, but you could do it either way. Once dry, polyurethane is added and allowed to dry, multiple coats if you desire extra gloss.

tap4Prior to putting all the pieces together, I marked off a square area in the middle of the face of the tops with painting tape, leaving about a half inch border around the face of the tops covered by tape. To the center bare area I applied the magnetic primer, a total of at least three coats is needed with this stuff to ensure adequate magnetism for the labels. The polyurethane can be added before or after this step.

The bottom hole of the tap handles is then filled with a threaded insert (Home Depot or some homebrew supply stores have them). Let it all set, then screw the handle bases onto the faucets. I recommend waiting until now to attach the tops and dowel pieces so you can adjust the pieces so they face forward when the tap handle bases are completely screwed on, otherwise they may be crooked.

tap5Labels are subsequently glued to a flexible magnet sheet (craft store) and cut out. They should stick pretty well to the magnetic primer portion of the tops and are easily interchangeable. When not in use, labels can be simply stuck on the kegerator side.

In the end, I probably spent about as much money as I would have just going out and buying some decent handles, but this was a good deal of fun. If you can find the DIY woodshop or have a friend who is in to woodworking I definitely recommend exploring this as an option.