Carving A Replacement Axe Handle
Why carve an axe handle when you can easily pick up a cheap and decent axe handle from your local oversized hardware store? Well, carving your own is a very simple and satisfying woodworking project that can be done with just a few basic tools.
I had an old 1 1/4 pound German axe head that was extremely rusty and pitted. Restoring the axe head itself was also a rewarding project, but we’ll cover that process a bit further down the track.
Choosing the right piece of wood for an axe handle
Finding the right piece of wood is your first and often the biggest challenge. You want to use hardwood with a long straight grain, free of twists and knots. Originally I had planned to use a piece of cherry wood, but the piece I had turned out to be too knotted to give me a usable length. Luckily I found a small piece of ash wood which was usable but in pretty bad shape. Due to the width of the wood I had, I was very restricted in the curve of my handle and had to keep it fairly straight.
If you're starting with a log, Wood Gears has a great simple guide covering splitting logs for woodworking.
Assuming you have a piece of suitable timber that is approximately the right size, you can then get started on the fun part of carving your axe handle.
Shaping your axe handle
You will need to hew down your timber to about 4cm thick and 10cm wide and smooth down the face. Next, draw your rough handle shape. A good way to do this is by tracing another axe with a nicely shaped handle. You can then cut away the bulk of the wood, giving plenty of space around your outline as you can always cut wood away but you can’t add any once it’s been taken away.
Determined to complete the whole project by hand, I used a coping saw, though a jig saw would speed things up considerably. Leave the top of the handle as a large rectangle so that it can be carefully shaped later when it comes to fitting the axe head. You will then have the crude shape of your axe handle to begin shaping. A spokeshave and a rasp work well for getting the shape of the handle, particularly with the fawns foot at the bottom of the handle. After shaping you can sand the handle down until the handle is perfect and smooth.
Fitting the axe head
Now it’s time to work on the rectangle remaining at the top of the handle. The easiest way to get started is to trace the eye of your axe head on to a small piece of paper. This can then be glued to the top of your handle so that you know the shape that needs to fit the eye of the axe head.
Cut the bulk away but stay clear of your outline, as again you can’t replace any wood once you have taken it away. Using a sharp chisel, slowly carve away the top of the handle to match the eye of the axe head. It is always best to start at the top, stop and try the axe head and note the marks left where it's too tight. You can then focus on these areas and work your way down. When you are finished it should be a very snug fit.
Using a saw, you can very carefully make a cut in the top of your handle about half the depth of the eye of the axe head. Fit your axe head on and drive a thin wedge into the cut to lock the axe head in place. Trim away any remaining wood that is sticking out the top and finish your handle with some linseed oil.
Alternatively, you could just pick up one of our Helko Werk Axes if you want to skip all the hard work and go straight to having a perfect axe.
Gear needed for the project:
- A tool in need of a new handle
- A piece of wood in need of a tool
- Spoke shave, rasp or something for shaping
- Jig saw or coping saw
- Sharp chisel
- Sand paper
- Linseed oil
- Safety equipment i.e. a waxed canvas workshop apron