Axe Handle Replacement

Joined
Jul 25, 2012
Messages
838
For those folks who might have need of an axe handle replacement, I'll show you how I do it. I'm really hesitant to do this as it may seem I'm putting myself up as some kind of expert which I'm surely not. But, on the other hand, there are probably some grand axe heads out there which could make their owners a dandy axe if they only had a well fitting handle. And it's so much better than using them as a door stop.

The text for a given photo will be found below the picture.



These are the tools I use, probably you have most if not all of them. Left to right; a little carving draw knife, bastard file, paint scraper, glue scraper, 4-way file. Both files have an flat side and a slightly rounded side.



This is my Ox-Head axe and I'm going to replace the curved handle with the straight one you see here. I'll save the old handle and maybe it can be of use on some later project.



I try to remember to cover the sharp with several layers of masking tape before I get started, it's so easy to be working along and forget where you ought not put your fingers.



Drilling out the remains of the handle, more about this later. Just put a mental book mark here because we've got to return to this.



Punching out the waste wood; now this may look primitive but it actually works well, the long bolt will reach all the way through and the end of it is cupped just a little so it grips the wood you're pushing out.



And when it gets stuck as most any punch will, clamp the end in the vise and screw it out from the axe head!



Now once the axe head is free of all debris of the old handle I take this lumber marker and scribble the inside of the eye so as to mark the high points on the new axe handle. I'm guessing here but this marker seems to be made of carbon and graphite and maybe clay. There are other markers that have colors and are made with wax, I don't like the idea of any wax inside the head to act to slick things up. If you can't find this kind of marker a #1 pencil will work as well. Just not as well.



This is the setup I'll use tapping the new handle down into the axe head to check for fit. I was lucky, the new handle fit into the start of the eye without any trimming, if it hadn't I'd have reduced the handle end until it would start.



I borrowed the tuning hammer from my watch repair kit to drive the handle down into the axe head.



When you're working the head off the handle, use a soft headed mallet or maybe a drift from a block of wood. Try not to rock the head fore and aft but straight down off the handle. If you look closely you can see just a little bit of marking on the handle that will need to be taken down.



Now you can see the black marks that will need to be scraped and then filed to remove stock until the handle fits all the way into the axe head bearing equally all around. The filing leaves a nice smooth surface to be marked anew on the next test fitting.

If you look close at the interior of the eye you can see two shinny places where the drill bit cut into the axe head. Since I'm not a politician I've got to tell you that this is a serious mistake. And I did it. I lost track of the far end of my drill bit. I've looked and looked at this and I think it will be O.K. it's not deep but it is something really to be avoided. It really doesn't matter that I've never done this before: one time is two too many.
Old Ben said "Experience keeps a dear school but fools will learn at no other."
Alright, let's see what this fool has learned:
First I'll pick a central part of the stock to do my drilling. No more near the edge. Then I'll drill only half way through the wood, stop, and drill from the other side. Once I've got a hole all the way through I'll put down the power drill and use hand tools. I'll look for a long shank screwdriver to make into a chisel that will work to worry out smaller sections of wood. I'll take the time to go carefully.



Here is the paint scraper starting to remove some high places. After the scraper is used I'll smooth out the surface with a file and test fit the handle again. I can get about three fittings and then I need to put more lumber marker blacking inside the axe head. This whole cycle isn't exciting but absolutely necessary for a handle that will stay tight on the head. I keep going until the head is where I want it on the handle and on the last fitting the whole handle shows black indicating that there is good contact all around the head. Once that happens I'll file off all the black marks on the wood and scrub out the inside of the axe head with Lava soap to get it clean too. I'm not going to show all 30-50 fittings necessary to get this fit; take it on faith.



Now the head is fitted to the new handle, you could drive the wedge home and stop there. But I think the extra the manufacturer leaves on the shoulder of the handle looks ugly and isn't all that great to hold either. The area I'm talking about is marked with the zig-zag pencil mark.



Fairly large stock removal using the draw knife, you've got to watch the grain, you don't want to pull up a large splinter of wood. What I aim for is a series of "waves" in the surface where I've removed a chip of wood. Then work the surface down to where you want it using the files.



Once the handle is fitted down for the last time, the slot for the wedge will be squeezed down so tight you haven't a prayer of a chance to fit it in, the answer for this is to relieve the opening with a knife before it gets compressed so tight.



The wedge is started and that is my little anvil that I'll place the head on when it's being driven home. It's interesting the process of driving the wedge home: as the wedge is moving into place the hammer blows feel kind of like "thud" but then when it's as tight as ever it can be and nothing more can be done, the hammer blows rebound all most like bouncing back up.




This is what the axe looks like now that it's done. I elected to leave the steel wedge out this time; so far it is still tight.

Best Wishes,

Rob
 
Joined
Jul 25, 2012
Messages
838
Thanks guys for the kind words. I really do appreciate it.

Mike, you'd be welcome axe or no, but it's a terribly far piece to go.

Best Wishes, Rob
 
G

Guest

Guest
The crayon tip is very handy and effective.
I agree that reducing the beefy looking shoulder (?) below the axe head improves the final appearance. Did you make your own wooden wedge?
Last week while rummaging around a pile of old tools in a flea market, I saw a rather forlorn looking rusty axe in the corner.
I thought “I know a fellow who could bring that back to life.”
Thanks for posting this OM.
 
Joined
Jul 31, 2011
Messages
596
Location
Aberdeen, MD
Well done sir! thanks for the tutorial. My only two additions are:

Some folks put a little boiled linseed oil on the wedge before they put it in (makes it kinda sticky, so it won't work out, without being permanent like glue, which you don't want either).

In a plug for 'the little guy', if you need a handle for an axe, order one from Chris as House Handles... great folks, great service, great prices... they will 'hand select' one for you as well for a couple bucks more... well worth it to have a properly grained handle that won't break next time you use it. And you can get them with or without varnish.
 
Joined
Jun 10, 2013
Messages
85
Location
Clearwater, FL
Rob, is this a new axe head? It looks brand new. If it is not how do you refinish it to make it look new. None of mine look this good. Thanks, Cronje
 
Joined
Jul 25, 2012
Messages
838
Hi All, My last five handles have been from the House Handle people. I'm content with the quality, understanding that the available wood they have to make handles from isn't what it was in my youth. Those were other days and better times. The delivery has been outstanding and they come with the wedge. You might want to ask for no finish on any handle you order; it's curiously gummy stuff to sand off. Any new handles I need will come from them as well.

Cronje, Some years ago I stumbled on an article somewhere where the guy was talking about finishing metal surfaces and how he used the various grades of emery paper to work the surface. I had never thought of it before but it was just as you do on wood, start with coarse and work to fine paper. As the young people say now.."Well Duh..." anyways, I'd never considered it, but tried it out and it works slick! Don't hold back using a really coarse grit at the beginning; if you follow it up with stepped grades of paper the deep scratches are smoothed out with the next paper in line. When I do it, the tendency is to round over any edge, which is fine with me on something like an axe, but frowned on if it was a gun.
After I get done with a job or come back from camping, I clean off any sap or tree juice from the blade of my axe. I don't know what all is in it but I don't want to leave it to work on the steel. That "Goof Off " removes all the sticky stuff and then I give the surface a little polish with some very fine grit paper. Then I "butter" the blade with Huberd's shoe grease, the same stuff that's on the leather sheath. Back into the sheath it goes and I'm done.

Just a work of caution: I use some kind of wood block to hold the emory paper when ever I'm around the sharp part of the axe. It sounds silly but I can get to working along like a beaver, happy as can be, and the next thing you know I've got blood all over the place.

Brad, Did you get the old axe? Just on the off chance you need any help getting into trouble; check out the traditionalwoodworker.com site. I really like those people and the service is great.

Best Wishes,

Rob
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2013
Messages
3,460
Epic thread! I will be printing this out and using it when I try my next replacement. I've never seen that crayon thing though, I'll have to see if the hardware store carries them.
 
Joined
Jul 25, 2012
Messages
838
There is, alas, a necessary post script to add to the success of this project and also the two other axes that I put new handles on. (the other two also on DIY)

This last winter I was chopping up some bits of wood and in the process the axe head (Husqvarna carpenter's axe) went snugly into the sturdy chopping block. We've all had that happen. With one hand pulling up to free the axe; I felt the slightest "TICK" on the end of the handle. Then nothing more. Hmmm..........very well, now pressing down, again the "TICK" . Couldn't see any movement in respect to handle and head but the tick was always there. I got my little Muller axe and tried it and sure enough here's that darn Tick again. The way I read it is that the axe handle is at the very first stage of coming loose.

How could that have happened? I know that now-a-day's it's great sport to blame somebody when ever something happens. That's not what I'm doing here. I believe that the axe handle dried some more, shrunk and became loose. The good folks that I get my handles from must take the wood as it comes from the tree and even if they could dry it for several years how can they know what the humidity is where the handle is going? It's nobody's fault (not even mine!) but I do need to put you in the picture so you know.

A little history: when I got my Wetterlings Forester's Axe, I was much taken with the way they allow the wood of the handle to extend above the axe head. Maybe as a foolish old man, I was unduly influenced by the cute little Wetterlings girl who does a lot of the companies show and tell demonstrations. It doesn't matter; what is important is that with the wood above the axe head it makes it difficult to pound in any subsequent metal wedges (as I needed to do with these three axes). So I took my hack saw and sawed off the extending bit of wood on all three axes down flush to the head and pounded it several metal wedges. Problem solved: no more "Tick".

There is one more "moral to the story" : If events allow you to plan ahead a little bit and you rat hole axe handles against a time you might need them, this is a dandy time to really dry them. We have electric base-board heat and I place axe handles on top of the heaters and I think that they really ought to get dried out well. So my suggestion is that you find some warm place to place your extra handles and do the same.

Best Wishes, Rob
 
Top