Introduction: How to Re-handle an Axe...
...or a sledgehammer, or a hatchet, or in my case a splitting maul. The same procedure applies regardless of the tool. The handles may be different lengths or shapes, but the process is the same.
Step 1: Gather Tools and Supplies
- replacement handle - Some are round, some oblong, some teardrop shape. Get the correct shape and length desired for your tool
- wedge kit - most handles come with a wood and steel wedge, but if not, buy these separate.
Tools needed: ***these are the bare minimum required. You'll see that I used power tools to speed up the process
- large punch
- rubber mallet
- A saw that is suitable to cut wood and possibly steel. A hacksaw would be the cheapest most logical choice.
I borrowed and modified the axe anatomy image from Google images to illustrate some of the terms I'll be using.
Step 2: Remove the Broken Handle
If you just have a bare tool head that you dug out of your grand-pappy's barn you can skip this step. If your tool head has a broken or loose handle that you will be replacing, it's time to start cutting.
These handles are friction fit and held in place with a wedge. Typically the handle that sticks out of the top of the tool will be "wedged" so it'll be wider than the bottom. To remove the handle, you'll need to use a saw to cut the bulk of the handle off as close to the tool head as possible.
Once the bulk of the handle has been removed, support the tool head and use a hammer and punch to drive the remaining wood from the bottom out the top of the tool head. Now is a good time to mark the orientation of the tool head. You just need to remember what is the top and what is the bottom.
Step 3: Clean the Tool Head
This thing was pretty rusty. It also had places on the butt end that had deformed over the sides and had some sharp edges. I used a combination of a metal cutting saw, angle grinder, and sanding discs to remove rust and smooth things out. I also touched up the blade a little bit.
See pics below. After cleaning the rust off, I see that this is a Hubbard 6# sledge/maul.
If you were going to paint the tool head, this would be the time to do it. I would have, but my garage is holding a constant 38* F. Little too cold to be painting right now.
Step 4: Fitting the Handle
As mentioned earlier, these handles are a friction fit and held on with a wedge. So the more wood that contacts the walls of the eye in the tool head, the better fit and longer it will last. That being said, most of the eyes in the tools aren't perfectly shaped, nor are the replacement handles a perfect fit right off the store shelf. The handles are a 'universal fit' so they require a little work to get them to fit properly.
Before you start, you need to remember which is the top and bottom of the tool head. You'll also want to mark the handle so during the shaping process, you always orient the handle in the same direction. I left the labels on the handle so I knew which side was which.
Remember, these are 'universal fit'. This handle was actually too large to fit into the tool head. Time to start removing some material. You'll want to go slow with this, because you can't add the material back to the handle. Shaping the handle can be done by hand with some course grit sandpaper. This can be a tedious, hand-cramping job. I chose to use an angle grinder with a sanding disc on it. ***REMEMBER - GO SLOW*** I removed just enough material to get the handle started in the eye. (Pic 2 & 3) You can see the marks left on the handle indicating where the tool head is contacting the handle. Consider these 'high spots'. The goal is to remove the high spots so that the tool head is touching the all the way around the handle so there are no gaps. Gaps will result in loose tool heads.
Continue test fitting the head and removing material as needed so the head slides onto the handle up to the shoulder. Other styles of axes/hammers will fit closer to the shoulder than others. Holding the handle above the tool head, hit downward on the head with a rubber mallet to get the handle back out. Remember, these things are heavy (and possibly sharp!!). Don't let them drop on your feet.
When in place, you'll likely have over 1" of handle sticking out of the top of the head. There should also be NO gaps between the handle and the bottom of the eye. On the top of the head, you will have large gaps. These gaps will close up when the handle is wedged. That happens next...
Step 5: Wedging the Handle
Time to wedge. The wedge that came with my handle is slightly wider that the width of the eye. I used a wood chisel to split off the extra width. You want to keep the wedge as wide as possible and still be able to fit into the eye.
The next step is to cut off some of the excess handle sticking out the top. This is to ensure that the wedge can be driven far enough into the eye to spread the handle to fill the gaps. You can see how much I cut off, but I should have cut off more (see following pics). Thinking about it now, I should have held the wedge next to the head at the depth I wanted the wedge to go into the eye. I could have marked/cut the handle 1/4" shorter than the length of the wedge. This would have ensured that the wedge went in far enough before it couldn't be driven any farther.
After you cut the excess handle down a little, you'll notice that the wedge slot is squeezed shut. I used a hacksaw and made a shallow cut in the same place as the slot, just so I could get the wedge started.
I like to use wood glue on the wedge to ensure it won't back out. That is basically the purpose of the steel wedge, but a little extra glue can't hurt. If you don't have a steel wedge, I highly recommend using glue.
Drive the wedge in. You can see in pic 5 that I drove the wedge in until it was flush with the top of the handle. I think that had the handle been shorter, I could have driven the wedge in further. I tried to fix this by cutting away the handle on both sides of the wedge so I could drive the wedge deeper (pic 6). Either the glue had already set up, or the wedge was bottomed out in the slot in the handle because the wedge just split to pieces (pic 7).
Step 6: Finishing Up
Time to finish up. I leave ~1/8" - 3/16" of handle sticking out the top. I've seen where other people leave a little more, others cut them flush. Do what feels right to you, just don't leave too much sticking out the top as it may get banged up/split out causing the handle to come loose.
If you have a metal wedge, it needs to be installed perpendicular to the wooden wedge. This serves two purposes. It keeps the wood wedge from backing out, and it helps wedge the handle the opposite direction as the wood wedge to fill the gaps. On this particular handle, I can install it straight across. On some tools, you may need to install it at an angle. I've seen some tools that utilize two metal wedges to help spread the handle to fit some of the oblong or teardrop shaped tools eyes.
This step is as easy as centering the wedge and driving it in. Notice the gap on the butt end of the eye before and after the metal wedge is installed (pic 4 & 5). Once the wedge is in, round off the sharp edge where you cut the handle with some sandpaper and go start choppin'.