Introduction: Stacked Leather Handle From Box of Scraps

This old Estwing camp hatchet was ruined. The person who had it before me removed the rotten leather and sanded off the rust, making this project much easier for me. Apologies for not getting a before-picture of the bare steel handle. Under the leather pieces, the tang is sort of dog-bone-shaped, in cross section; it's like an "I" beam, but with two oval "ribs" at the ends of the flat middle section (web).

Step 1: Make the Leather Washers

To build up the handle, you'll be cutting out all these tiny round leather washers--just kidding. All you need to do is cut out a bunch of little squares (or rectangles) approximately an inch and a half in the long direction. I just hacked up the scraps I had with a utility knife, without paying much attention to measurements or squareness.

To fit the leather squares onto the handle, you'll need to punch a couple of holes and connect them. I happened to have an oval shaped leather punch about the right size, but I think a round punch (about 1/4-inch diameter) would work as well. Punch each pair of holes the correct distance apart, and use the utility knife to cut a thin (3-mm or 1/8-inch) slice, connecting the two holes. These don't need to be perfect, leather is very forgiving, but try the first couple on the handle to make sure they fit before you make a hundred of them. This handle used about 75 leather squares, mostly around 3 to 4-mm thick.

Slide each of the punched leather squares down the shaft of the handle, and brush white glue between the slices as you stack them. I put them all one direction, with the grain-side facing up, but I doubt that it matters. Press them down firmly as you build up the handle. Near the butt-end, you will need to thin the inside edge of several pieces of leather to adjust for the slight turn in the handle. I did this on the last few slices, but it would have looked better to insert these a little further up the handle. Clamp the stack of leather pieces as best you can, and leave them overnight. I didn't get this very tight at all, but the glue does most of the work.

At the end of the handle, the "web" between the two round ribs needs to be filed down enough so that about 1/8-inch of the rib extends past the web. The two ribs should fit through the holes in the butt-plate, and extend a tiny bit beyond. I only had to file a tiny bit to get the butt-plate to fit, and I also used a file to dress the holes in the butt-plate a bit so the plate would fit loosely onto the ribs.

To attach the butt-plate, just put the head of the hatchet on a block of wood and peen the ends of the ribs by hitting them repeatedly with a ball peen hammer. Eventually, the plate will lock into place, and a bit of sanding will remove any burrs.

Step 2: Rough Out the Shape of the Handle

Here I just used the utility knife to carve the rough dimensions of the handle. The stacked and glued leather is actually very easy to shape with a sharp utility knife. I almost prefer the feel of the carved surface.

Step 3: Sand to Desired Shape

I did not take pictures of the actual sanding process, but here's an intermediate view as it's coming to shape. Sanding leather is messy, but not difficult. Do take care not to get the leather too hot, or it will discolor.

I kept more meat on the handle than the original. I think this makes it easier to grip.

To finish the handle, I gave it a light coat of urethane.

Here's a bonus way to use up leather scraps. This simple three-part sheath is about as easy to make as it looks. Just two outside pieces, sandwiched around a narrow strip at the outer edge to protect the blade. I stitched it before punching the rivet holes, but the stitches aren't really doing much. This sheath fits pretty snug, and doesn't really need a strap, but I added one anyway.

Scraps Speed Challenge

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Scraps Speed Challenge