This is truly the easiest thing to do. You can make the Manliest of axes with great results. I have never had a hobby before this but has turned out amazing. Great for any sad axe in need of a new future or any rusty $2 yard sale find.
Step 1: How to Start the Axe
This part is the easy part. Go find an axe! Grandpas old one, dollar store find anything!
I purposely found the most ragged, almost at death's door axe. Rusty with enough nails in it to hold a house up. Now really if you find a gem that is clean with a good handle you can skip this step. Alas though Mine was in bad shape so the handle had to go.
This meant sawing off the head. Now i have a Dremel, (kinda made this hobby so i could buy one), so I put on the wood cutting bit and sliced off the top. Now remember safety. I have a dust mask and so should you. The particles of wood and metal are not nice and prolonged exposure will put a damper on breathing!!
Step 2: Removing the Wood in the Head
This by far was the worst bit of the whole project. I pulled I bashed I swore... a lot. This has never been this bad before. You need to remove all traces of the head, and if you have no metal in the head you can drill holes in the wood and it will come out with less effort. Mine i couldn't so brute force was all I could do. NEVER try to burn off the wood as that would change the hardness of the axe head and make it essentially useless.
I also employed a screwdriver to chip at the wood. This was slow and tedious work. Find yourself a tool you don't care about for this.
Step 3: Cleaning the Head
Now the dastardly head is free time to clean. I first used good old soap and water and gave it a good clean. Then in a tub with just plain vinegar I left it overnight. You can see the bubbles, that means the rust that is on there is being eaten away.
Now in the morning the axe head had gone dark where the blade is. You can see it in the photos. This is where the metal was hardened so it could take and keep an edge. If you have a lot that is good as it usually indicates an older or well made axe. Modern axes usually have a small bit of hardened metal on the front to save money but it is still good as long as something is there.
We have to wash the head after its overnight bath and it will be dirty. So scrub scrub scrub and dry extremely well, you just got rid of the rust don't want it coming back.
Step 4: Time to Polish Up the Head
Now is where you get to bring the axe back to life. Step one is to get rid of all the burrs and sharp edges not including the cutting edge. With a grinder wheel I made sure all jagged edges were gone. if you don't have a grinding wheel you can use a metal file or even heavy sand paper, it will take longer but it will work. Now with 180 grit sandpaper and my dust-mask I set about polishing. Each side took 1/2 hour and this includes all the tight niggly corners and crevices. Remember to go only in one direction as you will create swirls that will never come out.
Now i don't want all the scars to be taken out, this is history that should be shown. Now when I had it at a stage i liked i upped the sandpaper to 400, meaning super fine. I will have a polish i like. This took even longer (45 min a side) but the end results speak for themselves.
Don't forget the top and underside when sanding grinding and polishing, you want it good at all angles.
Step 5: Planning the Handle
Time for the handle. Go to any hardware store and take your head to. We want to find a handle that is in proportion to the head and one that has a good fit. If it is little tight that it ok as we need a good fit to keep the head in. Don't forget to get a shim; a small wedge of wood that locks the handle in place.
I am planning on engraving the handle. You can too! get a piece of paper and get inspired. Mine has a Fox theme but yours can be anything.. even just plain.
With that done it is time to sand the handle. There is a sticker on mine and you have to get that off including the glue or you will ruin many sheets of sandpaper. Scrape off that thing then use a gunk remover. I use Goof Off as it melts that stuff off. Now most handles have a varnish on it and that has to go too. I used 80 grit sand paper and went at it hard. The varnish goes surprisingly deep so it does take a while. I usually take 45 minutes of scrubbing all over to get that off. Make sure you get every last bit. Then take your trusty 180 grit and go over the axe again. This will smooth over the wood and make it feel silky smooth. That takes 20 minutes at least. one good thing to do is open the slot at the top. The slot is always too small. I used my wood cutting wheel to open it by 2/16 of an inch. Nt mush but it will help immensely.
After all that take a wet rag and clean your handle. You can see spots that still have varnish on them so you can go back and sand again and as a plus you can see the grain of the wood and it gives you an idea of what the final product will look like.
Now get a pencil and start to doodle. Pencil works great and any marks come off great with an eraser. Do what you feel. I like my doodles and hope it works out. Time to get carving.
Step 6: Carving the Handle
This will be short as this is purely subjective. Don't be making massive holes as you need the strength of the wood. Have fun! I used my scrimshaw tool and went to it. I started with a shallow cut and went over several times making it deeper as I went. You can judge how deep you want and mistakes are easy to fix. I wish i had more photos of this but i did get carried away.. Sorry!!
Step 7: Staining Time!
Time to stain your axe. This has to be done somewhere warm as the stain will penetrate better. If you are in a cold location like me wait until you wife is gone and use the dining table.. I used a plank of wood to put the handle on. Use gloves or you will have stained hands for days. I used a red oak stain made by minwax and a small bottle on;y costs $5.
Tip : put the can of stain in a plastic bag to contain any accidental drips.
Tip: Make sure you have all curious animals out of the way!! Dusty was cute yet annoying.
Now paint you stain on. make it wet, you want it to soak in. You want to wait 15 to 30 minutes and with lots of paper towel wipe off all excess. Let this sucker dry for at least 24 hours before you think of painting or putting the handle on.
Step 8: Painting
This will be short. Once again do your thing. It will look great!!!!
Step 9: Adding Leather!!!!!
This is a bonus step. It makes your axe pop!!
I went to a wholesale leather store and found a scrap piece of leather for cheap. When you are ready to put it on, first cut a piece of paper to the size you think will work for you. Wrap it around the axe and see how it looks. You want at least 1/4 inch space on the back side of the axe so you can thread the lace through properly.
When the leather is the size you want punch holes on each edge. i placed mine 2cm apart. Before i had a hole punch i used a drill and made a hole in the table. It can be done, i do not recommend it.... Lace it up and dry fit the leather to make sure you can fit it over the end of the axe as you are now going to soak the leather.
Leather becomes very flexible and it will hug the handle, and when it drys it will keep the shape. When i did fit on the leather I smeared gorilla glue on the underside AFTER i slid it on, (that is what i am doing with the Q-tip). If you put glue on first it can and will go everywhere. I wish i had pictures of me doing it but it is kinda tricky.
Now hold up the handle and tighten the laces Go slow so the leather doesn't slip. Cinch that thing down tight and tie a knot at the end. The gorilla glue expands and really holds it tight.
Step 10: Final Step, the Head
Yayy its here!!
Try fitting the head on. If it is too tight don't force it. pull the head off and sand in the places where it is rubbing the wood. Don't overdo it and go slow it can take a while. When it is ready, take a piece of wood and whack on the head!!! Smack that thing down!! You want it at least flush with top of the handle. I prefer a little over the top as when you put the shim in and pound it in it will spread the wood out and lock in the head.
So you have the handle in just right. I put some gorilla glue in the split and got the shim in. Then with the handle on the ground i pounded the sucker in!! It wont go all the way, you will feel when it is in right. cut off the excess and sand til smooth.
To protect the axe i make a beeswax and olive oil rub. You can find recipes for this on the net, but if you want a real easy way to protect get a stick of burts bees lip salve. Same thing and rub it in everywhere!! Rub rub rub. You cannot put too much on and it will protect and make the wood look magic!!!
Your done!!! Now go out and show off your masterpiece