Making a Replacement Axe or Hatchet Handle




Introduction: Making a Replacement Axe or Hatchet Handle

While visiting my Grandparents in the Prairies of Canada, I came across one of my Grandpa's old hewing hatchet heads.  Of course he had it in the scrap metal pile to get sold for 5 cents, but I picked it up and told him I was going to use it.  He said I was lucky I was his Grandson, or he would of wanted that 5 cents it was worth in scrap. 

This Instructable is for the "Cabot Woodcare Contest" and I'll go over the steps that I did in order to turn this piece of scrap metal (hewing hatchet head) into a beautiful usable tool.

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Step 1: Suggested Tools and Items on Hand

A hewing hatchet is what they used to use in order to make beams out of logs.  Basically they make notches along the length of a log and then shave them off on all four sides.  The following is a list of tools that I used in order to make my handle. It is by no means complete or conclusive and you can use what you have on hand, but these are a few things that can make things easier.  I unfortunately did not take pictures of my tools so I quickly scoured over Google images and found images of tools much like the ones I used.

A Tool in Need of a Handle - This Instructable could really be tailored to replace the handle of any tool you have
Wood for the Handle - I used Maple for mine and I would suggest that anyone venturing to do this uses a good hardwood or they could see their hard work break a lot sooner than expected.  I believe Ash is the most popular wood that people use
Wooden Wedge or Wedge Kit - Purchaced mine from Princess Auto but any reputable hardware/tool store should have these.  They are made from a softer wood so they compress while being driven in
Jig Saw - Make sure you have a few extra blades on hand as well.  I wore out 2 blades while cutting out my handle shape
Belt Sander - This was the biggest time saver.  I had a used 80 grit belt on it which really did the trick.  Because the belt was used, it wasn't as aggressive
Carbide Burr - This was the second biggest time saver.  Luckily I had a brand new carbide burr as well as access to a pneumatic die grinder.  You could also use a Dremel tool with a smaller carbide burr but I would suggesting not doing long griding sessions or you could burn out your tool
Square - I used a sliding t-square because that's what I had on hand.  You will be using this to get center lines as well as guaging handle thickness
Pencil - For tracing and making lines
80 Grit Emery Cloth - This will help smooth out and remove all the marks left from the belt sander and die grinder
Hand Saw - For cutting the top of the handle so it will go into the "eye" of the head as well as cutting the center split where the wedge will be driven into
Stain/Sealer/Oil/Finish - I had some very light colored oil finish which will help protect and seal the wood
Safety Gear - Safety glasses, hear protection, appropriate clothing, etc

Angle grider with flapper disc - To sharpen axe
Wood Burning Kit - To burn design into handle
Computer with Imaging software - To make the design to burn in

Step 2: First Step - Cutting Out the Handle

I was lucky enough to have a friend who worked at a cabinet shop and had an extra piece of 2 x 8 Maple hanging around (how nice right).  Not knowing what a good shape for a handle was, I traced the shape of another hatchet handle onto the wood and proceeded with cutting it out with a jig saw.  I dulled 2 blades while cutting out the handle.  I've never worked with hardwood before, but I was really surprised on just how hard and tough it really was.  I made sure to cut just outside the lines as it's always easier to remove more wood opposed to trying to add some on. I also noticed that if you tried to make the jig saw cut faster the blade would not stay perpendicular to the surface and you would end up with a crooked cut. 

Step 3: Second Step - Marking for Thickness

After cutting out the handle, I measured the thickness of an axe from the butt all the way to the top.  The handle naturally narrowed in the middle of the axe as you need a fatter end to hold onto as well as a fatter end where it inserts into the head of the hatchet. I then transferred these measurements over to the handle at the correct ratio I was making it at  (IE The bottom quarter was one width, so I made my bottom quater that width as well and so on up the axe.)  These lines will be used to help shape the axe into the appropriate shape while using the belt sander and die grinder.  My measurements were as follows

top - 1"
top middle - 3/4"
bottom middle - 1"
butt end - 1 1/4"

Step 4: Third Step - Rounding Handle

Rounding and tapering the handle can be quite tricky I found.  I started off by using the die grinder with a carbide burr.   I started with grinding away the parts that I marked off in the last step to get the correct thickness/taper to the handle. The die grinder saved a lot of time during this step as it quickly removes wood.  One trick that I learnt was to concentrate on just pulling the die grinder towards yourself and not worrying about how much it is digging in.  If you try to make it dig in more and make a larger cut, you will find the handle won't be as smooth as you hoped and you will end up doing more work on the belt grinder.

After doing the thickness portion, I was able to start rounding the edges of the wood with a belt grinder mounted upside down in a vice.  This is the easiest way especially if you have a trigger lock..  The handle really started coming together now that it was looking like a real handle.  The trick here is equally rounding the handle on both sides which was easier to do if you did long sections and not just little sections at a time.  I would remove little by little and constantly slide my hand up and down the handle in order to see how it felt in my hand.  The hand is amazingly sensitive to defects in the contour of the wood and you can quickly feel where you may need to remove more wood.   

Step 5: Fourth Step - Fitting the Handle Into the Head

After roughly shaping the handle, it was time to start shaping the top of the handle to fit into the eye of the hatchet.  I started by tracing though the eye onto a piece of thick paper.  I then cut it out and put it into the eye to see how it would fit and adjusted it from there  This gave the rough size of the eye for cutting out the handle.  You can really see here how a hewing hatchet is shaped.  One side is flat to help slide along the side of the log while the other side helps remove material to square up the log.  You only sharpen one side of the blade and just touch up the other side to remove the burr created during sharpening.  I did not go as far as polishing the cutting edge as I know I would not be using this hatchet for fine work such as shaving and fitting two logs together for a log house.

The top of the handle should be square to how you want the head mounted.  This was tricky for me as the head had to be slightly off set to the handle because hewing hatchet are made for left or right handed users so it would no interfere when you are trying to square a log.  After tracing it on to the the top of the handle, I cut slightly outside the line once again as it is easier to remove wood than to try and make up for it during the fitting of the handle into the eye. Straightness is very import here and I had a friend watching me as I cut down the outline I drew on the hatchet.  You want the top of the handle to be as snug as you can make it while being inserted all way and beyond the top of the hatchet head.  This excess part that sticks trought will be ground off after mounting the hatchet head..  After cutting it out, I once again went to the belt sander as it removed wood slowly to help make it fit perfectly into the head.  You essentially fit the head onto the top of the handle and then keep on moving down the handle to allow the head to slide on more.  You can see the dark brown marks on the top of my handle from sliding the head on and off which showed me where the handle was rubbing inside the head.  This step took just as long as shaping the handle because I was concerned about making it fit snug so the hatchet head wood never accidentally fly off. 

Step 6: Fifth Step - Final Sanding

Sand paper or emery cloth is now your friend as you need to smooth out all the shaping marks that have been created by the power tools.  There are many different ways to sand out the marks but what I found was if you go across the marks, it makes things go a bit faster (IE if the grinding marks or scratches are up and down, you will want to sand left and right).  I started with some 80 grit emery cloth which I continued to use and so it continued to dull and lose it's aggressiveness to the point where is was taking the smoothness down to where I wanted it.  If you want to use multiple grits of sandpaper, you will essentially start with the coarsest grit to remove the marks left from the sander and then move on to progressively finer grits to remove the scratches left from the previous grit of sand paper and so on.  Once you have the handle to the smoothness you want, you will want to do a final sanding in the same direction as the grain of the wood.  This will help make everything look good especially after you put your stain or finish on the handle which can really bring out any imperfections in the finish.

Step 7: Sixth Step - Making the Cut for the Wedge

Once again, alignment is very important here.  You will want to draw lines along your centers of the top of the handle to make sure your saw is not going off track.  I once agian had a friend help by watching me and making sure I was cutting straight.  This is the part that will essentially flare out once a wedge is driven into the cut to help hold the head on.  If you did step five correctly, this part of the hatchet should extend through the eye of the hatchet by around 3/8 of an inch.  This can later be left on or ground off in the final step.  This cut should be around half way through this part. For example, if your hatchet is 3 inches from one end of the eye to the other, you would want to make a cut 1 1/2 inches long plus the 3/8 that you had sticking out the top. So a total cut length of 1 7/8 would be required.  If your cut is too long, you can risk breaking the part you just cut through when driving in your final wedge due to it flexing to much.  If the cut is to short, there will not be enough flair on the end to safely hold on the hatchet head.

I'm not 100% sure where I got the part, but I'm sure I read somewhere that you can essentially "step" your cut so that your wedge will fit to the bottom of your cut and hold the head on solidly.  I divided the total cut in to 3 sections.  With the first cut I made, I went the full length.  With the second cut, I only went down 2/3 and with the last cut, I only went down a third.  So basically, the bottom third is only one saw blade wide, the middle third is two saw blades wide and the top third is three saw blades wide.  This should give you a nice tight fit for the hatchet head and you should now have a handle that is ready for finishing and mounting.

Step 8: Seventh Step (Optional) - Personalizing With Wood Burning

I really wanted to surprise people when I told them I made this handle.  The wood burning was the little bit of extra pizazz I thought it needed.  I was able to get my hands on a professional style pyrography (wood burning) power station and pens.  If you don't have access to this tool, you could possibly do it with a propane torch and coat hanger filed down.  I decided to just go for a "M" on the sides of the butt of the handle to represent my last name.  I measured the space I had on the handle and then scaled the picture in Photoshop.  After printing it out and cutting it out, I attached the image with scotch tape and made sure the images on both sides looked equal and the same.  I then proceeded with the burning of the outline and then removed the paper image I taped on.  You can see the unevenness of the burning so I went over it again free hand  which greatly improved the quality.  After that, the handle was ready for finishing and mounting the head.

Step 9: Eight Step - Finishing Coat

I had an old can of a very lightly stained oil finish for the handle.  It said "apply with a cloth guaranteed"  so how could I go wrong with that.  I did 4 coats from end to end with this finish to help seal the wood.  You need to finish the wood so that it can withstand some of the elements it will be in during use.  This oil finish helps to protect against dirt, water and the sun.  Another popular finish I found lots of people talking about was linseed oil.  This also absorbs into the wood and helps protect against dirt and water.  An additional side effect of linseed oil is that it really absorbs into the wood and helps expand it slightly which can help hold the head on after mounting it.  After applying the 4 coats of this oil finish, I was confident with the finish on the hatchet that it could be trusted to protect the wood from the elements.  I was now ready for mounting the head and finishing the hatchet.

Step 10: Ninth and Final Step - Mounting the Head

It was now time for the final step, mounting the head.  I purchased a wedge kit from a local store in town at a cost of less than $5.  It came with a wooden wedge and 2 steel wedges.  On the back they had instructions on how to get rid of the old handle that may be broken off in your axe and how to mount the new handle.  I followed the instructions and drove the handle as far through as I could into the head.  I then drove the wedge into the slot I cut earlier in step seven.  After the wedge wouldn't drive anymore, I ground it off to be flat with the top of the handle.  I prefeered the look of the handle sticking out of the top, so that's the way I left it.  I ended up not driving the steel wedges into the head becuase I was scared the wood may split due to the size of the eye and I was also not worried about leaving it like that because this hatchet will not see heavy duty use.  The hatchet is finally done and I am surprised on how solid it feels.  It made very quick work of a 2x4 I had and I believe it could make a very useful tool if put to use hewing logs. 

Thanks for checking out and enjoying my Instructable.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask away and I will find an answer for you.  Please remember to vote for this Instructable or whichever one is your favorite in the "Cabot woodcare contest."

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    14 Discussions


    6 weeks ago

    One important thing: a straight-grained piece of wood should be selected from the handle. Ideally, the piece should be split off a log, not sawn - the splitting will allow to prove the straightness of the grain (or to reject a piece as not ideal). The other thing is grain orientation, ideally the grain should run parallel to the axe head.
    If you go to buy a ready-made handle, you will notice the manufacturers don't care about either of these qualities. The grain often runs out significantly (which weakens the handle), and the grain orientation can vary from parallel (most desired) to perpendicular (least desired).
    I think if one puts effort into making their own handle, it's important to start with the most suitable material, and keep the grain in mind.
    In America, the best wood is hickory (sapwood, not heartwood, is used for handles), in Europe it is ash (unless you can get some hickory!). There are suitable woods as well. If you're making a carving axe or a hewing hatchet, the handle will take much less stressed than with a splitting or a felling axe.


    4 years ago

    Baseball bats are usually made of ash. Hickory is much heavier and has much more tensile strength. Maple should work okay for the type of axe you did up. Great work.


    5 years ago on Step 4

    To make this part way way easier I suggest you use a drawknife.

    I took a piece that was cut to length and carved it into a handle in under an hour with one of those knives. Plus, doing this with a hand tool is so satisfying.


    6 years ago

    Very nice work, the only thing I would have done different is brighten up the axe head ! Well done


    Awesome work! I like the handle!
    Though, you should probably give credit when you use other peoples photos....


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you very much for checking it out and you are correct about the images. I unfortunately did not note the sources where I borrowed them from and a search brings up many of the same image from multiple sources. I however did make a new note that they were retrieved from Google images.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I am guilty of doing it a time or two myself.. no biggie. I doubt a company like Makita would have any issues on you using their saw pics (their name is already on it). They would actually love something like that LOL...
    Great work anyway.. I learned how to burn a nice logo onto my projects with this instructable! 5 stars!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice work. I may have to do this for my axe quite soon.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    A very traditional wood for axe handles is hickory - its got good "spring" to it, so it can absorb some shock. The easiest source I know of is a yard sale baseball bat.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Great idea on the baseball bat, I never thought of that and it's a very good way to get a quality piece of wood. I know that some bats are made with maple, white ash and even bamboo, all of which (except bamboo I think) would make great handle material.