How To Replace A Broken Axe Handle
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How to Replace A Broken Axe Handle

Axe handles break. They just do. Sometimes you can have what seems to be a perfect handle and a perfect swing, and the handle will still snap. Of course, this is more likely to happen if you don’t maintain your handle correctly; but more on that later. First we’ll start out with the materials needed for installing your handle

MATERIALS

Materials Needed:photo 3.jpg

1x Axe Handle

1x Axe Head

1x Heavy Hammer

1x Pliers

1x Sheet of Coarse Sandpaper

1x Wood Saw

Optional Materials:

1x Table Vise

1x Quick Dry Epoxy

1x Flat Chisel

1x Steel Wedge

A few notes on materials; When shopping for a new handle, it’s important to select a handle that has a similar shape to the eye of your axe head and that fits the weight of your head. Weights generally go 3-5lb 5-7lb In this case, we have a clean oval shape that suits the double bit axe we’re repairing. Other axe shapes, like this German Style Splitter, will have differing eye and handle shapes. A single-bit, for example, will usually have a squared rear and an oval shaped head for an eye. Once you have the right shape selected, it’s then time to check for a “good” handle. I look for several things here:

1. Symmetrical saw grooves or “kerf” on either side.

photo 4.jpg

While this handle isn’t perfectly cut, it still has a cut that stays

close to the apex of the spine on both sides.

2. Solid Grain.

When wood grain appears two-toned, it means that part of the wood is from a different growth ring from within the tree. This is the same idea we exploit when chopping wood, the gap between sapwood and growth wood is the weakest part of the tree trunk. That’s why for heavy duty purposes like axe handles, it’s important for the handle to come from a single growth ring–especially near the attachment point. So when selecting a handle, look for one with a singular tone of color.

ASSEMBLY: Once we have all the materials ready, we’re ready to start assembly

STEP ONE: Ease the axe head onto the handle.

photo 4.JPG

The handle is naturally spread by the kerfs, so when you’re guiding the eye onto the handle, use your pliers to depress the kerfs. While depressing the handle, start wriggling on the head by hand. If you’re having a lot of trouble with this step, grab your coarse sand paper and take off a little material until you can work it on. Once you have it on by at least ¼” you’re ready for the next step.

STEP TWO: Hammer the head on.

photo 2.JPGphoto 1.JPGphoto 5.JPG

This step can be a little tricky with a tight fitting handle, so be patient. In the axe we’re looking at today, we have an almost perfect fit, so we’re working the head on with hammer blows centered on the wings of the eye. It’s important to work this step on solid, flat, ground. Place the butt of the axe on the ground and “rock” the head on with soft to medium blows to the wings of the eye. Once the head is “rocked” on at least an inch by these blows, you can start hitting hard directly over the eye until the wood comes flush with the eye of the axe. Once it’s flush, work it out beyond the eye with blows outside the eye until the cheek of the axe meets the treated part of the handle.

STEP THREE: Install the wedge

photo 4.JPG

After you have the axe head completely on, it’s time to install the wedge. Wedges come in a variety of forms, but in this instance, we’re using the included hickory wedge. Since we have such a tight fitting handle, the kerf is barely accessible. This means we can do a few different things. We can pry open the kerf with removable wedges, or we can sand down our wedge to fit inside the existing opening. We choose to do the second option, as the first could risk damaging the integrity of the wood inside. After sanding the wedge, insert it into the opening of the kerf and begin to softly pound it into the opening. Once the wedge is in as far as it can comfortably go, saw the exposed handle and wedge off just above the eye. Some people would now install an additional metal wedge, but I think it’s better to wait awhile, and use a metal wedge after a couple days of use.

STEP FOUR: Clean and treat

photo 4.JPG

After you’ve removed the excess material from above the eye, you can chisel or sand it smooth. Once smooth, apply oil, epoxy, or varnish to help protect the eye from water damage. In the case of this axe, we’re trying an epoxy coat to completely seal and protect the exposed eye, normally we would use a varnish, but I’ve seen success with regular applications of oil as well. Make sure to let the epoxy or varnish dry completely before use.

MAINTENANCE: Now that you have your axe repaired and ready to use, here are some tips for keeping it in chopping shape.

1. STORE INDOORS! There is no bigger axe killer than leaving it out in the elements. Water damage can significantly weaken the integrity of your handle, and it can corrode the axe head as well. So, unless you like putting on a new handle every year, keep your axe out of the elements.

2. Treat your handle. In the guide above, we used epoxy to treat the exposed edge of the eye, but other parts of the axe will see significant wear from regular use. Most axes come with a light waterproof varnish, but the varnish gets rubbed through pretty easily. (Some people preemptively sand down their handles and apply oil, but that’s a little overboard.)

The key to keeping your handle in good shape is to oil your wood after heavy use, especially when you’ve worn through the varnish on the handle. I use mineral oil as it’s relatively inexpensive, and works just as well as other, more expensive, oils. Pay special attention to the grip area, and to the area around the head (which takes a lot of damage on miss-hits.)


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