How to Make an Axe Handle

My axe broke. Last time I was chopping with it, I could feel the head moving from side to side as I swung it. I finished my project, then put the axe aside to fix.It turned out that the eye of the axe was cracking off from the handle. Someone probably pried sideways on the axe when it was stuck in a log at some point weakening it.

Warning: This is my first time making an axe handle. You’re responsible for your own safety when using your repaired axe. Use caution and appropriate protective gear.

Removing The Old Handle

I started by removing the head from the old handle. I used a screwdriver to pry out the pieces of the wedge which secured the head to the handle. Once that was out it just took a few gentle taps with a hammer for the axe head to slide off.

Prying out the axe wedge. I used a screwdriver.
Prying out the axe wedge. I used a screwdriver.

The next step was to go to  Home Depot to buy an axe handle. You’ll spend way more time making an axe handle than you’ll ever save in terms of money.

Unfortunately, Home Depot didn’t have an axe handle for my axe. My axe is small camping axe. With a 2.5 lb head, and a 28 inch handle, it’s barely bigger than a hatchet. Home Depot and Menards only had 36 inch handles, and the eye was too big for my axe head.

Instead of ordering one from the internet, or trying Fleet Farm or somewhere else, I decided I’d try making one.

Finding Some Wood

I had two choices in my yard. I had several mulberry logs, and several birch logs. I opted for the mulberry since it’s been sitting for a year. I chose a straight log which had a fork at the very bottom. You can’t really see the fork in the picture, but it’s about 5 inches from the bottom.

You want to choose an uncracked piece of wood with the heartwood intact. The heartwood is stronger than the white wood near the outside edges. The log I chose had some small cracks on the end that appeared to be superficial. I used a saw to cut an inch off the top of the log to see if they went down that far. If they had, I would’ve switched to a different log.

If you have more options for wood, or if you’re buying, you might choose hickory, ash or another hard wood. I don’t know how good mulberry is, and I might end up needing to replace the handle again sooner than if I had bought some hickory. Time will tell.

A mullbery log, and future axe handle
A mullbery log, and future axe handle

Cut it down to size

I used a hatchet and small sledge hammer to break down the log. I stopped when it was 3  inches square all the way down. When I got to the fork, I followed the dominant branch, so I had a slightly curved roughly square 3×3 block to work with.

Splitting the sides off the log
Splitting the sides off the log

Shaping the Handle

I used the bandsaw for some of the shaping, but the easiest tool ended up being the hatchet. I had it sharpened very sharp, so it could easily bite into the wood even when striking at a very shallow angle.  It’s starting to take shape.

Rough hewn shape
Rough hewn shape

Other than a3x3 block a little taller than the axe head, which I left untouched, I continued removing material with the hatchet until it felt comfortable in my hands. At this point it’s a good size, but slightly lumpy. I used my pocket knife to carve off the prominent lumps which got me to bumpy.

With a right-sized handle which was smooth-ish, but bumpy, I got out the belt sander and used an 80 grit belt. It leveled the bumps down quickly and I was left with a handle that was good enough to hold and do work with. Now, if it only had an axe head on it…

Creating the Axe Eye

Create the eye for the axe is the trickiest part. I clamped the handle to my workbench, and used a chisel to slowly remove material from the end of the axe until the head fit on. I flipped the handle over every few minutes to give myself a better chance at getting both sides even. Once the head would fit over the end, I extended that profile down so that about 1/2 inch stuck out past the head of the axe, and so that the head had a smooth shoulder to rest on.

Working on the axe eye
Working on the axe eye

Once the eye was carved, I used the bandsaw to cut a line right down the middle of it for the wedge.

Attaching the Head to the New Handle

It was a tight fit to get the head on, but with a bit of coaxing and a rubber mallet, it went into place. I cut a wedge from the leftover pieces of mulberry trunk and tapped it firmly into place, first with the rubber mallet, then with a metal hammer.

I used the bandsaw to cut off the excess wood sticking above the axe head, then tapped the wedge with the hammer some more, to make sure it was in tight.

The top of the axe, with a wedge driven in
The top of the axe, with a wedge driven in

Finishing Steps

I still need to do some finishing of the handle. There’s a little square area below the axe shoulder which I hadn’t cut in case I needed it, and the handle was only sanded with 80 grit sandpaper. I’ll carve down the square area and sand the whole thing with 120 grit sandpaper, then I’ll treat the wood with linseed oil to help preserve it.

Holding my new axe
Holding my new axe

I’m ready to start chopping again!

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3 Responses to How to Make an Axe Handle

  1. Anonymous says:

    OK. So if all you had was an ax head (the metal thingy). You’d still need an ax (i.e. hatchet) to make it. So it’s like a chicken and the egg thing. You need an ax to make the wood to make an ax handle, so you can make an ax.

    • The Farmer says:

      A hatchet certainly makes it easier, but with that attitude you would never survive in the wilderness. In the woods I wouldn’t have had a bandsaw or belt sander either. Here’s some options:

      * Use just the axe head as a splitter and a rock or log to pound on it
      * Use a pocket knife
      * Use a sandstone
      * Knap a piece of flint into a blade and use that
      * USe a fire to burn the bulk of the wood to a rough shape, then use another method for the finish work
      * Smelt some ore and form a chisel. Use the chisel.
      * Use a hand saw.

      There are so many options that you literally could not stop me from making an axe handle. I’m probably making one right now.

  2. Liz says:

    I hope the reason you haven’t updated in a while isn’t related to this whole home-made axe thing. Be safe!

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