BUSHCRAFT: FITTING AN AXE HANDLEBy: Connor Noyes • aurorabushcraft.ca
The axe is the most important tool when in the bush. Collecting fire wood for heat and making a shelter is priority. You can go 3 days without water, but one night out in adverse weather can be devastating.
I make my axe handles from rough ash by hand. The tools I use are a hand saw, spokeshave, drawknife, a mallet, a rasp, a wedge (to split wood lengthwise, I use my other axe, but using your axe head will work). You will need a length of straight grained wood from which you will carve the handle, as well as the wedge. I measure the length of the axe like this- putting the butt of the axe into my armpit, and grasping the top of the head with fingertips while feeling a bit of a stretch in my arm is the right swinging length.
Before starting, clean up the eye of the axe. Use a file to remove lips and burrs. Use sandpaper to remove rust inside. Next, I take my piece of ash and split it. This wood is tough. Be careful as it can pinch you, or the pressure can make it pop and will who knows what will happen. Make a gap in the wood with the axehead, put another thin piece of wood in between to hold the gap so you can remove the metal wedge/axe head. Lay the piece of wood down with the wedge in and stand on it. The wooden wedge will create enough pressure to split the board. Inspect the wood for any cracks, knots, bug holes, etc. Anything that can compromise the structural integrity the handle should be cut out. Even if it means throwing away a beautiful piece of wood (or just find another use for it).
Now, eyeball your work. I do not measure or write down numbers. The grain of the wood when seeing it through the top of the axe head should run lengthways (back to front on the axehead), or on as tight an angle to as possible. Put the axehead onto the wood, and with a pencil, draw the the profile of the inside of the eye onto the wood. Now drawing a tight line around that, use a sharpie marker to highlight it.
Place the wood into the bench vise, and start shaving down using the draw knife, flipping it back and forth as you go. To save some time I might use the saw to make stop cuts so I can take bigger chunks at a time. Ash is quite hard. As I shave the handle to fit the eye, I work from the middle to the end as the head will be fit before the handle is completely finished, and I don’t want to use my tools to close to the head because a slip can damage your tool. Pay attention to the grain. Only carve with the grain. Carving against the grain can tear the wood and damage the finished product.
Once the handle fits into the eye of the head, look to see what part of the handle is touching inside the eye, stopping the head from sliding on nicely. Make a pencil mark as to where its touching. Remove the axe head, and shave off the pencil marks, and try again. Do this until the axe head slides all the way on. The handle can be a little loose in the upper eye, but lower down needs to be snug. Once the wedge is placed, there will be no more looseness.
Take the saw, and cutting lengthwise (back to front) vertically down the handle, roughly 2/3 the height of the axe head. Make a wedge that will fit new cut nicely. Place the head onto the axe, cut off the excess handle sticking out the top, and hammer the wedge in. Once in, use a small metal wedge and hammer that in also. Now the axe head is fit and handle ready to be shaped.
Finish rough shaping using the draw knife, and using the spoke shave to get as close to the size of finished product as possible, ensuring your handle stays straight. To get the lines and knife nicks out of the handle, and to achieve shaping details, use the rasp. It works wonders, but do not use it cross grain, cut on an angle with the grain. On the butt of the handle, cut the corners, this stops damage, or the handle from chipping on the bottom. Once all done, sand it to remove rasp lines, and oil using mineral or linseed oil. Repeat the oiling process a couple times a year. Remember to oil around the eye.
Sand the axe head to get the rust off the outside, and once cleaned up, wipe it with vaseline. This helps keep the moisture out and gets into the pores of the steel (important especially on a used axe).
Now it is time to make a sheath, sharpen your axe and go to work. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to drop us a line at email@example.com!
Keep your paddle in the water,