Thursday, September 18, 2014

Handmade Axe Handle

It was bound to happen sooner or later and somehow the handle, in certain ways, has become more important than the axe head itself in my eyes. I guess I already know what the axe will do and what its limitations are, so the new unknown is what the handle can be. I have done quite a bit of research on handles, their strengths and weaknesses, and found that a lot of the "required features" of handles are less important than we're led to believe. I suppose we could go into the intricate details of handle selection and the various qualities of wood, and some people like to obsess like with any topic of interest, but there are two points that I keep coming back to which I think nullify all the academia. One; handles are consumable and two; perhaps the long established criteria for handle selection, regardless of scientific foundation or lack thereof, can serve to increase the likelihood of long service from your handle. In other words, why not try to get the best you can? The reason I say the handle has become more important in certain ways rather than all ways, is that I don't think it is vitally important to have that perfect handle, but I definitely want a nice one. Part of being nice is feeling right, fitting right, and looking right. The handle is the portion of the tool the hand interacts with and because I enjoy the process of fitting them, quality matters.

My little hewing hatchet only needed a short handle for the kind of work it is meant to do, so it seemed a good opportunity to begin learning. I chose an unlikely wood specifically because it was unlikely. It is made from Redbud, a short living, often twisted tree that most likely wouldn't yield a straight board any longer than my handle. They grow very fast, as you can tell from the very wide growth rings. Getting a suitable piece was actually pretty difficult but we managed to saw out a small section and I began whittling at it with an axe. With a rough shape finished I set it aside to dry for a few weeks. It had come from the stump that had been left high after the dying tree had been taken down, but it was very wet - shavings felt damp to the touch. I doubt it is dry even now, but I don't have the sort of patience needed to let it fully cure. Worst case scenario is that the handle shrinks and loosens in which case I will pull it, and simply rehang it. Loose tool heads are not difficult to remedy and rehanging them on the same handle is the best option in my opinion when the handle itself isn't damaged.

In the end it ended up being an awfully attractive piece of wood and certainly unusual. It's already helped with some minor carving which will be seen in the pictures. Thanks for reading!

hand carved axe handle
Kelley-How Thomson Hickory Hewing Hatchet made by Plumb
Everything came out nice and straight.
Another shot of the alignment. It all came together smoothly.
custom axe handle
I made sure the wood bulged pretty good from the top in hopes of keeping it tight as it dries.
edc knife budget every day carry blades
I tell you what, this hammer is actually great for driving wedges.

 Another thing worth noting is that Boker Plus Titan seen in the last picture. I used it in a number of different ways on this project; as a fine scalpel, push cutting with both hands, a mini draw knife, you name it, and it was really excellent. I highly recommend it. I have an overview of it elsewhere on the blog.

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