Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hanging Your First Axe; Let's Talk About Handles Part 2

In the first part I left off talking about the "first pass" handle from House Handle. When I first discovered the House Handle videos on youtube, I noticed that it would appear as though they remove the handle from the lathe while it is still rough, then finish them on a giant belt sander. It took awhile for the seed to sprout but I began to wonder if I could just get one of those right off the lathe. So, one day I sent an e-mail and asked. Sure enough, they were willing to sell me one. It's not a regular offering, so you may have to contact them yourself if you're interested in one. However, it was clear to me that the blank that they copy from, mounted in the lathe and seen in the video, is an old handle pattern, which means the result should be a correctly shaped handle. While I think that with a little work, you can have a pretty nice handle by simply ordering a regular offering from House, I was ready for something even better. I wrote the previous post to talk about getting the best you can. Obviously, you can just go hand make a handle from a board, and it will be exactly the handle you want it to be, but with this product a lot of the work is done and the template is clearly defined three dimensionally. The techniques I used to finish this handle are the same as those you would use to improve a regular finished product from any handle company. So let's get started.

This image, and the one at the top of the post, show the first pass handle as it came to me. It is shown with another axe just for size comparison purposes. It was plenty big enough to contain a very nice handle.
Step one was to quickly go over it with a draw knife just to take off most of the steps.
finishing and fitting an axe handle
This is after working it down on the belt sander. I use a 2x42 belt sander with 36 grit belts. What I notice from the vintage handle is that the swell has a strong concave curvature three dimensionally into the swell. I use the contact wheel to make sure that my curve stays concave. Often they come convex where the handle curves outwardly into the swell. This is a feature that I try to capture with my work. This could also be accomplished with a curved rasp or 4-way file.
Here it is pretty well smoothed and reduced to its final dimensions. I want a handle with curves and there is a simple way to bring them out in any handle - remove material only from the inside of the curves to get them down to final size. 

Just to illustrate how straight it was, and how much the swell flairs at the bottom. Here you can see how large the "tongue" is, the portion of the handle which is seated within the axe head. One of the first things I do when I get a handle is check the dimensions in this area. How low do I want the head to sit? Can I change the location of the shoulder to get the fit I want? I like to reduce the shoulders down right from the start to approximately the same width, or slightly narrower, than the widest part of the axe head. If you are splitting wood, this ensures that your handle is narrower than the head, making it difficult for the log to damage the handle. So I set the shoulders, then I define them and make sure the handle is even all around.
Here it is hung with a 3-1/4lb Collins Legitimus Connecticut pattern head. I like the head to really be seated down on the shoulder and you can clearly see here how I have "defined" the shoulder - there is a distinct line. This isn't necessary, but dresses up the finished product somewhat.
My custom oak wedge, made from very old rough cut stud material.
This depicts fitment of the head.

Here you can see the alignment of the head and haft.
And the final product.
This last image is a before and after of the House handle seen on the axe in the previous post. The top image shows it as it arrived to me and the bottom shows it roughly thinned and reshaped. This illustrates two of the main techniques I talked about above. First, I removed material from the insides of the curves to make the handle appear more curved - the green lines indicate the areas I'm talking about. Second, the swells are always opposite of what I like and the swell is actually convex creating a bulb effect. The little green arrow shows where there is almost a kink because the shaping is done on a slack belt sander with no concave surface such as a contact wheel. It just doesn't feel right. Because the swell had already been turned down too far, I had to just do the best I could. I did manage to get a nice smooth curve through the handle and into the swell. In the end it's a pretty good looking handle that feels good. I think this is representative of what you can expect with your handles. Good luck and thanks for reading!