If you use an axe for long enough, odds are that the handle will become damaged or break entirely at some point. This is nothing out of the ordinary – wood doesn’t last forever, no matter how well you take care of it – and you can replace the handle with relative ease if you know the right approach and steps to doing so. This guide is all about replacing that old wooden handle with a nice new one and fixing it in place to give your axe what it needs to keep chopping for a long time to come. Without further ado, here’s how to go about replacing the handle on your axe.
Get a New Axe Handle
First off, you’ll need a new handle for your axe. It’s up to you whether you buy it or make it, but if you’re not familiar with wood and woodworking it’s easy to mess up. That’s why I recommend buying a replacement handle – oftentimes axes will take standardized handles, and if it’s too large you can whittle it down until it’s just right. If you do decide to make your own handle, try to find a piece of hickory wood that is as straight-grained as possible. This will help with durability. You can watch this video to find out how to make an axe handle from scratch.
Gather Your Tools and Supplies
You’ll need a few bare-minimum tools and supplies to replace an axe handle. These are:
- Wedge kit (some handles come with these, or you can make your own wedge)
- Punch (can also be improvised or homemade)
- Mallet or piece of wood that can act as such
Remove the Old Handle
The first step to replacing a broken handle is to remove whatever is left of it from the eye of the axe. To do this, you should use your saw to cut the handle right beneath the axehead. Once that is done, use a hammer and punch to tap out what remains. Since the top of the eye is where the handle is “wedged”, the handle will be just that tiny bit wider there. For this reason, you should tap from the bottom and out the top. You can use an electric drill if you have one to drill several holes into the wood and make this easier. Once the majority is gone, I recommend using sandpaper to remove any wood still stuck inside the eye of the axehead – especially if the handle was glued into the eye.
Tip – mark the axehead so that you know where the bottom and top are.
Fit the New Handle
Once the eye of the axehead is free of any remains of the old handle, you can start fitting the new handle inside. Many store-bought handles will have a pre-made “kerf”, which is where a cut has been made down the middle of the handle that allows it to squeeze together slightly and fit into the eye of the axe. Mark where the kerf ends, as that will give you a visual guide to how deep your handle needs to go into the eye. Also, when you’re fitting the handle, take measurements, as some handles might stick out more than others and you might have to extend the kerf a bit.
Try getting the handle in with your hands at first. Then you can use a mallet or piece of wood and hit the bottom of the handle to tap it into the eye of the axehead. Be careful! Metal instruments such as hammers will damage and potentially even break the wood of the handle. Don’t use metal tools to drive in the handle!
Wedging the Handle
When the handle is fitted, it’s time to fix it in place by wedging it. This involves driving a thin piece of rectangular wood – the wedge – into the kerf. Some handles come with a wedge, or you can choose to make it yourself. It’s easy enough to do if you have a wood chisel or saw suitable for detailed work. If your wedge is wider than the eye of the axehead, you can remove the extra width with a chisel. Try to keep it as wide as possible while still fitting into the kerf cut.
If you have excess handle sticking out the top, you should cut it down. To figure out how much to cut, simply hold the wedge up to the head at the depth that you want it to go into the eye. Then cut off a length of the handle that is about a quarter-inch shorter than the length of the wedge. If you remove more of the kerf cut than is needed for the wedge, you can extend it carefully by using a saw.
Position the wedge and tap it in carefully. Do your best to make sure that it doesn’t break, which will obviously weaken the fixation it provides. Some people use wood glue to help hold everything in place, but I recommend a steel wedge as a final touch instead. You can use either a regular steel wedge, or you can get a round steel wedge which is even better, as it forces the wood out in all directions equally. Regardless, just drive them in through both the handle and the wooden wedge.
If you really want to, you can add wood glue to fill in any gaps that may remain (although there shouldn’t be any, if you were careful). If the wood handle is untreated – as it should be – you can coat it with a thin layer of hardening oil such as linseed, tung, even hemp oil, rub it in and rub it down with a rag, and let it dry. Some people rub their handles down with beeswax, too. Axeheads should be treated with mineral oil.
If necessary, before oiling, you should cut down the end of the handle if it’s too long for your taste or comfort. But be careful and start small – you can take length away, but you can’t really put it back!
And with that – voila! You’ve got a brand new handle that should feel great in your hands and look spiffy, too. Thanks for reading!