part 2: fitting an axe handle

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part 2: fitting an axe handle

Postby robin wood » Sun Mar 01, 2009 7:48 pm

This thread follows on from this one viewtopic.php?f=2&t=825 where I made a new handle a few days ago. The handle was fairly dry wood when I roughed it out and has had 3 or 4 days near the fire so is now dry enough to fit it.

First thing is to put the head on the end and draw carefully round the inside. The new line is pencil, the red line was drawn before it dried. Notice how it shrinks mostly around the tangential rings.

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Hew off sides again starting by making a rectangle.

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Then take the corners off.

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Now offer it up to the head to see where you need to trim. Hopefully it is just a question of keeping cutting off the high points.

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I am trimming with the knife by this stage, all the custs start 2-3" from the end where the head will start.

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Now it's time for a trial fit, pop the head on top and give it a few gentle bumps on a block to see how far it goes on.

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It will probably be pretty well stuck on there now, I split out a small piece of wood which easily fits inside the eye, put it into the eye and bump it on the block to take the head off.

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The dirty bits show where it was rubbing on the eye, leave the bits which didn't touch alone, shave the areas that did touch particularly the area where the head stopped going on.

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Trial fit again and check the alignment by looking down the edge towards the foot of the handle. For a neutral axe the edge should line up with the centre of the handle. This one is good as a hewing axe for a right hander so I shall leave it as it is. If I wanted to make it more central I would shave a little from the area where my thumb is which would alter the alignment as it went further on.

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Once the handle comes all the way through and a little out of the top of the head its time to take it out and finish any work on shaping the handle. When I make my handles I rough them to a rectangular section and at this stage I take the corners off. I like the elongated octagon this creates, it gives excelent grip, if you like a rounded handle its just a question of repeatedly taking the high corners off.

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Now some people like to take the head off and saw a slit down the centre for the wedge I just split it with a knife or chisel. All we need is a small split to start the wedge in, a gentle tap on the back of the knife taking care not to go too far so the knife hits the metal.

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Now this bit is important and its more art than science. Have a look at the gaps between handle and head. How big this gap is will depend on how accurate you have been with the shaping but also on the interior profile of the head. This head is fairly straight through inside so the gap is fairly small some heads are quite hour glass waisted inside so the gap would be much more. Now we need a wedge made from a cleft not sawn piece of dry oak, other woods will work but oak is best if you have it, very dry is important so I keep a supply of dry cleft oak siting near the fireplace. Imagine the wedge going a little more than half way through the head, at that point on the wedge you want it to be thick enough to take up all the gap between head and handle and a bit more to allow for a healthy compression. The end of the wedge I shape to have about 1mm flat then chamfer from both sides at 45 degrees this makes a strong but sharp leading edge to go into your split head.

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stand the axe up on a solid block of floor and hammer the wedge in until there is no more movement.
It should take up all the gap and make a tight fit.

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Saw it off, if there is some gap front and back you can make a small split across the handle and either bang in another wooden wedge or if its just a small gap one of those metal hammer wedges. I always tend to use wood as it makes life easier when you need to drill the handle out to replace it. Small gaps front and back are no problem if your main wedge has gone in well the pressure side to side is imense and it will not move.

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So at the top is my favourite GB carving axe, about £70. below a very good second best, the head cost £2 took 5 minutes to grind and sharpen (with power tools) and the handle took maybe a little more than an hour all told, certainly a lot less time than photographing and typing this tutorial.

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Shame I don't do leatherwork really or I could do a tutorial on a nice sheath for it.
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Re: fitting an axe handle

Postby gavin » Sun Mar 01, 2009 8:13 pm

Great stuff Robin, thanks for taking time to type it all up and take pictures.
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Re: fitting an axe handle

Postby goldsmithexile » Sun Mar 01, 2009 9:27 pm

Nice work robin, I like the tip of using a little block to knock the wood back out of the head, fast and simple.
I never noticed at first (it looks so natural and correct), your gransfors carving axe appears to have been re-done as well, their axes have a ribbed texture dont they? Its a fine looking handle form, makes you want to pick the axe up and carve, a strong norse feel to it but not into the realms of fantasy either. I would concur about grain direction being largely irelevant, although its a holy grail to some people I suppose. The radial (feather edge) splits almost need no work to get handles out of them, and unless you have a very good sized tree, vertical orientation is going to curve one side or the other anyway as in your example. So I'm happy to use horizontally oriented grain. I never have had a handle smash on me, but I reckon a lot depends on using the apopiate size and weight of axe for the particular task at hand, that and checking often on its condition beofre minor handle damage worsens to a dangerous point.
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Re: fitting an axe handle

Postby Follansbee » Mon Mar 02, 2009 2:24 am

Robin

nice work on the hatchet handle. It's just about what I do, except I mostly do it completely different from you! different path, similar result. I often wedge mine both ways; sometimes when I make the handle, sometimes later. I also do not cut the handle flush with the top of the hatchet head, I leave it proud a good bit. then I can knock the wedge further if I need to...but my shop has heat in the winter (there's potters working in the building, hands in buckets of water all winter...) thus can be hard on handles.

BUT one question, what is that godawful handle on your knife??? yuk.
Oh, yeah, 2nd question (unrelated) - when you played Nehemiah Wallington, did you go up on the roof & threaten to jump? One of my all-time favorite crackpots, NW was...
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Re: fitting an axe handle

Postby RangerKris » Mon Mar 02, 2009 7:02 am

Thanks for this it might come in handy very soon.
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Re: fitting an axe handle

Postby axel » Mon Mar 02, 2009 12:07 pm

This is fab, good pictures and concise instruction. Applies to other tools also.

Is there a place for this sort of thing in the gazette? Not all gazette readers are experts!

This would make an excellent workshop/demo at the bodgers ball - could you fit it in?
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Re: part 2: fitting an axe handle

Postby mark » Wed Mar 04, 2009 10:30 pm

great set of pictures and notes, thanks for taking the trouble to post. i think i once read the butt end of an ash tree is the optimum for axe handles, though I can't remember why or find where i read it (maybe dreamt it). Any ideas ?

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Re: part 2: fitting an axe handle

Postby robin wood » Wed Mar 04, 2009 11:15 pm

Mark, the bottom of all trees tends to have more interlocked grain, more difficult to work, less likely to split so good for handles. It's only something I would bother with on a big felling axe or splitting mell that takes a lot of shock, a small one handed axe or hatchet really doesn't generate the shock to damage the handle.

Peter thankfully I was only doing the turning and didn't have to act the rest of the part. :D and that knife, well there is a reason for it and it's not the one I would normally use. I did this post for the bushcraft forum where lots of folk use axes but they all buy new Gransfors Small Forest Axes. I thought I would show them how to get a nice old/cheap head working. So why the knife? Well its a frosts clipper, they retail at less than £10 but are very good and are loved by the bushcraft comunity. If I started by using a knife they didn't have they would think they had to buy that first.

It would make a good demo or workshop at the AGM, but I am busy enough. Any one else fancy doing it? You can do it just as well with a £4 off the shelf handle if you don't have a bit of ash.
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Re: part 2: fitting an axe handle

Postby jrccaim » Tue Mar 10, 2009 3:38 am

Thank you Robin. Very clear and very complete. I only wish that ash grew here. I wonder what the Vikings used for their axes. Anyone know? In the US, hickory is preferred -- although ash has its devotees.
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Re: part 2: fitting an axe handle

Postby Declan Kenny » Thu Mar 26, 2009 5:30 pm

jrccaim wrote:Thank you Robin. Very clear and very complete. I only wish that ash grew here. I wonder what the Vikings used for their axes. Anyone know? In the US, hickory is preferred -- although ash has its devotees.


I'm sure Robin could tell you, but certainly in Ireland, Vikings would have had access to plenty of ash, which no doubt many know is the timber used for making the Irish hurley or camán. Also popular for spears. Vikings also used lots of oak, hazel, lime and alder, the latter especially good for bowl-turning. There is also evidence to suggest they maintained oak plantations around the Dublin area during their heyday, some of which found its way into one of the longest Viking warships ever made (scuttled in Roskilde Fjord in Denmark, but built in Dublin).

By the way, I have used yew for handles on some home-made knives and axes and it's lovely to carve, especially the outer paler timber. The inner darker heartwood is also quite beautiful, but you need to be careful not to split it when fitting the tang.
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Re: part 2: fitting an axe handle

Postby chainsawkid » Sat Apr 04, 2009 2:05 pm

Thanks Robin

It's been raining here down south so I thought I'd make a bit of mess in the front room. I've had this little kent head kicking around for a couple of years, probably got from my father with a few old planes and stuff so wondered after seeing this article what it would be like in use. Stage 1 is complete, though perhaps a bit chunky, so now will leave it by the stove as suggested, but as it's fresh ash (cut last week) will have to wait a fair few days I spose?

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The axe on the left hand side, is one I won on fleabay for use on a timber frame I was building at work. It just needed a tickle on the stones and leather and seems to carve nicely, tis a W.Gilpin but no weight on it.

Can't wait to use the little kent, perhaps on spoons?

Cheers again Robin! :D
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Re: part 2: fitting an axe handle

Postby goldsmithexile » Sun Apr 05, 2009 9:23 am

Is that a Franco-Belge stove, for a minute I thought "how did he get a picture of my hearth" :lol:
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Re: part 2: fitting an axe handle

Postby robin wood » Sun Apr 05, 2009 9:56 am

That's great to see. I like the big Gilpin and it looks like you will have a perfect pair when you have finished the big one for heavy roughing tasks on big timbers and the smaller one for lighter jobs. Leave it 2-3 weeks before fitting if you have the patience. I fitted mine after only 4 or 5 days being impatient to post the pics and it was clearly not quite dry enough, after another couple fo weeks it had a slight wobble so needed another wedge across ways to tighten it up.
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Re: part 2: fitting an axe handle

Postby chainsawkid » Sun Apr 05, 2009 7:11 pm

Evening

goldsmithexile wrote:Is that a Franco-Belge stove


Yep, think it's the Belfort model? Nice and tostie, am thinking of putting some air drying shelves above it to make the most of the heat for chair parts.

Cheers Robin, It's sitting by the stove now and will leave it for a few weeks to dry out as much as possible!

All the best

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Re: part 2: fitting an axe handle

Postby Robin Fawcett » Sun Apr 05, 2009 8:54 pm

robin wood wrote:Leave it 2-3 weeks before fitting if you have the patience. I fitted mine after only 4 or 5 days


I think 2-3 months is better and perhaps even 2-3 years !
If I have good ash I make a batch and stick them up in the roof and forget them. I found some nice Gransfors pattern handles from 2004 when I cleaned out my loft in the winter. (put the date on them)
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