Axe Handle Project Advice Needed

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Forum topic by Theweirdtreeguy posted 05-25-2018 12:47 PM 901 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 1285 days

05-25-2018 12:47 PM

Topic tags/keywords: axe handle hickory fireaxe project restoration

Greetings, my name is Johnny. I’ve recently come into possession of an old Pulaski axe head. (It’s a Kelly True-Temper Flint Edge if you’re curious. I’ll post a picture if necessary.) It’s in nice enough shape and It’s going to be a “Summer Restoration Project” for my little brother and I. To put it plainly, I’m inexperienced. My forte is more along the lines of growing and caring for wood while it’s alive. Hahaha. I have experience with power tools, general carpentry, and took a woodworking class in the past, so I’m not a complete boob. While I have the basics covered I need a little help. So any advice or constructive criticism is appreciated. So the plan is to first: Acquire wood. (I live in Ohio, there’s a sawmill a stone’s throw away from me in every cardinal direction. The wood of choice is Hickory and likely the finish will be Boiled Linseed Oil.) Second: Trace out an axe handle using another axe I have laying about. Third: Cut wood to dimensions and using rasps, files, and sandpaper shape it to desired proportions. Fourth: Put handle into head, secure both, then finish. I’m familiar with what to do, but where I’m running into trouble right now is ordering. In a really roundabout way I guess what I’m asking is “If I call up a sawmill and place an order what sort of dimensions are practical for this sort of project?”. I don’t think I need 12’ long hunk of lumber and I imagine I also don’t want a board less than 2” thick. I’m not up to speed with lumber lingo but if I recall correctly a “Timber” is anything less than 5” thick which is around what it sounds like I need. Roughcuts are likely going to be what they’ll have in supply which is fine by me. For length I was hoping the handle would be at least 30-36” so any length above that should be okay, but I don’t think I can order it that short. Worst case scenario getting a 6’- 8’ and cutting it to where I need it is doable. (Access to tools and saws isn’t an issue either.) I just don’t want to call up a nice family owned mill and sound like a jackass over the phone who doesn’t know what he’s doing. This is going to be my first project of this nature and hopefully one of many. I’ll likely consult more with this site as needed and as time goes on. (Just as a personal preference I don’t like the lumber selection from Home-Depot and Lowes, in the past I’ve had issues with moisture on smaller projects and prices aren’t great. So If I really have to they are an option, but I’d rather give my business to a real sawmill/lumberyard.) I’m hoping to get experience as a woodworker and a teacher, not only that but a nice seasoned tool too. My studies and aspirations are focused on getting a job in a forestry or silviculture career. I’m sure there are standard-issue axes for such things, but I’m a proud person, I enjoy working with my hands, and American steel is an excellent thing to have handy when needed. Like I said, any advice helps, I may even post some pictures as time progresses, thank you in advance for your input and taking the time to help out a newbie.

7 replies so far

View JCamp's profile


1463 posts in 1834 days

#1 posted 05-25-2018 01:42 PM

First-Welcome to lumberjocks!!
I believe that a board that’s around 1.25 inches thick maybe 3 inches wide and 4ft long should be plenty enough for a handle. You could probably call the yard and depending who you talk to they may give you the single piece for that project. I believe your plan sounds good and should work just fine but id like to suggest that if you are just wanting to build a standard run of the mill handle for a axe that is a user that you go buy you a $15 handle. Itll change a several hour job to a 20min job. If you are just wanting to get your younger brother involved in wood working how about getting on ebay and finding a cheap hammer head or hatchet head and replace the handles in those. Theyd be smaller to work with and possibly get them done faster

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View Steve's profile


2645 posts in 1866 days

#2 posted 05-25-2018 01:56 PM

This sounds like a fun project for you and your brother. It reminds me that I should make a handle for an old mattock head I have laying around.

April Wilkerson made a handle awhile back.

Lot of good info in this video

Also, if you call up this nice family owned mill and they give you a hard time for not being an expert on lumber terminology, I’d be looking elsewhere.

View jdh122's profile


1269 posts in 4101 days

#3 posted 05-25-2018 02:24 PM

If you have access to and knowledge of trees, consider doing this as a green wood project. Find yourself a piece of hickory (ash will work too, just not quite as well) in a branch or trunk that is wide enough to get the handle out of half (because you need to start by splitting it to get rid of the pith). The only problem will be that you need a new tool, a drawknife to do the shaping, which is done to approximate, but oversize, size. Then it has to dry for a couple months and you finish the shaping of the handle and do the fitting into the head.
The drawknife is the funnest woodworking tool to use (imho) and if you’re going to be working in silviculture or forestry you should try green woodworking on a shaving horse.

At the lumberyard (if you go that way) you’re probably going to have to buy a piece of 8 quarter stock (2 inches thick) at 4 inches wide (the narrowest they generally carry). Unless it’s different where you live, while some lumberyards will cut you a shorter piece off a longer one, they won’t rip a board down in width (or they may, but you’ll have to buy both pieces). So assuming you get a piece of hickory at 3 feet long (and 2×4 in nominal dimension), you’re looking at 2 board feet, maybe about 10 bucks.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5361 posts in 5244 days

#4 posted 05-25-2018 02:27 PM

Any handle material should/must be DRY. VERY DRY!!!! Do I need to say it again? Not tryin’ to be a smarty, but dry wood will swell a bit (no pun). Wet wood will shrink. Not a good thing for an axe helve. Remember the term “flying off the handle”? Straight grain, no knots.
Shape is also a consideration.
Watch all the vids you can stomach before you begin.
I’d just buy a good handle.

-- [email protected]

View Ted78's profile


415 posts in 3283 days

#5 posted 05-25-2018 02:40 PM

Sounds like a fun project to me, and sorry I’m no help in the how to order wood department, but if you do decide to just buy a handle I would strip or sand off the finish they come with and then apply some linseed oil.

-- Ted

View HokieKen's profile


19842 posts in 2422 days

#6 posted 05-25-2018 06:08 PM

Welcome to the site. One other possibility I would recommend is that you take your head and the axe with the handle you’re approximating and tell the sawyer what you need. There’s a good chance he’ll have some offcuts in a burn pile that weren’t big enough for lumber but would be big enough for your need. If so however, be aware it’s probably green and will need to dry.

-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

View Theweirdtreeguy's profile


2 posts in 1285 days

#7 posted 05-26-2018 04:19 AM

Wowee it’s been less than a day. Thank you everyone for your responses, you’ve given me much to consider.

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