Thursday, February 18, 2010

Getting the Hang of It

Winter is a good time for fixing things. Rich Skudlarek found this old axe head that had seen better days and needed a new handle. It actually needed a lot of things - somebody had really abused this one by pounding on it and it was covered with rust so we cleaned it up and ground down all the edges. The eye was filed to eliminate all the burs, and some of the gouges were ground out. I wish I had taken a "before" picture.

The bevel was a mess so that was sharpened. A variable speed grinder set on slow was used to avoid burning the edge. If the metal gets so hot that it goes to blue, well you've lost the temper and need to grind down the edge and start over. Frequent stops and quenching in water help prevent this. You can also sharpen an axe with a mill file, but watch your fingers.

The handle is shaped with a rasp so it fits the eye of the axe. Be careful not to take off too much wood though. When the handle fits the eye fairly well, turn the axe so the handle is pointing up and pound the handle firmly into the axe head with a wooden mallet. This is called "hanging the axe" and the steps are shown in more detail than you ever want to know in "An Axe to Grind".

Helpful Trail Tip: Shape the top of the handle to fit the eye, but not too loose or the handle won't hang right. You also don't want it too tight or you might wind up splitting the handle during hanging, and after a sufficient round of swearing have to make a trip to Sears for a new one.

Here's the axe after the handle is hung. The wedges were then pounded in the top of the handle, and the excess wood was cut off and sanded.

Some people advise just using a hardwood wedge, and saving the little steel wedges in case the axe head loosens up later. When the steel wedges were set they split the wooden wedge, so a little epoxy was added, which was probably overkill.

Finish honing of the edge was done with a round axe stone. One side of the stone is coarse & one fine. Use oil or spit to keep the stone lubricated. You may want to wear leather gloves if you value your fingertips. The end result is a nice used axe for a fraction of the cost of a new axe. You can't say the Shelton Trails Committee isn't frugal.


  1. I live with this man. Should I be afraid?

  2. Comment 1 - Has he taken out any insurance policy on you lately?

    Comment 2 - Hint, when sharpening the axe, you do not have to worry about the metal turning blue because your bare thumb and forefinger holding the axe will have long since burned to a crisp!

  3. The next lesson should be on the proper way to use that ax to fell a tree without squashing an innocent bystander's noodle.