Every good wood splitter, novice or true woodsman, becomes attached to their axe. There’s something personal about an axe, whether it’s just one you’ve used for years, or a family heirloom handed down through the generations. Today’s axe heads are not nearly as high quality or durable as older axes.
You may use your trusty axe for years, but eventually the handle breaks. Also, you don’t want to part ways with your trusty wood splitter, so you need to put on a new handle. Here’s how to replace an axe handle, with a few tips added that will make the job a little easier.
4 Steps to Replace an Axe Handle
The cost of an axe is nearly 4 times higher than a handle’s price. Disregard the sentimental attachment of a woodcutter with their special axe, and you still save money. Axe heads commonly last forever. Therefore, when the handle breaks, there is no need to buy a complete new axe, simply buy a new handle.
Axe handle replacement is a relatively simple task, but you do need to follow a series of steps to make sure you do it correctly. The consequence of improperly putting on a new handle is the axe head could fly off and cause injury. Here are four steps to safely replace the handle on your trusty axe.
#1. Remove the Old Axe Head
The first thing you must do in your axe handle replacement task is to remove the old handle, or what’s left, if it broke. It does not matter how much handle is left inside the axe head, or if you are simply replacing a worn handle neck.
Cut the axe handle so that there is less than an inch still exposed at the bottom of the axe head. If you still have a full handle, some methods try to work the handle out by pounding and pulling on the handle. This can be unsafe and is not recommended. The best tip for this step is to cut the handle to about an inch.
Secure the axe head in a vise. Look for any small wedges driven in to secure the old handle. You can begin by trying to chisel these out. Often it is necessary to drill two holes just on either side of center to loosen up the old handle head. With a sharp chisel and ball-peen hammer, begin to knock the old handle butt through the hold.
#2. Clean & Sharpen the Axe Head
Once you get the handle or remaining handle butt out of the axe head, it is time to clean up and sharpen your axe. You can put a finishing sharp on the edge after you put the new handle on, but it is much easier to fix imperfections and clean the axe head without a handle attached.
With no axe handle in your way, this is also the point to restore an heirloom axe. Follow the required instructions for axe head restoration before you finish your axe handle replacement.
A good tip is to clean the inside of the axe head extra well. Sand off any stuck pieces of the old handle. The best tip is to clear out everything but the hardened metal of your axe head.
#3. Insert the New Axe Handle
You want to make sure you get your axe handle to slide into the axe head correctly. Take your time exercising patience. You want a tight initial fit, but you don’t want to wedge the handle in crooked. Guard against trying to forcibly pound the axe head onto the handle.
The simplest way to complete this phase of your axe handle replacement is to set the axe handle on its bottom end. Line up the axe head on top of the handle and gently begin to move the head onto the handle.
It will probably only go in a short distance using hand force, but once you get it lined up correctly, you can begin to tap on the top of the axe head. A good tip is to use a flat head ball-peen hammer or a rubber mallet. Normal hammers have rounded heads so you will not be able to exert a true blow every time.
Tap on either side of the opening, alternating between sides. Once the head begins to slide down onto the handle, it will get easier. Once you reach the halfway point, the handle will usually not shift out of line. At this point, you can begin to pound with more force.
Eventually, you will drive the axe head down on the handle so that the wood comes even with the top edge of the axe. You will now have the handle wedged in the axe head and you can move on to safely secure it permanently.
#4. Secure It Safely
The final step is the most important. There are standard wooden wedges that come with an axe handle replacement. While these will work, they do have the tendency to crack and shift. This will compromise the safety of you axe. Over time, they can come loose and you will have to add new ones.
Best tip is to go ahead and get three or four metal wedges from your hardware store. These will provide a far safer grip on your axe head. If you ever have to replace the axe handle in the future, you can reuse the same metal wedges.
A recommended tip for the safest fit is to use at least two wedges, with three being optimal. Place the wedges opposite one another, filling in the largest gap first. A third one directly, in the middle will set the axe head onto the new handle.
Once you have your wedges secure, turn axe over on the butt side and pound on a log to see if the handle shifts. If it does, add another wedge to any small void you notice. Repeat this final securing process until the axe handle seats tightly.
Axe handle replacement is simple and can save you money. Best of all, you can keep your favorite axe, putting it back to work chopping logs. For those who really want to get elaborate in restoring an heirloom axe, there are handle blocks where you can carve your own handle design.
Follow each of these steps in axe handle replacement to ensure that your handle is safely installed. After you’re finished with your axe handle replacement, it’ll be time to do some wood splitting.