how to make a new axe handle

I wrote this article a few years ago before I was blogging and thought it might be of interest to have here. Fitting an axe handle in this blog post.
First wood selection. The perfect wood is nice straight grain ash fairly fast grown, if it gets more than 6-8 rings per inch it is much more brittle, 4-6 rings per inch is perfect. Having said that a hewing axe like this is nearly always used one handed and the handle does not get the same stress as a felling axe so I would use pretty well whatever wood you have though with a preference for more fibrous species, ash, oak, elm etc.Split your log in half and half again then if it was a fat log you may be able to go down to 1/8th sections.

What you are aiming for is to cut out a bit of wood that looks like this, just a bit bigger all round than the axe of the axe. Draw round the inside of the eye on to the end grain.  Grain direction does not matter with ash. I often see it suggested that this orientation with the axe head tangential to the growth rings is good and that radial is bad. I find no difference and all the technical data on ash I can find gives the same info. I think the pics of grain direction that are often repeated probably originate from old American sources and are referring to old growth hickory. In my experience ash is fine either way I more normally end up using ti the other way just because when I split the wood out that ends up closest to the shape I want. Bows are made that way on too.
Next if you have another axe handle you like draw round it on the side profile, or just draw a shape you like. Straight handles are fine, I prefer this shape.
Cut the side profile trying to keep the edges at 90 degrees, at this stage we are not looking for a rounded profile just a nice clean rectangle.

Thin the sides down if necessary again aiming for a clean flat plain.

Now work over the surfaces with a knife to smooth the curved lines and leave nice clean cuts on the flats.

So now we have a rectangular section which is about 10-15% over size at the head and just a little over size on the handle. And we leave it to dry. This bit of wood was pretty dry already so 48 hours indoors will probably be enough. When it is dry if I tap it against something it will ring rather than thud and feel nice and springy. You can just leave it a month and be sure but I am always impatient.

This is roughly how it will look when done. This is a cheap old head, I don’t know what the pattern is or where they were made but I have a couple like this, they don’t seem uncommon at car boots and I like the look of it as a carving hatchet. The other old head would make a perfect alternative to a small forest axe for someone on a budget. See how to fit the axe handle here.

5 Responses to how to make a new axe handle

  1. Eric Rucker May 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    Hello Robin,

    What a lovely, generous, empowering post.

    I especially appreciate how you share not only what you have learned from experience but the reasons and parameters of what you think is the “math” behind the solution in order that we can enter into the process for ourselves and start to see and notice the sorts of things a beginner might not otherwise.

    Are you familiar with Bill Coperthwaite’s work to design a “Democratic Axe”? In that case he was addressing the scarcity of affordable new or good-quality second-hand broad axes.

    I think this post of yours is a good complement to his idea. In your case helping others tap into the ready supply of decent used hatchet heads.

    Thank you!


  2. Jim Carpenter September 8, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    From the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky:
    Great article since I have trouble finding good handles for any if my tools!
    Have been carving for 30 yes so I will jump in and make my own!
    Thanks Robin for your desire to share!

  3. Adam April 4, 2015 at 3:09 pm #


    I’m looking to make my first axe handle. I was able to hunt down a ~35″ circular log of hickory that is about 3″ in diameter. If I cut this to the desired shape will it work? Everything I’ve seen starts with an already split piece of wood (as done in this post). I’m mainly concerned with the strength of the handle.


    • Robin Wood September 4, 2016 at 11:17 am #

      No you would end up with the heart of the wood in the handle and would likely split. You must start from a log 6″ diameter and cleave a segment out to make a good handle.

  4. Joe October 14, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

    Thanks for providing the steps required; I’m just about to carve a handle for a felling axe for a friend and this will help with what I need to do.

    However this is the first time I have attempted carving something like this and I want to make a good job of it. I have a Gransfors axe at home which I’ll be using to do the job and notice that it has ridges where the grip area of the handle is and I wanted to replicate that on the handle that i carve.

    Do you know how I would go about doing that? The only ways i could think of would be to either file around or use a spoon knife (which seems too laborious). Thanks if you can provide any guidance.