how to fit a new axe handle

This blog post shows how to fit a new axe handle, it could be a new store bought handle or one you made yourself following the instructions in the previous blog post on how to make an axe handle. This is the old head and new roughed out handle I made in the previous post. The handle should be thoroughly dry before fitting.

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.

Hew off sides again starting by making a rectangle.

 Then take the corners off.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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 perfect 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
Shame I don’t do leatherwork really or I could do a tutorial on a nice sheath for it.

7 Responses to how to fit a new axe handle

  1. Tico Vogt December 19, 2010 at 1:18 am #

    Hi Robin,In the 13th photo where you discuss the shaping and profile of the wedge, is that the wedge viewed from the side? It looks very narrow in relation to the axe head.Best,Tico

  2. Robin Wood December 19, 2010 at 8:33 am #

    Hi Tico,yes viewed from side, it is quite narrow as the handle is a fairly tight fit in the head anyway, if there was a bigger gap around the handle in the eye I would use a fatter wedge. You can see when driven in it still left a significant width of wedge showing, everything compresses a lot.

  3. Jonni southwood January 7, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    hi Robin,Excellent! i bought an old axe head a few years ago at a craft fair and have never quite been happy with the handle or the fit with the head. I doubt you can't get much more dangerous than an axe head flying off.

  4. Kotteman January 16, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Great post! I have tried to make an Axe handle myself but that dint go that well, but now I think I will try my luck again:)On your next axe you can try to make the wedge of fatwood and before you wedge it in place it in a fire so the resin/tar will pour out and make it sticky, this natural glue will make it hold longer. I have never tried it but the guy who told me this said that this was how the Sami people did it.

  5. Christo March 12, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

    Hi Robin,

    Have been enjoying the axe I bought from you. I’ve been carving spoons with it for the last two months. Inside my home it’s quite dry and the handle shrunk a bit so the head has become a bit loose. Any tips for re-swelling or should I refit the head?

    kind regards,


    • Robin Wood March 27, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

      That should not happen send me an email with your details and I will replace it.

  6. Dave Scott-Hepburn August 24, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    I wish I’d read this earlier, mine became loose a few weeks back and I’ve already drilled it out. Was here looking for a replacement handle!