I’ve been using quite a few different types of hatchets / axes lately, and many of them feel decent enough in my hand, but one of the older handles is top notch for me. The range of handles are from a number of makers that even the casual user would likely recognize, but the one that stands out for me, is a hickory one in my old Plumb hatchet. Other than the handle on my older Sears hatchet, which is fairly round in cross-section and unfortunately feels like it would be in a lower quality hammer, the rest have some aspect of similarity. These all have a cross-section that is somewhat oval (a bit flattened) or perhaps even leaning towards teardrop in shape, which I find much better than a round cross-section, at least for a hatchet/axe.
The handle in my old Plumb hatchet is much more “delicate” in grip girth, but it has been up for the task. I’ve used this hatchet for a number of years, and it was my grandfather’s before it made it to me, and it’s still rocking the original handle. Pretty impressive for a slim little handle!
When I find something that both feels great and works well, I take as many notes as possible, to help determine what it is that lends to the overall excellence. If applicable, I’ll replicate the design to see how it behaves, and how much time it requires to make by hand. This new version can end up as a replacement for the original, if needed, as long as it feels good in the hand. You never know when you might swing and unintentionally damage a handle, no matter how long its previously lasted.
I made a simple pattern for this handle, using a previously used Priority box from the Postal Service, as the box was of decent size.
I measured the dimensions of the existing handle, and found an off-cut in my bin that was close enough to call a match. I honestly didn’t know what type of wood I’d chosen (not 100% sure even now), as the majority of the piece had a dark colored and very rough cut exterior. I used a pencil to trace my pattern onto my blank, and quickly cut it out on my bandsaw. This was the only piece of powered equipment I used to make this handle. After cutting the blank close to my pattern lines, as well as then diving in at the pommel, and cutting a very light taper to create some swell at the end, it was obvious the grain was not nearly as straight-grained as the original hickory version.
From this point forward, I used a draw knife, my flat and curved versions of my Lie-Nielsen spoke shaves, a carving knife I made last year, along with a couple of chisels and scrapers (one was a purpose-made card scraper, but even though the other was a bit makeshift, it worked wonderfully for very light cleanup).
I find I have a tendency to work much more cautiously when performing the first of a given process, and with finding the blank lacked pure straight grain, I made sure I didn’t bite off too much with the drawknife. Even using the drawknife with the bevel down, as I did on this handle, you could dive into the grain, splitting away so much wood that you’d ruin the planned shape. On this handle, I also wasn’t sure whether I might end up going with an octagon faceting rather than the continuous curve of the original, but as I gradually approached the final dimensions, I decided I’d stick to a good likeliness of the original.
After using the scrapers, I applied a coat of Watco’s Danish Oil in the natural color, which provides a small level of protection as well as enhancing the wood grain. I also decided to sit the handle outside on the hood of my car, during the midday sun, to see if it would get a sun tan. Some woods are known to change in color, with direct sun light exposure, but I’m not sure whether this unknown species really changed all that much, if any. I took before and after photos, and it wasn’t completely obvious to my eyes.
I hope this might spur some of you to try making a handle or two for yourselves, and you might just find you can tweak them so they fit your hand better than anything you’ve ever purchased.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks for stopping to check out this posting!
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For those that follow me on my other social media, I mentioned I’d write an article describing how I am burnishing the edges of my leather projects, as it is relatively simple and doesn’t require much “elbow grease”! So let’s get after it and I hope this may make it easier for anyone that is trying.
I’ve been making some leather sheaths for knives and some other items for a few months now, and have a basic background with working leather as a young kid, but it was focused more towards putting together pre-created pieces together or carving basic enhancements. My current projects are getting better in all aspects, as I’m fine tuning little by little. The edges on all of my recent items were left “raw”, as in the same surface texture as the cutting device transferred. I’ve looked at a number of professional leather pieces and almost all have edges that are what I’d best describe as “finished”.
I don’t recall ever see anyone finish the edges like that when I was young, at least not on the things we were making, but I really do appreciate this look. With that in mind, I decided to try a number of things in the attempt to create a similar look on my edges. I started off with some sand paper, and depending on how consistent the flow of the lines were, started at 100-grit or 150-grit, followed by some 220-grit. I read where some were using different types of waxes, during the burnishing stage, and others used oils. I decided to go with a blend, by using Jojoba oil, which is a waxy oil. After applying a coating to the edge, I tried a number of different smooth/hard items, but nothing really seemed to occur.
I decided to apply a light coat of Liberon Black Bison wax to the edges, and left it to dry. This time I tried using my Dremel with one of the felt wheels, to see if I could cause some friction action, and get the look I was after. This still left it a long way from my target look.
Next I put a 12″ length of hard maple onto my Teknatool Nova XP wood lathe, and using a gouge, created a groove a little bit wider than the widest width on my current pieces. The gouge left a very smooth surface in the groove, and I applied some wax all the way around the shaft, so the groove was ready to do the work for me. (or at least I hoped so)
I turned on my lathe and brought the speed up to 1800 rpm, moved the rest out of the way, and then brought the edge of my sheath under the groove. I raised the sheath enough so it was touching the rotating groove, and started working the sheath slowly along so that all of the edge received the results of the spinning groove.
The results were nothing short of surprising! The mix of wax, oil and the friction provided by the spinning piece of maple, provided a nice sealed surface to the edge and raised the overall level of the sheath.
I brought two other recent sheaths out to test to see if this was a fluke, or if I could repeat it at will. I decided to again apply the Jojoba Oil, followed by Black Bison wax, and the maple shaft did the rest. Both of the test sheaths looked equally as nice as did the first sheath.
I will keep this maple shaft for any future leather projects, and mount it on the lathe whenever it is needed, so it won’t take up any real space in the shop in between uses.
I hope you enjoyed this article and it helps you improve your projects. As always, please make sure to let me know if you have any questions or comments.
@LeeLairdWW – Twitter
@LeeLairdWoodworking – Instagram
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