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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We have an old dresser that is almost 30 years old, that was purchased just before our son was born. It has some nice looking maple/curly maple on it and is fairly heavy, which lead us to believe it was well made. Unfortunately, this was around the time I was just cutting my teeth on some basic woodworking, so I didn’t dig into it as I would today.
I became aware that the top drawer was twisting in it’s track and it was a struggle to get the drawer in or out. As I was going through all of the excess stuff in the room, I pulled the drawer to see what exactly was happening. The drawers, which are each approximately 30″ wide, have one “T” shaped runner in the dead center of each level. The front end of the runners are screwed to the face frame, and initially it looked like the rear swung into what looked like a dado, with perhaps a dab of glue securing it. After completely removing the top runner, I saw there was a hole in the rear of the case, in the “dado section”, as well as signs a screw was driven into the rear end of the runner. The actions of the drawer must have created enough vibration to cause the rear screw to back out of the runner. Sure enough, I pulled the dresser away from the wall and there was one screw lying on the ground and it fit perfectly into the hole in the runner.
The second part of the dresser issues is the fact that they installed a plastic guide on the rear of each drawer, to fit over the runner’s “T” shape. I know not all plastic is bad, but in this type of usage, it just doesn’t seem like it matches the drawer sizing, nor the level of the dresser’s original cost. The plastic guide on the problematic top drawer, had split at some point and one side section was gone.
I can’t tell if the screw popped out of the back first, and the ability of the rear section of the runner to swing from side to side applied extra side force to break the guide, or if the guide went first. I suppose at this point it really doesn’t make much difference.
With the runner from the top drawer already out, I took it to the shop as a template for a replacement guide. I found some cherry that looked like it would potentially work nicely.
I started with a piece of cherry that was about 6″ long, marked out the guide’s overall length, and marked a centerline to align with the center of the runner. I clamped the cherry in the face vise on my bench, and set my small square so the bottom of the runner was just slightly proud of the guide. I needed the bottom of the guide to just clear the face frame when installing the drawer. So with the rear of the runner sitting on the cherry, and the top of the runner against the square, I traced around the shape of the runner.
With the necessary opening of the guide defined, I used my Lie-Nielsen Crosscut saw to saw straight down at the two narrow vertical lines, until I reached the top of the intended opening. Shifting to my Knew Concepts saw, I cut along the horizontal lines, leaving only the the narrow vertical sections uncut. I used my small 1/4″ palm chisel from Czeck Edge Tools to methodically remove the remaining wood.
I tested the fit and it was too tight widthwise, for the runner to completely enter the created opening in the guide. I used a small file to carefully remove wood, testing every so often, until the desired fit was established. All of the sharp edges were gently rounded to provide the best opportunity for the guide and runner to interact well together. Lastly I applied my Lie-Nielsen stick of paraffin to the mating surfaces of the guide and runner, and rubbed them in to help obtain the best performance.
I’ll include the installation information in one of my next blog entries. Thank you for stopping by and checking out the article. Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.
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