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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I made my version of a saw vise with which to sharpen my hand saws, a little over a year ago. I’d picked some oak out of my “shorts” bin, that I could use to make the heads for the front and back legs of the vise. A couple of weeks ago I was in the middle of sharpening an old Disston back saw, and the vise wasn’t holding as securely, and while I was performing some work on it, the head split into two pieces. I really wanted to get it back into action, so I could finish sharpening the old saw.
The piece that broke was actually just over 1″ thick, so this time around I decided I’d go more with current convention and re-make it with some 8/4 Maple. While I was at it, I’d noticed my original design needed some revision, as it didn’t accept smaller saws (like a dovetail saw) very well. To hold the blade high enough to sharpen, the handle and part of the blade had to slide just outside an end of the vise, leading to extra vibrations and chatter with the file.
After creating my new pattern, I traced it onto my workpiece. Just before going over to the band saw, I remembered I’d planned to remove 1/4″ from the body of the work piece, so the top edge would grip the saw while leaving room for back saws. I decided to go a different route, and I cut another piece of Maple that was 1″Wide x 1/4″Deep x 18″Long. I glued and clamped this along the top edge of my main work piece, which seemed much more efficient than removing the waste material. (*Note: After completing this replacement head, I ran into a complication, but still found a way to make it work.)
While the glue was curing, I took the leg of my vise, from which part of the head had broken. I planned to re-use the leg, so I scored all along the joint line, between the head and the leg. I took a sharp chisel and made a little trough in the head material, where I wanted my hand saw to cut, so I wouldn’t damage the mating area of the leg.
I’d used my Festool Domino to join each head to it’s respective leg, with a couple of dominos on each one. This made it very easy to replace the head. (*Note: Even if it originally had a full tenon running up into the head, you could still saw the head off, and use the Domino to attach a replacement head). After I hand sawed (see above) so the remaining portion of the old head was separate from the leg, I just needed to pare away a few slivers of wood that were left behind. Now we are just waiting on the glue to cure.
With the lip solidly in place (photo above), I retraced my design onto my Maple, and I was off to the band saw. A few minutes later and I had a decent looking head, even though I still needed to clean up the sawn surface. I used my Auriou rasps to smooth out the curved surfaces and followed them with some sandpaper. The rear of the vise head needs some bevels, to allow your hands to get up close to a saw that you’re sharpening, which I created with my old Stanley #6. This plane has the right balance in it is just the right size, the weight isn’t too heavy, and it’s iron seem to cut forever, even if it is set for a fairly thick shaving. This combination lets me remove a decent amount of wood fairly quickly, while also being easy to control. Many shavings later and the shaping was complete!
I lined the original leg up against the new head, with the two surfaces that would mate, and made a couple of lines across the joint. I’ll use these with the Domino, so everything aligns when it is assembled. If you have two pieces of unlike thickness, make sure you make these marks on the surface you wish to align on the parts, as this ends up the reference surface. When I went to use the Domino on the head, the fence reached deeper into the head than I’d recalled, and it held the cutter away from the head by close to 1/2″. I quickly cut another piece of maple the same thickness as I’d used for the lip, and taped it to the inside surface of the head, so it was in the same plane as the lip. Now the Domino’s fence could ride on the lip and the new piece, allowing the Domino’s face to reach the head. I did have to adjust the depth from the fence to the cutter, from what I would use on the leg, but it was easy enough to sight in by eye since there are two spring-loaded pins that are centered with the cutter.
I set the Domino’s width-of-cut knob to the most narrow, for the holes I made in the head, while I set this setting to the middle choice, for the holes in the leg. This allows for slight mis-alignments, and still end up with a viable piece. If you choose the most narrow selection for both pieces, and you don’t hit your marks perfectly, the piece may not even go together. There is really no play when this setting is selected on both parts! Remember this if you ever buy or use a Domino!
I used two #8 Dominos that were 50mm long, which gave plenty of strength, and there was still enough room between each Domino to stay strong. To glue up the pieces, I always make sure I’m ready to roll as soon as I apply the glue. You don’t want the Dominos to swell and not fit into their holes. After applying yellow glue to one half of a Domino, I knocked it into one of the holes in the head (the holes that are the exact size for the Domino, and always the first to receive the Dominos), and repeated on the second Domino. Almost immediately I applied glue to the other end of both Dominos and tapped the head so the Dominos seated into the leg. If the head is off to one side a bit, just tap it back into alignment, but do it before the glue wants to seize. I placed the head/leg unit into a parallel jaw clamp, snugged it down, and wiped away all glue squeeze out.
After the glue dried, I checked the contact lip to see how it’s surface looked. There was a slight crown towards the center of it’s length, which I planed away very quickly. I intentionally created a very slight spring joint, so it was most hollow in the center, and gradually working out to each end. This will allow the vise to hold the saw blades very securely.
After comparing the new head with the remaining old head, I decided I wasn’t going to be happy with replacing just one, so I did exactly the same thing for the other leg. On the second piece, I decided to use the Domino again, but this time as soon as I had the final shape of the main head. It made it easier to have a flat face for the Domino’s fence to reference against. Besides applying the lip to the head after using the Domino, everything else went pretty much the same as on the first, so it was just repetition.
After bringing both head/leg units to the same level, I cut some suede leather for the inside of each jaw. I applied a light coating of contact cement onto both pieces of leather, and onto the mating surfaces of the jaws, and then waited for them to dry to the level the adhesive maker advised (25-40 minutes on my product, but if too much time lapses, another coat is required to re-activate the product). For those who’ve not used contact cement, this is the normal protocol. You apply the recently dried pieces, and apply pressure which activates a very strong bond. Then it was just a matter of trimming away the slight overhang I included in my pieces, so all the clamping surfaces would have coverage.
I was extremely pleased with both how nice the new heads for the saw vise turned out, and how well they interacted with the saws. I would highly suggest making a saw vise, but if you don’t trust that you can make that happen, then buy one. It is easy enough to learn the basics of saw sharpening, and there are at least a couple of good DVDs on the subject that can accelerate your learning curve. It is great to learn how to sharpen all of your tools, which keeps the tools at home, rather than sending them out for sharpening and waiting.
Thank you for stopping by to check out my article. I hope this might help you make one, too. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
I just re-read the title of this post, and it sounds like I should be a mad scientist holed up in some distant castle, making lots of muhwahahaha types of evil laughter. Ok, so the last part may be somewhat true, but I digress. After the glue dried, attaching the oak blocks to each leg, I […]
As I mentioned in the article I posted yesterday (here), I planned to make a Stitching Pony. While I was working on a project, I happened to recall seeing Jason Thigpen’s video over at TxHeritage.net a while ago, where he used his saw vise to hold leather he was stitching. I figured I should give my saw […]
I drove up to Homestead Heritage (608 Dry Creek Rd., 76705) in Waco, TX today, as it was the first day of the Lie-Nielsen Handtool event. As usual, Lie-Nielsen have two of their workbenches onsite, as well as their tool line, ready to hold, feel and see how they behave on wood, as well as […]