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 tweeted late last night a photo of what might look like the newest wooden watch prototype. Well, I’m hear to tell you I’m in no way trying to test my entry into the watch market! Haha. In actuality, the photo (shown below) is the 3-D cutout, from a block of maple, that will be the knob for my new Saw Vise. This will allow me to both tighten and loosen the nut, without the need to retrieve any tools.
I started out with a block of maple that was about 4″ long x 2″ wide x 1 1/2″ thick. I looked for a piece this thick, as my intention was for my knob to fit over the metal nut, and have the two “legs” sticking up from the body, around 30-degrees or so. This would make it easy to get a good grip and not have the fingertips close to contacting the vise’s leg.
I made a center mark, for the location I would drill out waste, and then followed with all of my layout marks on the block. I measured the maximum size, across the flats of the metal nut, so I could determine what size forstner bit I could use without lessening the contact of the wood to the nut. When I translated the decimal value on my digital calipers, it turned out an 11/16″ forstner would be just about perfect. I took the blank to the drill press, and drilled deep enough so the nut would sit down just about flush, in the knob. Now it was back to the bench.
I placed the nut so it was centered over the 11/16″ hole I’d just drilled, and while holding it tightly in place, scored around it’s perimeter. I went back over the initial marks, until they were a bit deeper, and then chose a chisel that was about 1/16″ less than the length of one of the nut’s flats. I lightly chiseled straight down, all the way around the hole for the nut, repeating this until I was at the bottom. Since I drilled out the middle of this area, this went amazingly fast, and the chisel want to dive away from the center. I tested the nut, which didn’t just slip into place, but required some heavy thumb pressure to seat. With a couple of sharp hits against a cushioned board, the nut worked back out, which was exactly what I was looking for. Time to shift back to working on the exterior portions of the knob.
I took the blank over to my band saw and followed my layout lines on the angled portions of both legs, and then in the other plane, along the legs and around the body shape. I didn’t think the band saw was going to be my friend, working on the excess stock removal, between the angled sections of the legs. Instead, I used my Knew Concepts fret saw (still need to pick up one of his coping saws), to remove this somewhat awkward section of wood. It took a bit longer than I’d have liked, as I didn’t have any blades with teeth that were more coarse, but it still did a great job.
With the rough shape in place, I again put the nut into the knob, and tested it on the saw vise. The bolt came into contact with the wood at the bottom of the nut hole, using the hole from the tip of the previous forstner bit, so I made a note to drill in from the opposite side with a 1/2″ forstner. This is the same size hole I drilled through the body of the saw vise, for this bolt.
I cut the four little “ears” away from the part, again using the fret saw, this time extremely quick as it was more akin to cutting waste between dovetails. The rest of the exterior was shaped and cleaned up with spokeshaves, Auriou rasps, files and then some fine grit sandpaper.
One of the “legs” on the knob went all the way to a fine point, and I planned to cut it back to match the other “leg’s” more blunt shape. As I was going into the shop to cut this little section, an alternate solution came to mind. I setup my No. 51 Shoot Board Plane and the shooting board on my bench, along with a small scrap-wood spacer, since the shape of this knob doesn’t allow the leg to get support from the fence. So I “nibbled” away at the knob’s leg, until I just left my pencil line.
I chucked the 1/2″ forstner into my cordless drill, and removed the waste, from the center of the knob’s hole for the bolt to fit through. Even though that was the “perfect” size for this bolt, I still decided to used a fine round-file to give just a bit more clearance, and hit the inside edges with some sandpaper. I also went back over all of the knob with some 320-grit sandpaper, and followed it up with some Danish Oil.
After the Danish Oil dried, I mixed up a little epoxy, with which to glue the nut inside the knob. To help the gluing process, I scuffed up the outside surfaces on the nut, with some coarse sandpaper. I pressed the nut home and let it sit, until it was dry.
Late last night I put the knob/nut unit into place on the Saw Vise, and I really like the look.
I want to thank you for checking out the article, as always. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments, and I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly.
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