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 was planning to plane the larger 6’+ sections of the Soft Maple, that I bought for my workbench upgrade, on my saw horses. This morning I had some time scheduled to start on these bigger slabs, and when I looked at my saw horses, I just wasn’t sure I would get the results I was after. When I saw how solid the stack of wood looked, where I had it stickered, I decided I’d just work it as it lay.
The first board had a bit of twist going on, so I found a big Ash wedge from my Drawknife horse, and slid it in nice and tight. I noticed there was a substantial hump running the length of the slab, which I wanted to remove in the course of removing the rough sawmill surface. I grabbed my Stanley No. 6, as usual, and set the cambered blade to take a thick cross-grain shaving. I clamped a couple of boards onto the stickering boards beneath this slab, to help minimize the wood from moving around. I started working from the right end of the board, and keeping my passes with the plane so they overlapped the previous stroke. I knew this large of a slab was going to take some time, which likely led me to set my iron a little deeper than normal, and before I put a chamfer on the out-flow side of the slab, bam! I knew I should have taken the time to make the chamfer, but the nice splintering really drove the point home. To rectify my mistake, I first trimmed the thick spelching with a large paring chisel, and then used my plane to create a decent chamfer.
As I was working the wood so close to the floor, most of the time I knelt on the floor, while using my arms to handle a bit more of the work than normally. I was still able to get into a decent work flow, and the work progressed fairly quickly.
It took just over an hour to get the first face-side 95% complete, which wasn’t nearly as long as I initially thought. And, if I already had a workbench large enough to support the size slab, I may not have used quite as many breaks, since my body did seem to wear out quicker working in the alternate kneeling position.
After getting the slab fairly far along, I decided to work directly down the length of the hump. with another cambered-iron plane with the iron set to a more reasonable depth. The first few strokes felt somewhat awkward, so I shifted to using a side “throw”, where I had the plane about 90-degrees to my body. I faced the side of the board, and moved the plane so it was going the length of the slab, which actually felt much less awkward. I saw @Paul Sellers use this planing technique in a video he posted some while ago, so figured I might give it a try. Everyone reading this, should give this planing motion/position a try, as it can help to spread the load around to other muscles, since the load can be significant on bench top constructions.
I’m going to head back out to the shop, but thought an update on progress could both give me a little break, and keep all of my readership informed.
Thanks as always for stopping by. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
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