Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Restoring, Hafting And Sharpening An Axe

Restoring, Hafting And Sharpening An Axe
I have been looking for old axe and hatchet heads to restore to build various types of cutting tools. Over the next few months I hope to rebuild several types of axes including hafting at least one axe in the woods from materials that I find (handle and wedge). Thus far I have only been able to secure the unmarked axe head below but have been looking locally and on various trade blankets for additional projects to bring to you (if you have a lead for me leave a comment and I will check it out). So without further delay lets dig into this process.
1) So here is the Axe head I received on a trade a few weeks ago and as you can see it is a little rusty but is not pitted and there is still plenty of edge to work with.
2) The first step in the process is to soak the axe head in boiled linseed oil allowing it to soak up the oil to help protect the axe head. I like to allow the axe head to soak at a minimum 12 hours but anytime is better than skipping the step it will reduce the amount of time needed to refinish the axe and will also help preserve the axe for the future.
3) I then wipe down the axe head and coat it with liquid wrench before scrubbing it with steel wool. You can technically just leave the oil on the axe and skip this step but I find that liquid wrench helps remove the rust in a more efficient manner.
4) Start removing material with large grit steel wool and work your way up to 000 steel wool (I try to use three different gauges of steel wool working from most aggressive to least aggressive).
4) After using the steel wool I then use three different types of sand paper (400, 600 and 800) starting with 400. Wetting the sand paper seems to work the best in my experience.
5) Finished product with the rust removed and a nice looking patina to show its age and character.

6) Selection of an axe handle and wedge is the net step, unfortunately the selection is few and far between in my area and only two places sold axe handles that I could find. I was looking for something a little shorter but this will have to do.
7) A few notes on wedge selection: a) it should match the width of the axe eye; b) be long enough to match the length of the axe; c) this axe handle came with two shorter wedges so I decided to improvise a little and drive them in tandem which seems to have worked out quite well!

8) Fitting the axe handle to your axe head.This step could become much more involved if you utilize a solid handle, but this handle only needed a little post sanding and shortening the split portion to fit the axe head (leave about 1/4" above the axe head for expansion and allowing it mushroom over the edges of axe head which I believe leaves you with a more secure axe head.

9) Take the linseed oil out once more and coat your wedges with it and also the handle where the head will be fitted. This step allows for a much tighter fit of the axe head and should help to reduce the possibility of the wedge breaking..... unless you are using two wedges then the chances are quite minimal of not cracking the upper wedge.

10) Fit the wedge into the slot in the axe handle and prepare to drive it into the axe handle.

11) Drive the wedge fully into the axe handle using a rubber mallet or wide surface area type hammer. Unfortunately all I had available to me at the time of rebuilding this axe was a sledge hammer thus increasing the chances of breaking the wedge. The first wedge went in smoothly driving it flush and then using the Trayer Wilderness Fire Tool  (See More Here -LINK) to drive it the remainder of the way possible. I then cutoff the second wedge and drive it wide side first allowing for expansion.
12) Post wedge driving you will see the upper wedge cracked in two places but left me with a full eye and an extremely secure axe head. Post hafting notes: a) take sand paper and smooth out the top of the handle to a smooth finish; b) re-coat the axe head and handle with linseed oil to help preserve the axe.

13) A quick sharpening video to show you how I would sharpen an axe in the field. I have become quite fond of this Schrade diamond sharpener and also the Lanskey Puck both of which I highly recommend for sharpening axes and machetes. Remember sharpening an axe isn't about a laser sharp edge it is about creating an edge profile which creates both a workable edge and also good profile working back from the edge for splitting hard woods (Notice how you don't just sharpen the edge but also about an inch back from the edge.
14) Time to put the axe to the test and chop a hard wood. The axe worked quite well and cut through the wood like butter without any axe head slippage or loosening.
15) I went on to split enough wood for a weeks worth of fires or so the axe worked without fail. Just remember to oil the axe head up after using if possible to continue to protect it.

This was a fun process to go through, giving new life to a piece of history. Granted this axe didn't have family history or anything to that effect and lack that connection it was still a fun process where I was able to turn something that was once in a pile of junk into a serviceable axe ready for deployment into the woods for self reliance tasks. There are a million methods to do this processes and this is mine- I'm in no way saying other methods are wrong just not the way I do it. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU, and the only way to find out what works for you is to get out there and test your skills!

Have something outdoor/bushcraft/trapping/preparedness/hiking/camping/fishing/hunting related you want me to make a post about? Leave me a comment and I will see what I can do! As always feel free to leave your questions and comment below! Also if you enjoy the blog please vote for us on the following websites to help us reach a wider audience:

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Want to try a project like this for yourself or possibly purchase a ready made axe? Here are a few links to get you started down that path, good luck with your adventure and feel free to ask any questions you may have. 
Lubricating Oils:

Sharpening Tools:



  1. Seems like the axe handle is going to be the weak spot as far a replacing one goes. I understand the fitting process you outlined, but am wondering if there is something that can be re purposed as a comfortable handle if you can't find one?

    1. as soon as I get another axe head to restore I hope to show the process of hafting an axe in the woods without a commercial handle available.

  2. Well done. I also do old tool restoration. I found if you place a metal wedge perpendicular to you wood wedge. (2) - 1 at 2/3 and 1 at 1\3 point on the head for large heads or 1 at 1/2 for small heads. This expands the handle to the front and back making a forever no slip fit. If the handle ever breaks, cut the handle off flush with the bottom of the head and drive it out from the bottom. Very good titorial.