Axe Refurbish

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Project by TheWoodenOyster posted 06-01-2013 10:45 PM 2608 views 3 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I went out to an estate sale this morning and picked up some tools, and old wooden plane, some maple and teak, and an old Keen Kutter ax head. I saw that old “Made in USA” stamp on the ax head and just had to bring the ax back to its former glory. It was a perfect project for the day, as I’ve kind of been feeling like I need to quit doing research about woodworking for a while and actually get out and do it. This would give me a great chance to try out my new spokeshave, my homemade shavehorse, and a Paul Sellers curved part method using only hand tools. Photos 3 and 4 show the ax head before I did any work on it.

On to how I brought the ax back to life. My first step was to sharpen the ax head. It really didn’t take too long. I just touched up the edge with 80 grit on the belt sander. Then I went on to 100 grit, 220 grit, then my 1200 diamond stone, then the strop. Got it shaving off hair, which I figured was good enough for an ax. There’s something powerfully elegant about a mirror polish on an old pitted steel ax head.

For the handle, I used an old handle that I picked up at the estate sale as a template. I roughly traced it onto a piece of ash that I had dimensioned. After that, I used a method I saw Paul Sellers do at a show I went to a couple months ago. I don’t have a bandsaw, so the method is this: Cut down to your outline about every inch or so, then follow the line with a chisel, chopping block after block out. Photo 5 shows part of the traced traced handle with the saw kerfs cut down to the traced out line. Photo 6 shows the ax handle after the rough chopping with the chisel. This took a while.

Next step was shaving it down. I cranked down to get a thick cut from my spokeshave and got to work. I got a chance to use my homemade shavehorse, and it worked out great. It was the perfect thing to shave down the length of the handle. I kind of did trial and error to get the shape to a place where I liked it. After I was done with the handle, I traced the ax head opening on the top of the handle and got to work on it. After that, I sanded it all down to 100 grit.

Last step was to slam, and I mean slam, the ax head onto the handle. Took me about 30 minutes of pounding, but eventually it seated in nicely. Pounded a couple of nails in the head of the handle to tighten up the handle shaft inside the ax head.

Finished it with a coat of BLO just for grins. Pictures 1 and 2 show the finished product.

A few lessons learned:

1. Leave a little more than you think you need to when you are about to start with the spokeshave. The handle ended up a little skinnier than I would have liked because I shaved so much off.
2. Ash grain isn’t the easiest to deal with. It tore out a little on me in some places no matter which way I worked with the spokeshave.
3. Ash is hard. They make baseball bats out of it for a reason

Nothing beats a Saturday in the shop learning more about wood! Hope y’all enjoy!

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

6 comments so far

View sgmdwk's profile


308 posts in 2020 days

#1 posted 06-02-2013 02:26 PM

It’s fun bringing old tools back to life. For your next axe restoration, cut a slot in the end of the handle, then drive in a glued or epoxied wooden wedge. You shouldn’t have to pound the head onto handle. You can then drive in one or two metal handle wedges (available at most hardware stores). In my forest fire fighting days back in the ‘60s I think I re-handled a couple hundred axes and Pulaskis – but I didn’t make the handles myself. Chances are your head will loosen with changes in weather.

-- Dave K.

View helluvawreck's profile


32083 posts in 3014 days

#2 posted 06-02-2013 02:52 PM

Nice axe and it should serve you well. Congratulations.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 2083 days

#3 posted 06-02-2013 03:36 PM

Thanks for the tip Dave

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View Achiko's profile


38 posts in 3823 days

#4 posted 06-02-2013 05:28 PM

I have always passed on old axes and ax heads. I live in logging country, they’re everywhere, and I’ve even got 1-2 in my shop that I found while metal detecting. Just more junk, I always thought. Now that I’ve seen what you did with yours, that’s going to change. You did a great job of bringing this ax head back to life. I’ll try to do the same.


-- Chuck, Cottage Grove, Oregon --

View Tom515's profile


2 posts in 2526 days

#5 posted 06-02-2013 08:25 PM

WO, if you just start the ax on the handle and tap the end away from the ax with a mallet it will suck up real tight without having to beat it on. A tip I learned fron my Dad many years ago. Nice looking handle. Tom

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 2083 days

#6 posted 06-03-2013 12:09 AM

I was going to use wood wedges, but by the time I had gotten the head on the axe, not wood wedge would have made it into the slot i had cut without breaking. I did pin it with nails at the top. Once it gets colder and dryer and I can put it to use, we’ll see if the wood shrinks and I have any problems with slippage.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

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