Axe handles wear out over time. They can splinter or split, and if the condition of the handle has deteriorated, the shaft may even break off completely, usually within two to four inches of the axe head. When conditions demand a replacement axe handle, removing the old one is not especially difficult, and installing a new handle should only take a few minutes.
Step 1 - Select a Replacement Handle
Axe handles are traditionally made of hickory or some other strong, hard wood. Avoid handles that have been varnished or painted, as this serves to either make the handle too slippery for accurate use, or adds too much friction and results in severe blistering of unprotected hands. Lastly, select a shaft with a grain the runs the length of the handle. The wood grain should run parallel to the axe head because if the grain runs crosswise, the handle is much more likely to break during use.
Step 2 - Remove the Broken Handle
Place the axe head in a vise so that you have plenty of access to the top. If there is a wedge installed in the axe head, remove it before trying the extract the old handle. One strategy for a metal wedge is to drill into the wood on either side to loosen its grip. Then, use locking pliers to get a hold on the wedge and pull it free with a claw hammer. For a wooden wedge, you can drill into it instead and place a screw in the hole, securing it tightly. Next, grip the screw with a pair of pliers and pull.
After the wedge is removed, take a hammer and a punch or coal chisel and use them to drive the old axe handle out through the bottom of the axe head. Clean out the slot in the axe head with steel wool to remove any old material, including dirt and rust.
Step 3 - Insert the New Handle
Inserting a new handle in a chopping axe is relatively simple. Place the handle tip into the bottom of the axe head, and tap it in until the tip is flush with the top edge of the axe head. If the handle is too loose, you may need to remove the upper part of the handle tip, but do not cut off more than 1/4 inch at a time. Another method is to insert the handle fully, and then remove the excess by either cutting it off, or breaking it off by striking it with a hammer. Some people prefer to simply leave the excess in place, resulting in the handle protruding a fraction of an inch above the axe head.
Step 4 – Insert Handle Shims
Once the axe handle is seated firmly in place, use a metal shim to lock it into place. The wedge is driven into the top of the handle, directly into the slot cut into the handle at the factory. However, it is important that you do not drive the handle back out of the axe head when applying the metal wedge, so be sure that your handle is supported properly when you’re driving in the wedge.
Step 5 – Get Extra Security with Epoxy
Some people want to add an extra level of hold to be safe. To do this, apply an epoxy to the top of the axe handle, filling the entire opening in the top of the axe head. Allow the epoxy to dry thoroughly before using the axe. If desired, epoxy can also be applied around the handle where it enters the axe head as well.