If you crack, split or break an axe handle, the safest thing to do is to replace it rather than wrap it with tape or try to fix it with epoxy glue. Other solutions can be extremely unsafe and they just don’t work in the long run. Replacing an axe handle is a difficult process, but definitely can be done in an afternoon of hard work. Here’s how.
Step 1 - Buy a New Handle
Go to a hardware store and locate the section with replacement handles for tools. Select an ash or hickory handle that is preferably unfinished. Bring your old axe with you to the store to help you match up the correct size . Also, get a couple wood handle wedges and twice as many steel handle wedges while you're there.
Step 2 - Remove the Old Handle
Begin by taking off the old handle. Saw it off close to the head of the axe, and then soak the head overnight in a bucket of water. Let it dry completely for a day afterward. The water will swell the wood, but then when it dries it will be looser than before and easier to remove.
Next, clamp the axe head into the vise. If there are wedges at the top of the handle, knock them out with the hammer and cold chisel. Open the vise again and turn the axe head upside down this time. Start with the largest diameter steel rod that will fit in the socket and begin tapping the handle out. A determined tapping should begin to break it up, but getting frustrated and driving the rod like a nail will not help. Work on different parts of the handle and not just one spot for the best results. If any handle bits remain jammed in the corners of the socket, use the smaller rod to punch them out. Ensure that the socket is completely clean before moving on.
Step 3 - Test Fit the New Handle
Keeping the axe head upside down in the vise, check to see if the new handle fits. It is goes in easily, it is the wrong handle. It should be just a little too big for the axe to fit correctly and tightly. Return this handle and get a new one if this is the case.
The handle should also have a saw kerf in the end, cut across the longest axis. The wooden wedge that you bought should be a little shorter than this slot.
Step 4 - File the Handle Sides
The sides of the axe socket are not parallel; toward the top, the opening widens. Use the rasp to carefully trim the handle down until it matches the bottom of the axe head socket, taking special care to not trim it so far that it doesn’t fit solid. The more careful you are at this stage, the longer the axe will last. Once the top of the handle has the exact fit, shave the sides of the handle down to a parallel section long enough to go completely through the socket.
Step 5 - Add the Wooden Wedge
Saw off any excess handle as close to the steel as possible. If the handle is tight in the head, the saw kerf would noticed earlier will probably be closed. However, you will still be inserting the wedges regardless. Line up the edge of the wooden wedge with the kerf and begin to tap it in with the hammer. Use light taps so as not to break the wedge. If you drive it as deep as possible and the wedge is still sticking out, cutting the remaining portion off.
Step 6 - Pound in the Steel Wedge
Place a steel wedge in the center of the handle head and pound it into the handle like a nail. It will split the wooden wedge in half and expand the handle in the other direction. Finish it off by driving it in with the cold chisel or punch at the end so the head of the wedge is just below the top of the handle.
Step 7 - Finish
With that, your new handle should fitted tightly into the old axe head. All that is left is to add your own finish and protectant to ensure the handle lasts.