If you’ve ever wondered how an axe handle stays in place without flying off, it’s thanks to the wedge. We’ve created this axe wedge guide to answer all your questions on how they work, types of wedges, and more. Let’s dive in.
What is an axe wedge?
An axe wedge is a small, thin piece of wood or metal that is driven into the kerf of the handle. Its purpose is to stop the axe head from coming off. This simple axe part creates friction by wedging the handle and head together, locking everything in place.
What size wedge do I need?
The size of wedge required for an axe will vary depending on the type of axe and brand. It will need to fit into the eye of an axe head, with no gaps. A hatchet will need a much shorter wedge than a felling axe, but their angles are universal.
Many replacement handles come with a poplar wedge that has dimensions of 3”x3”x3/8”, which is oversized. The extra wood allows you to taper and shape it to a suitable size, then slice off any sticking-out wood once it’s been hammered into the handle.
Keep in mind that the axe’s eye is wider at the top. A square wedge will need to be shaped to allow for this tapered slot. You can do this with sandpaper or a belt sander.
- Wedges made from hardwoods usually need to be thinner as they don’t compress as well.
- Fat wedges are popular as they’re robust and compress well into the kerf. These wedges can be thinned if needed and work well with softer wood varieties.
What type of wood are axe wedges made from?
The industry standard for axe wedges is softer hardwoods like poplar; they are easy to work with for beginners. For more experienced woodworkers, hardwood varieties like cherry, oak, and walnut are excellent options. They’re durable and add unique color to the axe; but you’ll need more skill to work with these types of wood.
It’s possible to use a softwood wedge for an axe, but the wood is less dense and may shrink from pressure over time. Dense hardwoods will maintain their shape, even when subjected to constant pressure.
- Poplar is easy to work with for beginners as it fills the shape of the kerf without needing a lot of shaping. It’s also best for rehanging older axes on their original handle which may be brittle.
- Hard wedges last longer than soft wedges but require a higher level of skill and shaping to fit.
- Porous hardwoods like paduk and red oak should be oiled regularly as they tend to compress over time.
Tip: If a soft wedge cracks while you’re hammering it into the kerf it should still work fine, without affecting the axe’s strength.
Summary of wood types for wedges
|Type of wood||Hardness|
|Osage Orange||Very hard|
5 types of axe wedges
1. Step wedge
Metal step wedges, or barrel wedges, can be hammered across a wooden wedge to increase the pressure. They’re the most popular variety of steel wedge in the U.S. and Canada. Step wedges are useful if you think there may be a weak spot.
2. Barrel metal wedge
Barrel metal wedges are a type of circular metal wedge that will help keep the handle in position. They offer the benefit of durability and will easily outlast a wooden wedge.
3. Swedish style metal wedge
Swedish style wedges are a highly effective way to keep your axe head from coming off. They are harder to find in stores, so you’ll probably need to search online for them. A Swedish wedge has three metal prongs that are driven into the axe handle.
4. British style wedge
British wedges include cleats that help it to securely bite into the wood. They work like step wedges but offer improved outward pressure.
5. Wooden wedge
The most common type of axe wedge is made from wood. It is easy to find in hardware stores – a great all-round option that beginners will find easy to use. Metal wedges can be added after the wooden one to make it extra secure.
Commonly asked questions
Where can I buy an axe wedge?
Axe wedges are usually included when you buy a new axe handle. If you just need the wedge, visit a local hardware store and pick up a kit that includes a wooden wedge as well as a metal cross wedge.
Do I need to glue a wedge?
To help secure an axe handle, carpenter’s glue can be added to each side of the wedge before hammering it in. However, it’s okay to avoid this step as it makes the axe hard to repair if there are future problems with the handle. An alternative to glue is boiled linseed oil which helps the wedge swell and bind.
Can I use a full metal wedge?
For a more durable wedge that adds more pressure, it is possible to use full aluminum or steel wedges instead of wood. Keep in mind these are difficult to remove if you need to change the handle again in the future.
Does an axe need a wedge?
Some people choose not to add a wedge when hanging an axe, but it is strongly recommended. Without it, the axe head can fly off, endangering the person swinging the axe and anyone nearby.
Does ash or hickory make a stronger wedge?
Hickory is a tough, hard variety of wood that has a Janka hardness rating of 1820. While ash is also a strong wood, its Janka rating is 1320.
Wedges may be small and unassuming, but they’re an important part of the axe. When you buy a new handle, the wedge usually comes with it. For anyone who’s made their own, there are loads of wedges on the market which you can use.
Poplar is a good option for ease of application, but you may want to try something harder like ash or even metal if you are handy with tools.