If you break the handle on a cheap axe, it’s easier to replace the whole axe. But what if you’re the proud owner of a Gransfors Bruk or you’ve got an axe that’s been handed down through the generations? You’ll need to replace the haft, and in this article, we’ll show you how! Keep reading to learn how to rehandle an axe the right way.
The steps for replacing a handle are universal, whether it’s a hatchet, sledgehammer, or splitting maul. Let’s dive in and get that axe back to showroom condition.
What do I need to replace an axe handle?
To replace the handle on an axe, you’ll need the replacement handle, glue, sandpaper, and a wedge kit if they aren’t included with the new handle. The required tools include a hacksaw, hammer, large punch, and rubber mallet.
Be sure to buy the right handle to fit the axe head, whether it’s oblong, round, or teardrop.
A hacksaw is a cheap option, but you can use other saws that are made to cut wood and possibly steel.
Steps to replace a broken axe handle
1. Remove the broken handle
If your axe has a snapped, cracked, or loose handle then the first step is to remove it from the head. Jump ahead to the next step you’ve just got a bare axe head.
The top part of the handle is wider than the bottom. It’s been wedged into the head, which is what makes it secure.
The best way to remove it is to drill into the wood through the eye of the axe head. Make the hole large enough to jam a metal wedge or punch into it, then bang it with a mallet or hammer. If needed, give it a hard bash to thrust it out.
Once the damaged handle is removed, mark the top and bottom of the head. You don’t want to attach it to a new handle upside-down.
Did you know? Although fire is an easy way to remove the remaining haft, it will damage the metal.
2. Clean up the axe head
Start by looking for rust and sanding it off. This is also the time to remove any sharp edges or bumps of any sort. The combination of angle grinder and metal saw will smooth out the edges nicely.
While you’re working on the axe head, it makes sense to give the blade a touch-up. You can use a whetstone, file, or power tool to sharpen the bit.
Check the eye of the axe to make sure all the wooden handle has been removed. You can use a chisel or sandpaper to make sure the eye is clean, smooth, and ready for the new haft.
Here are some useful resources to help you clean up an axe head so that it’s in top condition:
Once you’re happy with the head, you may want to paint it first and allow to dry. Otherwise, move to the next step.
3. Mark the kerf
Kerfs are a thin cut through the centerline of the handle. It is where you’ll drive in the wooden wedge later in the process. For now, check that the new handle has a pre-cut kerf (most should have it). Then, work out where the kerf ends and mark the handle all around with a pencil. Having this visual reference is useful for working out how deep the handle needs to be pushed into the eye.
4. Fit the handle
You’ll find that the shape of a new handle usually doesn’t make a perfect fit for the eye. They may need some work to get a nice match.
A handle that’s too large will take a little shaping using sandpaper with a coarse grit or an angle grinder. Remove small amounts of material at a time as you don’t want to take the handle too far.
Any gaps may result in a tool head that’s loose, inefficient, and dangerous to use. After a small amount of sanding, test it for size, then sand more if needed.
To fit the handle, position the head onto the handle, making sure it is on the right way around. Use a mallet to hit the head down onto the handle. Keep striking until about one inch of handle is sticking out the top of the head.
5. Add the wedge
The wedge needs to fit snugly into the eye. If it’s too large, use a wood chisel to reduce it down. Next, saw off the handle that is sticking out the top of the eye. If you notice the wedge slot has closed, make a small cut with a hacksaw. It just needs to be big enough to get the wedge started.
Apply some wood glue to the wedge, then drive it into the gap until it is flush with the handle. Although glue isn’t essential, it helps keep everything secure.
If you have a metal wedge, now’s the time to wedge it in, perpendicular to the wooden wedge. Remove any sharp edges by sanding them down with sandpaper.
Want to learn more: check out our full guide to axe wedges.
6. Protect the handle
To get the most out of your new handle, give it a few coats of oil. Give the wood a light sanding first with 120 grit sandpaper then apply your favorite wood oil using a clean rag. Boiled linseed oil (BLO) or tung oil are good options. You can get a full axe oiling guide here.
Once the axe is dry, it’s time to give it a test run. Try it out in different conditions and push it hard to make sure it stays tight.
Once you’re finished for the day, make sure to store it well. This is one of the most important ways to keep your axe in good condition for a long time. Check out our advice on storing an axe here.
Where can I buy a new axe handle?
Replacement axe handles are sold at hardware stores and are also available online. For a higher-quality, personalized option, you could also get one custom-made. Workers that can’t afford any downtime may prefer to buy a new axe outright.
How do I locate the top of an axe head?
If you need to work out which side is the top of an axe, look for the stamped words or numbers. American axes almost always are stamped on the left side; they are written vertically starting at the top. In other words, the start of the brand mark is at the top of the axe.
Another way to tell is to check the eye. Although they look identical, you’ll find the top hole is slightly larger than the bottom one.
Attaching a new handle to an axe is one of the easier jobs, especially after you’ve replaced the first one. Spent most of your time making sure the handle and wedge fit snugly into the eye. Even the smallest gap will create problems later.
Try to source a handle that comes with a horizontal and vertical wedge. They’ll help keep everything more secure and adding the second wedge isn’t a lot more effort.