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Daniel W

Rehafting/ rehandleing tools.

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About a month back, a friend of mine asked if I could fix a small camp axe.  I gladly accepted as most of my 'blade' work involves more repair and simple sharpening than to make a whole new item.  I asked what was wrong with the axe and the guy said, the head was not staying on the handle.  Pretty common among wooden hafted tools, I told him to first try and knock the steel wedge in a little further, but he said 'it's epoxied'.  He did not want to buy a new axe as another friend of his 'personalized' this one. 

Oh epoxy, I know it's a wonderful material to bond everything together - but since I've picked up the craft I've broken more war club like hammer handles that have epoxy in them than the older slim springy 40 year old hammer handles I have around simply held in place with a wooden wedge.

I took a look at the axe when I got it in to see if I could make a lasting repair to it. 

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Someone did a lot of grinding work on this, giving it a little Gransfors Bruk look to it. A nice little campers axe, modified from that lovely Freight store.

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And herein lies the problem, #1there was no wooden wedge, The steel wedge was added in an attempt to tighten up the axe head by the customer. #2 that's a lot of epoxy.  My opinion on epoxys are - If it's not a mechanical fit, the epoxy is just kind of there. 

As I looked at this, my first thoughts were that I might have to make it right by re drifting the eye ensuring it had an hourglass taper in it, then wedge it properly. That's a little much and I didn't have an axe eye drift at this time either.  So I proceeded to look for a new handle to apply to the axe head, and behold, I could not find one that fit because the eye was made about a 1/8 larger to accommodate the epoxy.   

I did think about just adding the handle and putting the wedge in it to see if it would tighten up enough - but blade to poll I thought might have an issue.  So I made the handle myself from ash.

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It took some time to get it to fit up as I'd like it, similar to a file to fit finish on a knife guard, but I was able to make everything fit up tight and true with minimal gaping. There were two places where I did see a gap. So I mixed up some wood glue and saw dust, then used it as a filler just to prevent moisture from getting in there.  The grain of the handle is not perfect, there was a little twist in the ash, which does not terribly concern me.  The steel wedge gave a good front to back squeeze, however I know if I had a little 1/4 pipe nipple on hand, tapered it and drove it in there, it would be a little better as that would apply pressure equally to all sides of the eye.   

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The handle itself I shaped octagonal, I do this with my forging hammers and really like it as the handle never rolls in the hand.  I also did probably 90% of the shaping for this handle with a draw knife.  Made the rough profile with a band saw to get rid of the bulk of material, and then it was just draw knife.  When your making a handle, I believe there is no better tool for the job.  Used correctly the draw knife is very accurate and can remove so little material when needed - or be totally aggressive.  The draw knife also leaves a perfect finish if it's hone down really fine.  Which is why I used a four in hand to rough up the surface and trued up a few lines.  Also a spoke shave to get into some tight places.

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My final step was to soak the handle.  My thoughts on soaking a handle are 2.  The first is to expand the grains to ensure the tightest fit possible.  The second is an attempt to get moisture back into the wood to give it some springy quality.  The first step is the simplest, I do leave the handle of my tools a little proud of the top of the tool.  This is in theory just to give it another 1/8 of an inch to fight over if the tool head becomes loose. I then soak just that portion of exposed handle in 50/50 antifreeze.  I normally do this once a head becomes loose - I may have jumped to this step but for those who have not tired this, it is a wonderful way to tighten up tool heads. 

The antifreeze soaks up into the wood firers expands them, but as it evaporates, only the water evaporates, the other chemical remains and dries leaving the fibers expanded.  It does not dry to a hard finish so it can be soak again if needed. I only soak the handle for about a day as the wood will only accept to much. 

Next is a oil bath in old motor oil.  Something I've been doing since reading the complete blade smith. Gives a nice color, but there is only so much that penetrates into the wood - just the same as if you use any kind of linseed oil tung oil etc.  I just try to add any moisture I can to the wood and keep any that is in there by this process.  That soak is about a week.

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lastly was a buff up with time tested linseed wax.  This leaves the handle a little on the tacky side for a while.  So far this process has left me with good results.  The only thing I have noticed is that during the spring season I have to soak my hammers again to tighten them up.  I believe that has more to do with the ware I put on my tools during the winter and the changing of the season causing everything to expand and contract. 

I do not leave a hard finish on my tooling - but I'm open to any suggestions that everyone may have to how to make this any better for future projects.

 

Edited by Daniel W

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Interesting process, thanks Daniel. I’ll have to remember that antifreeze trick.

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What I do to my hammer handles is leave them unfinished, but drill a hole about 3/16" diameter an inch deep into the butt end of the handle, running with the grain.  Stand the hammer upright and fill the hole with oil.  In about a week the oil will have infused the handle.  Repeat until it no longer soaks up any oil.  Works pretty well, repeated yearly.  This assumes you have time to let your hammer stand upright for a week, of course.

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I have been leaving all my forge handles unfinished, mostly so they can be re-soaked. I have also found the unfinished grip much better due to it being a little more course. Only trouble is if you accidentally knock your hammer into your slack tub which happened to my Suzie Q there. At the time I don't even think I had an oil soak on that hammer. 

There was a post I read a while back where it seemed that no one had tried the antifreeze trick, since I've been doing pretty often I thought this would be a good opportunity to show how it works.  What's nice about it, it can be a very short process other than using linseed oil.  Soak the tool for a few hours, allow it to dry and you're ready to go.

 

In regards to handles in general, anyone who is new to this craft, I would hope to enlighten that smaller, thinner handles last longer and are less stressful to the body.

I recently picked up these hammers from a friend of mine, really big bulky handles.  I worked with them for a little bit last time I got the forge out, I was experiencing terrible hammer shock off of them.  I couldn't swing them for more than 30 seconds without my arms starting to tense up and my carpal tunnel beginning to flair up. 20190206_175604.jpg

I noticed a while back my blacksmith friend has really thin handles on all his hammers, even the very heavy ones.  I noticed he trims the sides of the hammers off a little like this.

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I got a little too aggressive with my draw knife and took too much off at the base of the handle I wanted it to swell back out to keep the hand from slipping back too far. Adding a little tape may help.  I have a 3Lb hammer handle shaved down about this thin, and I have no problems with it.  This improves your grip, lightens up the hammer a bit, reduces that hammer shock. 

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Another little feature I do is make little notches in the sides of the handle like this, and use it as a stop.  It doesn't work as well on this hammer because it's not bulking back out at this end like I should have made it. On my main hammer it usually can seat the base of my palm well and give me an indicator that I'm either at the end of my grip or losing it. 

I may need to neck in the handle of this hammer - giving it that waste or neck - but until I use it again and see what kind of hammer shock is coming off of it I will leave it alone. 

 

 

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YES!  I always thin down my handles for just that reason.  I like a rectangle with broken corners, octagonal I suppose, section because it's easy to index.  The oil I mentioned earlier is actually 3-in-1 or other very light machine oil, not linseed.  Linseed doesn't soak in very far before it cures.  

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:o 3 in 1 oil, I never thought of that - although it did dawn on me that the thinner (a lighter weight oil) the better it would penetrate into the wood.  

Due to the weather I've got nothing going on - I should have got a pic of my 3lb hammer just to show how thin I have it currently, and the amount of abuse it has so far survived.  Should probably give it a soak just because of the current down time.

A younger guy stopped by recently, he showed me his hammer that he was using, store bought ball peen.  He told me about having trouble with controlling his hammer, then I let him hold onto Suzie Q there, I watched his eyes go :blink:

Either I read somewhere or was told a saying that your tools should feel like a 'polite handshake'. If your tools don't feel this way, change them until they do.

 

Other tool handle fixes I've seen are carbon fiber resin wraps on splitting handles.  I thought this to be a little much when I saw it.  It was just a single strip wrapped around the guys hammer handle worked good he said.  Personally, having splintered cheap carbon fiber arrows, I'd rather just make another handle than try to dig out that stuff from my hand if it were to fail. 

Another guy I meet last year, made all his hammer handles from old hockey sticks - said he had not broken a hammer in 20 years.  I didn't see one of these I took his word for it, if I find a hockey stick I might give it a try.

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Interesting idea with the notches. I find myself readjusting a lot when really giving it the ol' ferrier swing. I may have to try that!

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I tend to remember an anvil fire article that even went as far as making a ball on the end of the hammer for that last little inch of grip.  I did the notches by accident and noticed I like them.  Even if the base of my palm slips past the notices my index finger usually seats there if I'm getting too tired or slip a good bit. 

Just for a reference of slim handles in general I took a photo of my Brasher. 

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At the neck that handle is 5/8 of an inch and somehow survives a lot of abuse from a 3lb hammer head. Surprises me, but also I'm just letting the hammer do the work, I'm just trying to whip it.  

A little aside, last year I met a guy my age (35), forging for about 9 years, having tons of trouble with is hands, arm, and shoulder.    He used a 3lb hammer from the good old harbor freight store (I find nothing wrong with their hammers in general), upon talking for a bit I told him about how I shape my hammer really thin like this to reduce that shock.  Secondly was grip, I barely hold my hammer, he was death gripping it. 

 

Next little photo is a hammer I really don't want to show, I pretty much don't need this hammer but thought it was there why not fix it.  This hammer is a little more about how epoxied in handles may cause you some trouble. 20190226_120637.jpg

This 3lb hammer I broke my first year forging.  It did not break due to the epoxy, but broke because of the thick grip in my opinion.  My true trouble happened when I tried to fit a new handle on it made for 3lb cross pein. This hammer had a straight eye, but the top of it was made with a 3/8in deep recess about a 1/8 bigger than the eye to accommodate epoxy. I just seemed to have mashed things up just to see if I could get a handle to secure on it - it really looks like a mess.  That little abrupt recess left too much of a gap that when the steel wedge went in it just split everything to pieces. 

I'm not using this hammer to forge with, I don't trust it just yet.  And that wedge job make me look like I don't know what I'm doing yet. Ashamed, I will one day knock it out and try again.

Edited by Daniel W
grammer, grammer, grammer...

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I rehandled all my main hammers yesteday. I've caught myself re adjusting and gripping way too hard and tearing calisks off when swinging to kill. Since the power hammer is still waiting on a new motor; I reckon it's time to figure out the right handle shape for me. I Made each different because I dont really know what shape is for me yet. Figured I'd leave this here in case you guys might have any pointers, or advice. 

Happy Easter!

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Happy Easter to you as well Zeb, I didn't catch the post here but I needed to return to it for another handling experience.

From your photos I think wow, those are whoppers! But I do realize what is comfortable to you may not be the same for me. The handle shape I found comfortable is really by accident.  I first read an anvil fire artificial on their Iforge section about proper anvil height (I somewhat agree but also disagree with that traditional knuckle height idea) in that article the author described a handle with a ball end grip for that last few inches to catch the hand.  It seemed like a good idea, swords have pummels to keep the hand in place and locked, but I just seemed to like the little recesses better.  If you are out and about, at hammer-ins or other events, ask if you can handle some other smithy's hammer.  That's how I realized how much I liked a thinner handle.  If you feel hammer shock, try your best to loose it by making your handles more springy.  That would mean to cut in a waist or thinning the handles over all. 

 

 

So on to what I had to tackle this weekend. I'm still making some posts about this to help anyone else that is getting their tools second hand.  Sometimes there's a quick fix to get something to work, other times - there is just a method that still works and is hard to improve upon.

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Since I picked up this 'custom' hammer out of a bucket of goodies, I was waiting to use it.  I first knew the handle was too thick and I trimmed it down.  I didn't just put a new handle on it, I thought that this might be enough to make it usable for me.  However, I had a real suspicion that I should have just put a new handle on it anyway, because of the two hammers I found from this batch, both had handles that where not tapered into the eye.  Both handles where cut away to make a resting spot for the eye.  On a top tool, this would probably be ok, but not a hammer to be forged with. 

So the first time I got ready to use this sexy little hammer, I knocked the steel pins in as far as I could.  After the first heat, I saw the head was slipping off.  I did not antifreeze soak this one, only oil soaked before this forging secession. The head would continue to slip off as I worked but I would gently tap the base of the handle on the anvil to re-seat it. I got the job done for the day with it, and the last tap, the head cracked the handle where the base of the head meets that step at the top of the handle. 

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Not a big loss, the head seemed secure when I stated out with it, but as I worked longer I just knew it was not going to hold up.  The nice thing about ball pein hammers is that their handles seem much easier to come by and in various weights.  So I did have on hand a handle that was already 90% there I just shaped it up to my liking.

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This hammer eye, had no waist in it.  This is a reason why I leave that little bit of material proud of the hammer head. I do not trim the hammer handle here, only the wedge. I believe I got a good photo of how much wedging I got going on there.  The hammer head should have to fight that wedge or break it out before the head slips off this time.  Or just break in half etc.

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Lastly the steel step wedge to wedge in the opposite direction. I also round off the corners of the top edges as hard edges there would chip out easier in general use.

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And with a good taper, the head no longer cuts into the wood.  The head should not cut into the wooden handle, it should wedge itself into the wooden handle. 

Right now it's soaking in oil and in a few days I'll give it a swing again and see if I did a good job this time.

 

Edited by Daniel W
Me and my endless grammer mistakes.
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Looking good!

And yeah, my hammers are whoppers! I fullered them a little to reduce weight, but I think the handle is still a bit long. I'm strong enough to lift the things, but my hand takes a real punishment. I like the force that the long handle has to offer, but it's hard to snap that back towards your shoulder on the upswing with all that leverage the heavy head has. it's just hell on my hand. I need a broad grip, but I like the more spindly handle for its responsiveness. I like the broad face too; something a lighter weight hammer doesn't have to offer.

I kind of think (based purely on the  SWAG principle) that a 2.5lb hammer with a broad face on a 13" handle with a spindly shaft that swells into an egg shaped handle area and a swell at the end might be THE hammer for me...

Might be time I join the hammer making boom that's going on. 

 

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Of the hammers I picked up in that last little batch, they did have objectionably long handles for me.  I have popped the butt of a hammer handle at myself and that's one of those mistakes you only make once.  I've found that my hammers, with the head held in my hand around about a cubit in length.  As my hammer is held at most of my work, there's only about enough handle left for about another hand grip.  I like having that feeling that there is just a little bit more to grab if I'm really going like a maniac. My very first instructor, he was a average but on the smaller side guy, his hammers had this short little handle that made me think how little of a swing would come off of that thing.  Then I heard the sound the anvil made when he struck it and started to work. 

I've learned to more or less choke up on a grip for working small tight stuff, or just get a lighter hammer.  Among average people, I'm terribly weak so I tend to change hammers a lot when I work. It drove my friend nuts that when I worked a scroll I would use a little riveting hammer, but I just don't have the strength to be that delicate with a 2lb hammer. I always hope to grow stronger . . .

However on that bigger 3lb hammer that handle is factory long, but when I work with it, my hand is almost totally back as I swing it.  I only use that hammer to break down large material.  It is a pain for me to bring it back, but I do not bring the head of that hammer to my shoulder.  Instead, I use what I think is a pulling a bell motion.  Instead of an arch motion to the work on the down swing, think more of a straight line to the work with a really hard and quick flick at the end.  When the hammer rebounds, I try to focus on lifting the hammer head straight up. As you do this, your not lifting the 3lb hammer head from 13inches away from your hand.  Instead you lift with the hammer head horizontal to the work.  I hope I'm describing this well, I tend to have a hard time describing what I do by hand in words.

 

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Yeah, it makes sense. I try to do that too, though I probably dont follow any correct form...

I'm starting to give some thought to the "Hofi hammer". Short wedge shaped handle, big face, light weight, and well balanced. 

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Correct form, meh.  Over the few years that I've taken training/classes, I've been told both.  That I have correct form, and that I have the worst form ever depending on who the instructor was.  Some smithys are very ridge in correct form of the hammer stroke. The last class I had, it was stand with feet together square to the anvil, and bend at the hips during the swing. Anything else was poor form.  The big guy I get help from is almost the total opposite, he sort of taught me to hug and dance with the anvil while working. 

I've found that depending on what task I'm doing, from the way I hold my hammer in hand to how I swing it does change. When I want a lot of power I try the ring the bell method. When I make the initial taper I seem to be choked up.  I'm still in the process of finding out what works for me best.  I have found the things that do not work, tight grip, thick handles, using the wrong kind of grip too long.  

I have handled a Hofi hammer but I have never worked with one.  They seem a little odd in the hand, but I think that's just because of how much I'm used to a standard hammer not a custom one.  I'd have to work with it to give a real opinion. 

Edited by Daniel W
spelling

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I have used an actual Hofi hammer and a few clones, and they do the job fine.  I don't care for the cushiony stuff in the eye of a real Hofi, though, that's just asking for trouble and I did not notice any reduction in shock transmission. 

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Its February and I thought I was going to be able to lite the forge and get started on a flower project. Unfortunately The real job is going nuts, and I've taken on a small table restoration project.  On top of that the weather and my days off are just not lining up in order to set up my little forging space. 

 

Although during this slow time for the hobby, I recently acquired some hand me down tools.  A few of which with a little work are being repurposed for the forge work. 

 

A friend of mine passed me a bucket of old tools, some of which they have no idea what they were for, one of them was one of these.

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I am not certain what that tool actually is, it is not a hammer, I do think it is some kind of stone cutting tool, used like a top tool.  (a Maul?) I see these pretty often that are often used as a fullered top tool, so I thought why not I could use a bigger broader fuller anyway.

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I got it cleaned up a bit, paying most my attention to the struck end removing and re crowning it. Then refacing the pien end to make a moderately broad fuller. The rest of it dose not need to be pretty. 

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This handle is a piece of ash that was split off of blank for another hammer handle done a week earlier.  The only difference I had this time was tooling used to make both handles.  I used a sander once on the hammer handle I remade for about 10 minutes, everything else was done what I consider the "Roy Underhill way".  I was very surprised at how using the old tools, draw knife plane, spoke shave, 4 in hand, how fast both handles came together.  Also how well they fit, that is partly because of how finely I had those tools sharpened, to shave so little. 

 

I should mention that I used these older tools because I am trying to avoid making dust as much as possible, overall, I thought using hand tools would take longer than using the power tools.  As I've been using a draw knife, I've found out it is quite a beast of a cutting tool.

 

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I'm slowly finding a layout method that seems to work pretty good for a nice tight fit up.  One of the things I'm noticing is long tapers helped for this nice fit.

 

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Lastly when dealing with top tools, it was once recommended to me to leave them loose, therefore no wedge.  The explanation was that if you have a striker, if you wedge the top tool tight, the shock from the striker will break the handle.  I would rather the head fall off and get redressed than try to work with a broken handle if I'm in the middle of something. 

 

I've been debating what type of top tooling I will need in the future, handled like this, rodded, or short tools that are tong held.  This is a very big top tool, focus on them being small and sturdy, and for me this was just an opportunity tool.  Still gonna get the job done, I just have it if I need it. The face of the tool probably needs crowned a little more, I'll use it and see. 

 

 

Also, for those who are interested, I found a really good video of how to seat a hammer head, and wedge it. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb5yaNc78Fc

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That is indeed a handled top fuller.  You see them quite a bit anywhere there were mines or railroad shops.  

 

And on the drawknife, yes indeed!  It's astonishing how much wood they can remove in a single stroke if you're not careful.  

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a tiny handplane is really nice for finishing up after rough shaping with a drawknife.

 

what i have started doing with my handles is to carve the wood of the handle that goes through the eye with a little bit of convexity so that when you put in a wedge the handle wood is pushed out wider than the eye. the bit of wood that goes through and out the eye is slightly wider than what sits in the eye. hope that makes sense, i couldnt get a hammer or hatchet head to stay on a handle before that. 

 

 

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On 2/6/2020 at 12:42 PM, Alan Longmire said:

That is indeed a handled top fuller.  You see them quite a bit anywhere there were mines or railroad shops. 

 

I suspected it as the person I got these tools from has a large farm and has asked me about their anvil in the past. Knowing they had a smithy on the farm I wondered if this was indeed a top tool, or something else.

 

On 2/7/2020 at 8:23 PM, steven smith said:

what i have started doing with my handles is to carve the wood of the handle that goes through the eye with a little bit of convexity so that when you put in a wedge the handle wood is pushed out wider than the eye. the bit of wood that goes through and out the eye is slightly wider than what sits in the eye.

 

Yes that does make sense, I have not yet had the need to try that yet, but I probably will as there always seems to be tools to re-handle.

 

 

I found that using my ancient hand me down great grandfathers tools is pretty enjoyable.  In some ways, with other wood working, an old hand plane is still the only tool to get a job done like, get a twist out of a board.

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With the shutdowns, and being out of work work for a while, I've been taking the opportunity to try and clean off my project table which seems to be full of just junk abandon projects. One of them was this older 3lb cross pien hammer that I started with many years ago.  I broke the wood within the eye out of it about the first year I used it. After taking the old handle out, I never found a new one to replace it that matched enough. It seemed like at one point in time there was a filler material (probably epoxy) in the eye as there was either a true waste to the eye, or it was just punched out so ugly that the rag left a void.

 

First thing was first a proper dressing to the faces.

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I tried out a different handle shape this time, and liked it pretty well.  I thought this one was a little too thin, so I didn't do my usually scalps in the sides to keep the hand from slipping.  Instead I tried this shape, which is really comfortable.

20200420_160402.jpg

 

The with of the handle on this one is only 3/4 of an inch, I thought it was too thin, until I swung it around a few times. I started to really enjoy it. 

 

Lastly once I wedged the handle, I found I still had a big gap in the eye, I tried the step wedge to spread it out a little more, but still had it. I wanted to try something, I did not want epoxy in there, so I mixed up some wood puddy.  It may not be the greatest idea, but its saw dust, a little wood glue (which made it too thick) and old thick tung oil from the bottom of the can.

 

20200424_113956.jpg

 

I thought it would be too spongy or gummy, it took a few days to fully dry, but once it did it's pretty solid. I gave that hammer a good work out over the anvil with a board.  I expected the saw dust mix to break out or chip but for 5 rounds of good swings it held in there.

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Updates and new troubles. 

 

Firstly, the last hammer head fix posted above has held.  While forging out my current axe blade project the 3lb hammer did not loosen nor lose any of the filler material I mixed up. After aggressive working, its still holding firm, but over time will be the true test.

 

 

And just because this has come up in another topic and I happen to be having some current tool handle trouble, I'm showing some results for a one day soak in anti-freeze. This current axe project has a little trouble staying put on the handle where I want it. There are a few reasons for this, #1 probably the guy who made the axe (me) missed a step in dressing up the eye correctly. #2, its a store bough handle that has been repurposed for this project. #3, I simply put the main wedge in, in the wrong direction for this type of axe head.

 

20200518_155346.jpg

 

I fill a bucket only about a 1/4 of an inch, place the head down into the bucket and allow only the top to sit in the anti-freeze.  Antifreeze is a 50/50 blend of chemicals and water, and it pulls the chemical with the water as it soaks.  As it dries and evaporates, the water evaporates, but the chemical stays behind leaving a permanent swell. 

 

I don't have a linseed oiled hammer to compare it to, this is something I was taught as a trusted method and I've always used it. One of the explanations as to why this method is a little better than linseed oil, you can do it as many times as needed. The wood will never be sealed by antifreeze.  And it penetrates the wood like water.  I did not swing this axe today, I do want to give it at least one day to totally dry before trying it.

 

I've seen linseed oil blends to thin it to penetrate the wood better, I don't really think that does anything. Linseed oil has worked to do this same task forever, I just chose a different process. 

 

Sometime during the spring and fall I seem to need to soak at least one hammer.

 

 

Lastly, this is a test of how to wedge a tool in the opposite direction.  The axe handle I have the axe on now has a very very minor split. I'm going to test this handle to see if drilling a whole in the base of the cut will help prevent a split.

 

20200518_160105.jpg

 

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