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One of my favorite things to do is rebuild or fix broken tools. There’s something about making an item useful again that appeals to me. When the crap-tastic handle on my cheapo hatchet broke a few weeks ago, in Toolmonger style I found some extra wood around the shop, designed a pattern, and fashioned a replacement from mesquite I had lying about.

The swan’s head design I completed isn’t the norm, and traditionalists have fits when they hear anyone made a handle from something other than ash or hickory, but conformity really isn’t my style. Mesquite has a Janka scale rating of 2345 while Hickory sports a number in the 1800’s, so no worries on toughness. As far as chipping goes, I’ve done several test overstrikes and it didn’t leave so mush as a blemish. Of course if chipping/cracking does turn out to be an issue, I’ll just make another handle — which will be fun anyway. However I’ve dealt with mesquite before, and this isn’t really a wood that has issues with breaking.

My $5 bargain bin hatchet has now been polished, sharpened, re-handled, and put back into action. It was a good day in the shop.

Got any comfort projects you like to work on for relaxation? Let us know in comments!


15 Responses to Tool Pr0n: Refurbed Hatchet

  1. Jim says:

    Looks sweet. I love the use of offcuts. I’d be worried about hurting it because it looks so good!

  2. James C says:

    Nice job! That looks like a fun project. I love going to garage sales in search of old tools that just need a little cleaning / sharpening (or in this case, a new handle) to be like-new again.

  3. Johan says:

    Looks great, is it attachted yet? It still looks loose.
    Love the different design.


  4. Mrten says:

    I thought the usefulness of ash and hickory for toolhandles wasn’t so much the hardness of the wood but the elasticity of it, and the resistance to shocks.

    The wikipedia entry for hickory (with reference to a 1974 USDA book) puts it this way: “There are woods that are stronger than hickory and woods that are harder, but the combination of strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness found in hickory wood is not found in any other commercial wood.”

    That being said: love the grain and finish! I do hope that the endpoint isn’t as pointy as it looks, though.

  5. gary z says:

    Looks like a work of art, something I’d hang in my bar.

  6. Sean O'Hara says:

    @Johan: At the time the picture was taken no. At the time the post was written yes 🙂

    @Mrten: Hickory and Ash are good but there’s an entire range of materials from steel to White Oak that are used in handle materials. All have benefits and drawbacks to them. Pecan for instance has remarkably the same characteristics as Hickory but the difference between the heart wood and sap wood in Pecan is very different in color than is the Hickory and Hickory is often preferred. In Texas (where I am) there isn’t a bit of Hickory laying around anywhere, thus making it not a good choice.

    The hook actually cups the back of your hand beautifully, feels great to hold. Also the point from the end on is about 3/4″ wide so not really a point. Just looks like one from that angle.

  7. Ben says:

    Bravo! That’s gorgeous. I love the little hook at the bottom. I am sure that will help while splitting kindling but also might give you a second chance when the zombies come.

    “Of course if chipping/cracking does turn out to be an issue, I’ll just make another handle — which will be fun anyway”

    You have summed up the DIY spirit in it’s entirety!

  8. fred says:

    Very nice restoration!
    For whatever reason, I recall that Ash seemed to be the wood of choice for shovel handles and like tool- while hickory showed up as hammer handles. Grain orientation was important – and the strongest handles were said to result from grain that was parallel to the cheeks of the hammer head.
    I have a fair collection of old axes – some USA-made from companies like Collins and Germantown Tool and some from Germany and Sweden – I’ve kind of left most of them as is – since I more often use a froe, maul or engine-driven hydraulic splitter for splitting – and a bow saw / chain saw for felling.
    I taught lots of Boy Scouts how to sharpen an axe or hatchet with a file and a stone – but we also used a bow saw for sizing logs – with a hatchet and the “contact method” for spiltting kindling.

  9. Scott Rupert says:

    I know the focus of your post was the handle – it looks awesome BTW – but how exactly did you go about cleaning the ax head up and polishing it?

    • Sean O'Hara says:

      CLR, steelwool, a Dremel and time sir. Then I cheated and had the old man sharpen it for me as he has sharpening wheels already set up.

  10. I’ve also refurbed a hatchet recently but it just consisted of cleaning the rust of the head. I did sharpen it after I took this picture.

  11. Mrten says:

    Not having hickory around: I hear ya!

    And regarding wood choices: I’ve made a practicing longsword from maple (to be used with other wooden swords, not steel ones 😉 and it has withstood quite a few whacks.

  12. Allen H says:

    Ever use Holly for handles? I love it, it has a nice look with a cutting board oil finish.

  13. Terry says:

    That’s funny, I just restored an old Axe of mine about a month ago. There is something satisfying about doing that yourself.

  14. Revel Woodard says:

    Thats a lot of grain run out, which is not something you want in an axe handle. I would be careful.

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