Since I wasn’t the one to track down this handle stock and in fact got it in my grubby hands even after some significant shaping had occurred I won’t say a thing about selecting your wood for such a replacement, Suffice it to say it should be the appropriate piece for the task at hand: wood species, properly seasoned, having the basic curve to it, not unimportant it should be a wood you like and all that stuff.
I begin this discussion with our reference which is the flat side. This is the defining feature of the axe so it follows that it is significant to fitting the handle to it. Conceptually, this is where we want to be, always conscious of the flat side because really, nothing else matters if we subjugate all else to this one overriding factor in our efforts at fitting this handle. We should even think how lucky we are to have such a reference point because flat, unlike curved is conceptually something we are able to grasp somewhat easily. Well I think this has something to do with what squaring up is all about, isn’t it?
Tools of choice. And I would never consider grinding tools, no only edge tools will do in this important work. Get the skills to use them and never regret that you did.
The wood carver will have the jargon to give the different grips employed, I just have the pictures. Remember too that I rely on my ever so handy carpenters bench with its long and adjustable vices.
For great power, the thumb pressing down and away.
Or the crunch coming back in towards yourself, pressure from behind with the fingers of your guiding hand curled around and over the back of the knife. The knife, by the way a real work-horse of the workshop, a sandwiched bladed Mora, the kind you pick up at any lopis around the corner for around 20 kroner or so. No good for anything more refined than this being thick and clumsy otherwise.
Here the tip of the knife pinched like that we can work along the rest of the blade’s length as if we were going at it with the drawknife in a way.
Here is my favorite grip. Not a power cut by any means, the guiding hand acting as a backrest on the opposite side of the wood for controlled and consistent pareing, fingers wrapped around angling the edge from off the bevel to guide long cuts driven more from contraction at the chest and shoulders.
I wouldn’t approach such a fitting as if it were any axe that might be needing a fitting. While the flattened asymmetry of the socket to tongue fit works to our advantage in aligning the axe head, the nature of the outward taper calls for even more precision so I don’t rely so much on the insert-and-remove-pare-down-the-high-spots-indicated-and-repeat–til-it-fits technique particularly to begin with. I’m working to make the tongue slide in slowly and precisely without force so the instant I notice the tongue pulling from the reference surface is the instant I notice and identify what is causing the diversion. This can be determined by direct observation or an inference from some secondary indication. Whichever, there is never much pressure or force used at this point, and even until the fit is well under way. Because of the socket and the attendant area of contact between iron and wood, I proceed like this until the fit is more or less secure and only at this point start ramming it home and going back to the insert-remove-pare-down- til-it-fits technique. Well it has been working out fine for me.
Of course in that technique a drift is needed. Mine are crudely made disposable units. That said I did come up with one refinement to pass on to fellow handle fitters, which is the crowned contact end.
It will help center your blows and prolong the useful span of that drift by forestalling mushrooming. Not to much, just so it’s noticeable, like you do it on your screw-driver.
So lucky to have a bench like this one that’s been in use now a hundred years and more.