I've been storing my handle in the kiln since I shaped it a couple of weeks ago. I let the blank air dry for three days and then thinned out the section that will go into the eye before it went into the kiln.
Removing the bulk of the wood that will go into the eye while the wood is still green is easier. The smaller dimensions of that section of the handle will also dry more quickly, if you are in a rush.
|Tracing the eye.|
Trace the shape of the eye onto the top of the handle blank. Make sure the pencil lead is tight against the inside of the eye so the marking is accurate.
I do all of the fitting of the handle with the drawknife. If you have always considered the drawknife a tool for coarse work, prepare to be amazed. A sharp drawknife easily takes fine, controlled shavings from wherever your heart truly desires. I like to scoop the material out just below where the eye of the axe will sit. This scooping allows the handle to be full thickness and comfortable in the hand all the way to the head.
Shape the handle close to the traced pencil line. At this point the handle should be a little oversize, a little.
|Shape of the eye roughed out.|
I also chamfer the top edge of the handle so it will start into the eye.
|Marking the end of the handle.|
|End of handle marked.|
As a result of the tapping, the axe head scribes its shape on the end of the handle. Back to the shaving horse to remove the wood that is preventing the handle from sliding further on. Repeat the process of tapping the handle into the eye and removing small amounts of interfering material.
Once I got the handle started with proper alignment, I switched to driving the handle into the head over a solid surface instead of in the vise. It takes some oomph.
The fit of the handle to the eye should be very tight. This means that the head will get stuck on the handle each time you drive it further on. I use my froe club to persuade it off. Tap the underside of the bit and the section of the head behind the handle alternately to remove the head. This will take some force. Once the head is loose, I wiggle it the rest of the way off.
|Removing the axe head.|
|Quite a way to go.|
|Check for alignment.|
Check your handle alignment as you progress. Notice how the section of the handle going into the eye is straight and in line with the bottom of the handle. Check frequently so you can make minor adjustments to the alignment and avoid major ones.
As the head of the axe approaches its final position on the handle, the scooped out portion becomes a tight radius. At this point I switch from the drawknife to a carving knife to remove the remaining material. The carving knife makes the transition from the scooped area of the handle to the flat section that passes into the eye more easily than the drawknife. The final position of the axe head should be about 1/4" above the line created by the scooped out section.
|A little knife work.|
When the handle seats down to its final position, remove it, and then saw the slot for the wedge.
|Sawing the slot.|
With the handle complete, all that is lacking is the wedge. My wedge was 2 1/2" long and tapered from 1/8" to nothing.
|Driving the wedge.|
|Handle wedged in place.|
With the wedge driven in, saw the remaining wedge and the top of the handle off. I like to leave about 1/8" of the handle protruding.
Now that the handle is in place, it is a good time to check and see if the angle that you ground the edge at is robust enough for your axe. I picked up a dry piece of hickory and chopped away at it for a while. Then I ran my fingernail along the edge to feel for nicks. If you feel any nicks in the cutting edge at this point it means your grinding angle is too acute. Grind the short bevel a little steeper to compensate and then resharpen. My 32 degree included angle held up admirably.