Making and Replacing a Hatchet Handle

Saturday, instead of watching the glue dry on some projects, I sat down to replace the handle on an old hatchet head I pulled out of a crate of old tools I acquired. I wanted a short handle chopper to use around the garden, especially where a lot of swinging space isn’t available.


I started off with a piece of American Chestnut scrap from some chessboards I was building. This piece was harvested from some barn beams that I salvaged several years ago and had milled down to 5/4 planks. By splitting the piece out of a wider board, I kept the nice straight grain intact.


My original plan was to use only hand tools to make the handle. I did abandon this eventually and used the band saw to cut out the handle profile, but all the other shaping and smoothing I did by hand.


First, trace out the profile of the hatched head for the tenon that will join the two pieces together. There’s no science here, I traced the outline as close as possible.


With a hand saw, I cut a stop around the bottom of the tenon. Using a hatchet and mallet, work around the profile of the tenon to remove material quickly. This makes quick work of a slow task, with pretty good results. Hitting the hatchet with the mallet is much more precise than I expected.


Next, I carved out the relief curves to fit the cheeks of the hatchet head using a 1/4″ chisel. By clamping the handled down and using the edges as a fulcrum for the chisel, I was able to get a nice curve to fit the head.


Here, I gave up on hand tools and cut the profile using the band saw. I marked out a shape I liked and that I thought would fit my hand well.


Using a 4-way wood rasp, I started refining the shape of the handle, rounding over all the sharp corners into a comfortable grip. Not as slow going as I was expecting, the chestnut works very easily and smooths quickly.


With the handle roughed out to a shape and curvature that suited me, next up was sanding. Working from 120 grit to 180 grit. I stopped there to leave a little texture for a good grip. Then, back on the bandsaw I cut the slot in the tenon for the wedge.


All smoothed, and with the slot cut, I could fit the head to the handle. I find it easiest to start the handle into the head by hand. Then, turning the hatchet over, hold the handle and pound with a deadblow mallet on the pommel side of the handle. The inertial of the hatchet head will drive it on to the handle.


With the head set, I cut a wedge on the bandsaw from another piece of chestnut. I should have measured and cut a wider wedge, but this is sufficient. Drive the wedge in with your mallet. I finished the handle with a coat of boiled linseed oil and left it to dry. This will be my new garden chopper. Next I’ll put a better edge on it using whetstones, from 150 grit up to 1000 grit.





Rustic Chessboard with Reclaimed American Chestnut

This weekend I finished of a pair of chessboards, a little more rustic in design than my previous boards. The playing field is aromatic cedar and pine with a birdseye grain marking. I wrapped the boards with American Chestnut, reclaimed from some barn beams that I salvaged several years ago. Available now in my Etsy shop!


I built the playing fields first, using my own method, then set to work milling the frame. I had the beams sawn into 5/4″ thick planks several years ago. The first step was planing them smooth, and finished just above an inch thick. Then the rabbet was cut to accept the board. I don’t use a dado set for these cuts, so I can keep the section removed for other projects.

Once assembled, I sanded everything to 220 grit, and finished with Danish Oil and paste wax. All that’s left is to add your own chess pieces or a nice set of checkers. Happy playing!




Book Review: Made by Hand

Published in 2010, Made by Hand, by Mark Frauenfelder, is a book I finally got around to reading. While underwhelmed with the title, I enjoyed the read more than I expected to. Not every chapter is a winner, but overall worth the time. Mark is  the editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine and co-founded bOING bOING magazine. His book reads like a journal, relaying experiences from moving abroad, to raising chickens to attempting the perfect espresso shot. While sometimes writing about topics outside the sphere of interest for most ‘makers’ the concept is approachable: don’t be afraid to fail. Beyond that, I think the overall attitude is more aspirational than inspirational.

The chapter about brewing the perfect pull of espresso summarizes what this book should have been. Mark describes his endeavor to produce barista quality espresso from an, albeit expensive, amateur machine. In this episode, Mark reaches out to experts in the field, researches the manufacture of his machine and explains the science of coffee. While entertaining to learn what qualities make the perfect espresso shot: temperature, crema and maturity in flavor, I think this chapter misses the mark in the reader base. While he modifies the temperature control, with help from the internet, the take away is that you can’t pull the perfect espresso shot without a lot of money and a lot of effort.

His experience in raising back-yard chickens hit me. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll check your local Codes & Enforcement website to see if you can keep chickens at home… The appeal of pets that produce food makes my soul happy; and the challenge of keeping animals alive, happy and healthy is frustratingly beautiful. This section is well worth the read. The learning about animal husbandry and providing for the simplest of creature makes you appreciate quality and well sourced food. Unfortunately, stubbornness of the author becomes apparent, as choices are made the reader will disagree with.

Finally, a short section on carving spoons made me smile and cringe. While the spirit of carving your own spoon is enviable and, for me, personally applicable; the idea of protecting a spoon with Olive Oil makes me question the author’s message. The theme of the book, that anyone can do anything with a little basic research, seems to be lacking. Cookware should only be protected with mineral oil, paraffin wax or beeswax: all materials that won’t go rancid.

Originally published as a hardcover, a paperback and kindle edition is available now. The main theme, don’t be afraid to fail, is obvious. Mark’s commentary on trying seemingly unapproachable projects with little research is enviable; but at times unapproachable. It’s clear that the author is not hindered by personal finances or any consideration of the cost of his failures. While failure is often a valuable learning experience, a little more basic research before diving into a project is prudent – and a way yo ave you money, time, frustration and keep your partner willing to let you keep making!

Overall: 3.5 /5

Next on the reading list:



Building an Antique Inspired Desk

A few years ago, before the house and before the wedding, my wife and I moved into a one-room loft in downtown Columbus. We consolidated my house and her apartment into a 950 square foot space, and somehow found ourselves without enough furniture. One thing we found short, was any sort of desk. Given the limited space, we needed something that was pretty narrow, and could serve multiple uses: a desk when we needed it, a table other times, and a place to serve food when we had parties. There’s a resale and consignment shop in Columbus, that we love, called the Grandview Mercantile Exchange and Revue and we fell in love with a table that wasn’t in the budget at the time.


So, being the industrious couple, we made our own! I started with some Emerald Ash Borer infected ash, that I picked up for less than $1 per board foot. We added some length to the design with breadboard ends, and used a biscuit jointer and number 10 biscuits to build up the top. Final dimensions are about 16″ wide and 60″ long. Breadboard ends were cut with a tongue-and groove to accommodate the wood movement throughout the seasons. Honestly speaking, you could do this all with pocket screws and no glue.


Next step was building the legs. The legs are tapered 5 degrees in both directions, with the long pieces build from 1.5″ square stock. I glued up two pieces of 3/4″ thick ash. The stretchers between the legs set centered on the legs and joined using biscuits. Quick Clamps help hold everything in place to check for level and to measure for the long stretchers between the legs. I attached these using pocket screws, because I couldn’t find a good way to clamp them in place!


All done and installed. I finished the table with three coats of Watco Danish Oil and two coats of paste wax. This is my favorite way to finish pieces that won’t see heavy use or risk water. It’s easy to repair if there’s damage, and the wax and oil build up a subtle and attractive finish in open grained woods, like ash.



Three years later, and we’ve moved from our loft to an old Victorian era house. Our desk came along with us, and now sits in our dining room ready for entertaining our friends, decorating for Christmas, or working from home!

Good luck building your own furniture inspired by great vintage finds you can’t afford!

Saw Blade Upgrade

After an unfortunate incident with the miter saw and cutting some ash branch slices, I’ve been shopping for new blades for both my miter saw and tablesaw. Years ago, I bought a small jobsite tablesaw (Ridgid R4516) which has been a great little saw for me: 10 inches and 15 amps has considerable power for a small saw; but, it’s direct drive and hard starting, and needs a lot of practice to get good cuts. Unfortunately, Ridgid doesn’t sell this exact model anymore, but you can still find reconditioned versions. Likewise, without a lot of mass in the saw itself, it tends to vibrate; so, a thin kerf blade has been necessary.

Fortunately, the Samurai Carpenter posted this video recently, and helped in my replacement blade searach. I’ll definitely be adding the 24T 10″ Diablo blade to my shopping list.

Two years ago, I bought the 50 tooth 10″Diablo combination blade, and it’s been a fantastic workhorse on my little saw. The kerf is only 0.098″ and the thin width has helped with the low power of my jobsite saw. To be honest, I was so impressed with the first few cuts, I never thought twice about using a combination blade for everything. My only complaint is that it can leave some red paint on the first few cuts.


But, I think it’s time to upgrade to a dedicated rip blade, and I’ll be upgrading to an 80 tooth 10″ Diablo for the miter saw. I’ll probably keep the combination blade around for cross-cutting on the table saw for the time being.


Thoughts, comments or experiences? Share them in the comments!




Wooden Save the Date Magnets

We wanted a unique save the date gift, something that our guests might actually keep past our wedding! After searching for something besides the usual printed magnet calendars, we settled on making our own!

See the rest at my post, and please vote for me using the icon in the top right corner of the page!


For this project, you will need the following materials:

  1. Pre-Cut and sanded 1.5” diameter wooden disks
  2. Magnets to affix to the back, ½” diameter works best
  3. A short piece of 1 x 4 pine, about 6” long
  4. Two Popsicle sticks or other pieces of wood
  5. Utility knife
  6. ½” or smaller wood chisel
  7. A pencil
  8. Your custom rubber stamp (You can build your own stamp here)



To help keep the stamp in the middle of the disk, we needed to build a jig to hold the disks and keep the magnet aligned. You will need a few materials. I used a scrap piece of pine 1×4, and about 5 inches long. Also a couple of pieces to align the stamp machine. First we’ll layout the base for our jig.

  1. Start by setting your stamp machine on top of the wood block.
  2. Press down on the stamp machine and make a mark on the wood
  3. Without moving the machine, trace around the outside of the base with a pencil



With the lines marked and scribed around the disk, it’s time to start chiseling out the recess. Don’t be intimidated, you don’t need to be perfect, but the flatter you keep the bottom of the hole, the better your results will be. I used a 1/2″ chisel, but anything around that size will work. A clamp is helpful to hold your workpiece down and keep your fingers safe.

  1. Start at one edge of the circle and rock your chisel side to side to start carving
  2. Once you’re about halfway across, start from the other side
  3. Eventually the disk will pop out, use the corners of the chisel to refine the edges



You could stop here, but to make your jig even more effective, let’s add some stops to line up the stamping machine.

  1. Line up your two pieces of scrap wood to the lines you traced around the outside.
  2. Hold them in place using spring clamps or hot glue.
  3. I used scrap pieces I had, but popsicle sticks or paint stir sticks will work.



Using a hot glue gun, glue the magnet to the back of the disk. I used a steel nail to handle the magnets and keep my fingers away from the hot glue. No need to be perfect, you can eyeball the center of the disk.

This is a fast and easy way to make magnets for any occasion. We sent these save the date magnets out with our cards; and had great response! This personalized touch to your rustic wedding is a unique gift for your guests and so different than the printed magnets everyone sends!

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Etsy Shop


A Workshop to Envy

I’ve always enjoyed Frank Howarth’s videos. His approach to cinematography is as interesting as the woodworking. Most interesting, he never proclaims to be a professional, but his skill-set and eye for design is indicative of his architectural training. This is a video I watch, time and again, mostly out of jealousy. Frank walks us through the design and construction of his free-standing workshop; and while unique to his taste, it is a thing of beauty.


I don’t have a shop that big… in fact I work almost exclusively out of my garage. Our Victorian era urban lot would never support a workshop as spacious and enviable as Frank’s, but the design elements he puts into the layout and construction gives me room for thought every time I watch with jealous eyes.

Ever the planner, I find joy in thinking about new workshop layouts, equipment purchases and builds that will make my work ever more efficient and enjoyable. Below are some books that are on my reading list for the spring as I plan to improve my own work space.

Turn your vision of the perfect woodshop into reality!

Bill Stankus’s text is a little dated, published in 2001, but gives a traditional overview of woodshop layout, from tool storage to electrical service. This one is loaded on the Kindle for a second read. Best of all, it’s a free download for Amazon Prime members right now.

Small Woodworking Shops contains years of

This collection from Fine Woodworking magazine consolidates 40 years of woodshop recommendations into one book. While it might make you feel bad for your small space (they do give layouts for up to 2400 square foot workshops!) I find the individual projects interesting and potentially useful with a frame of reference.

Woodworkers are always looking for ways to improve their workshops, and this book is exactly what they need to outfit a shop for the first time, or expand their existing shop.

The newest publication, from 2014, is Setting Up Shop. This offers a modern view on traditional layouts, equipment and best practices regarding dust collection. I’m looking forward to applying some of these topics for my shop layout this summer.