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.