If you can make an axe handle

If you can make an axe handle, you don’t have to buy one from the company store. And in the making of it you have a story. And when you pass on the tool, having made something of quality, the story can grow.

I think of how many people have grandpa’s old axe rusting in a corner of the shed. So often we focus on the steel, who made it and to what quality. The end user side of the story is the handle, a little different for every one made by hand, speaking of place and the tools the person had to get the job done.

Back to story for a second. Having considered what I find compelling about a good woodworking text, it comes down to story. Its as simple as that. If you want to write a good woodworking  book, it needs the life told of the people that use the tools! Think of the books Toshio Odate has written. The knowledge is important, yes, but we live in an age where there’s an exponentially increasing body of free knowledge to those who have internet access. My favorite part of Odate’s work is when he relates some little anecdote about his apprenticeship, or of some other story he’s heard. It puts in context how as woodworkers we don’t have some slavish love for the tool a priori. It is the relationship between the tool, the user, and the work that is bonded with love and to which we give our passion.


When you make something, you make it worth so much more than the steel. In someone else’s hands it becomes your story, writ in the curves of the making and the patina of use. So make something and tell a story.


This is a cheap and poorly tempered axe. That’s okay, you need one for certain things. Like chopping roots in the ground, chopping a hole in a roof, chopping through a door, you get the picture. Its not great, but you could certainly chop tree’s down too. Hell, even practice a bit of bump hewing and impress the ladies with your axe skill (women care about that, right?).

I’ve never made one of these before and I left it a little fat around the upper neck of the handle. I used the broken fiberglass handle as the pattern for the new one.


They should teach this in primary education, how to hang a tool on a handle with a proper wooden wedge and good fitting. They could use the knives they would get in the fourth grade for sharpening their pencils!


I’m taking my tool storage mobile, with a 40″ long tool crate, plenty of room in there. The only joinery I changed was using tongue and groove for the top and bottom boards, because I don’t have anything dry that is wide enough. I love any chance I can get for using my plow plane to cut tongue and groove, love it!


I had made a smaller tool crate not too long ago, and its small enough to fit inside the new one. The dimensions came straight from Odate’s “Japanese Woodworking Tools”, its really of a size that can house a whole trade’s worth of hand-tools. Its really nice to have it right behind me as I work sitting down. I’m a gonna make me a six foot long version of this one day to be buried in.


And finally, a bit of joinery. These are the pieces for mitsu-kude (三つ組手), the three way joint for forming a hexagonal kumiko jigumi (wooden lattice work). Some of the coolest and most expensive kumiko-zaiku patterns have hexagonal jigumi, so of course I must try this, even though there are much simpler square patterns I still need to learn.  You don’t learn what you don’t care about. I’m not going to slog through a bunch of patterns I’m not excited about just for the sake of consistency. Learning happens when you say, “That’s stellar! I have to know how that works!”

Des King on cutting mitsu-kude

Two of the three are the same. Its most interesting to note how the layout here revolves around a center line of the mitsuke (thin edge) of the kumiko. That should be obvious for the two outside pieces pictured, but the middle piece has cuts on either side of the edge. When I first looked at it I wasn’t sure what the orientation was of the lap cuts relative to each other.


The first two pieces go together, leaving space for the third. Cool!


Finally I can make wooden snowflake ornaments for Christmas with proper Japanese joinery, haha! I’m going to have to make the jigs to cut a proper jigumi and mount it in a frame, this is just really awesome.

Up next I’m working on a custom piece of furniture, a built in rolling closet unit for an unusual space. I’ll be going all out with some new joinery I haven’t tried before in White Ash, its sure to be a bit of a Chris Hall moment.


8 thoughts on “If you can make an axe handle”

  1. I’m intrigued by the three-way joinery. It seems fairly simple and straightforward, but I have a feeling there are some complexities to it.

    Thanks for sharing!

      1. That’ll be awesome!

        Do you think you could also put up some dimensions of your best maebiki, if at all possible? Pretty much everything you’d need to make a new one?

  2. Nice!

    Very nice, simple toolbox. Good clean lines.

    I read that you always leave the area the head very fat, so the handle won’t break when you miss.

    Everything needs a story, few things are good being just what they are, it seems. Good movies, art, everything needs to tell a story. And everything will, whether they like it or not.

    Look into Old Ways of Working Wood, if you haven’t already. The author writes about how the mountain people worked; many stories are in it. Not a lot of Japanese tools, though! Or metal planes, the author didn’t believe in those new fangled things.

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