Friday, 14 March 2014

Axe handles, size is important.

Many years ago I had a 2.1/2lb axe which I made a handle for. My reasoning was that a bigger thicker handle was necessary for a better grip and comfortable working. A few years later I had a few times when I could not even pick up a pencil, let alone grip anything. The pain in my hand and wrist was terrible, especially at 3am in the morning.
An 8th generation hurdle maker at The Royal Show told me why. My handle was too big and the axe was also too heavy for what I was using it for.
Since making handles of the right size I have never had the same issues with my hand. I think that a lot of axe handles made today are too large and the wrong profile. Big beefy men may be able to use them but the rest of us will struggle and can damage ourselves through gripping the wrong size handle or loosing control because it is too big. What about woman and children and men who have small hands.
I measured some older axes with original handles, and then some of the modern made ones from respected makers. Personally I have no issues with reshaping handles and in some cases it is unfortunately necessary to make and axe fit for purpose.

Top axe 4 lb Elwell 36mm x 22mm and flairs width wise out to 27mm at the end
2.5 lb Elwell 20mm up to 23mm x 34mm
Small Whitehouse 20mm x 30mm
The bottom axe is a handle I made and conforms to the above measurements.


Top 2 axes are the GB wildlife hatchet.
Original handle as shipped 21- 23mm to 33 - 40mm
My modified handle
GB Carving axe 27mm x 38mm
Husqvarna 26 - 36 x 46 - 56mm
Not pictured here but I took measurements of a students Hans Karlsson sloyd axe 25mm x 35 - 40 

The GB carving axe is just a bit too big for me, and for people with smaller hands it is way too big.

Wildlife hatchet is fine at its smallest measurements but as you hold it near the head it becomes bigger and more difficult to hold. The profile changes to more of a point than rounded which hurts the fingers. I have just carved this off mainly from the underside of the handle but a bit off the top as well.

The Husqvarna, well IMHO this axe is designed for grunts hacking away blindly at bits of tree. I find it unbalanced and difficult to hold. Impossible to hold when choking it up. Was the reasoning for this handle that it would be employed by people who did not care for there tools and the bigger thicker handle would take longer to break.

Why is the Hans Karlson handle so large, it also looks too big for the head. The handle gets huge near the head, when choking it up.

I have been using axes most of my life, and I know we all prefer different size handles with different profiles. I would welcome feedback on handle size especially from experienced users from around the world.
My ideal handle size is about 20mm x 30/34mm, what is yours?


2.1/2 llb Elwell axe with original handle. Perfect fit for my hand
 Modified wildlife hatchet. I find that if my fingers just tickle my palm then this is a comfortable fit.
 Orignal wildlife hatchet. Too big and the bottom of the handle tapers to a point which bites into the fingers. This is a great axe for people starting out green woodwork as it is light. Choking up is a very necessary technique and this axe needs modifying for this to be safe and comfortable. It seems that this handle was designed for chopping branches and trees with no thought given to its other possible uses.
Husqvarna, very tiring and painful for my hand.

Making the handle too small is a problem as well. The fingers will press into the palm. I carved a GB carving axe handle, taking too much off. I solved this by wrapping and gluing suede leather around the handle. I rather like this very positive grip the leather gives.