How to Protect an Axe Handle: Preventing Damage to the Neck of a Wooden Haft
An axe is a must for the cabin-dweller, the back-woods camper and the RV traveler. But unless you’re Paul Bunyan, a skilled back-woodsman, or a professional logger, take a close look at the wooden handles of your axes. Chances are good that they’re chewed up a bit from overstrikes or mis-aimed swings.
Damage to the Neck
The neck of the haft (handle) is the part immediately under the bit or blade, opposite the shoulder (see image). The neck can take a lot of damage when it hits or glances off a piece of split firewood. Eventually, it will become split, chipped, and cracked. Most campers will put a few wraps of black electrical tape around the neck and shoulder in the hope of slowing the carnage, like a bandage around a wounded limb, but that’s a temporary measure that is soon tattered and torn. Eventually, the damage may be enough to warrant a new handle or, in our toss-it society, a new axe.
High-quality Swedish axes, such as the Gränsfors axes featured by Lee Valley at $100 or more have a shaped steel guard or collar protecting the forward edge of the handle. All-metal axes, such as those by Estwing, are resistant to damage to the neck. Axes with fiberglass collars or handles are more resistant to overstrike damage than wood, but fiberglass too will eventually become frayed and weakened.
Low-cost Axe Handle Protection
Here’s a low-cost solution that you can apply to any axe. All it takes is a tube of some tough, flexible material between 2 and 5 cm (3/4 to 2 inches) in diameter and 7 to 10 cm (3 or 4 inches) long. Split the tube in half lengthwise. This gives two U-shaped channels, good for protecting two axes.
Go Green: Reuse
Here’s your chance to go green by reusing something that would otherwise be discarded. All of the following have proven effective:
- An old bike handlebar grip
- Old garden hose
- Black plastic PVC water pipe
Once you’ve cut the channels, slip one over the neck. It should fit snugly. Add two or three layers of electrical or duct tape to secure it.
CAUTION: This is a recommended method of protecting a wooden or fiberglass handle that is in new or like-new condition. It is NOT intended to preserve the life of a damaged or weakened haft. A damaged handle should always be replaced. Estwing recommends replacement of their metal tools if the neck is chipped or dented.
Protection that Lasts
In the local Scout troop, axe handles had a notoriously short life span. When the troop purchased a pair of new axes, the troop leader used a single bike handlebar grip, split in two, to protect them both. As the leader reported in The Canadian Leader magazine, back in May 1992, “Those axes, now five years old, have absolutely no damage to the [neck]. We’ve had to replace the tape a few times, but the rubber grip has lasted well.”