Recently, a friend of mine asked me if I would make something for him, so I naturally said yes. In this blog post I will take you through the process I used to carve a handle for an old axe head and then how to age the wood so that it looks old as well. It is a fun process and I am sure would be of great use to many people interested in DIY, crafts or the “shabby chic” movement.
Sometimes you find yourself thinking “How on Earth am I going to do this…?”
This was the case recently when I was faced with completing a small project for a friend.
Whilst this particular friend was at my house visiting, he brought an item with him that was interesting to say the least:
He described it as a Neolithic Axe-Head, given to him by his wife’s Grandfather. Now I have no real knowledge of this sort of item, certainly not enough to do anything but take his word for it.
I suggested that it might be a nice little project for him to try and make a handle for the item; he is also trying to get into woodworking/woodcraft and so I thought it might be a good starting point. Long story made short, I ended up offering to make the handle myself.
First Task: Deciding on the wood.
I’ll be honest; I had no idea what to run with. This was going to be a “back burner” project, something that would take time and in all likelihood the vast majority of the project would be undertaken with a carving/whittling knife (a totally arbitrary decision).
I liked the idea of Oak, it would give me a “rustic” look that would be in line with what my “minds-eye” pictured for the overall appearance of the axe. Something like this was what I had in mind:
However, I was offered a piece of mahogany that was going spare. Being open minded to suggestions, I decided to run with the mahogany and see how things went. Unfortunately, this project began before I decided to begin Shavings & Awl, so there are no early stage photo’s of the project, apologies.
Second Task: Get Carving!
I used a Flexcut Whittlin’ Jack to do most of the leg work when it came to shaping the handle for the axe. Having started with a blank measuring approximately 3” x 2”x 18”, I decided to run with a handle length of around 17” and a cross section of around 1½” x 1¼”. I took a wooden handled hammer that was part of my “Starter Tool Kit” to get an idea of the kind of dimensions I wanted.
After marking out a rough outline on my blank I started carving away. Once the overall shape was achieved, I used a mortiser (thanks Dad) to take out the majority of the head cavity followed by using the Whittlin’ Jack again to whittle away the rest of the cavity. Leaving me with a rough piece:
Third Task: Finishing the piece.
I wanted the finished axe to have an aged, rugged feel, almost as though it was as old as the stone itself. Having carried out some research on giving wood an aged look, I came up with a method that seemed credible and one that was worth giving a go.
The first step is to prep the two primary components for the aging method. The first component is a strongly brewed black tea. I used Ten Tea bags in an empty coffee jar.
The second component is an oxidising solution, basically white vinegar mixed with wire wool. This solution speeds up/mimics the process of the wood reacting with the oxygen in the air. After a light coating and around 30 minutes reacting time, the wood starts to take on a grey and withered appearance.
I decided to try out a few finishes on some offcuts of Mahogany that I had. The first being the two step process described above. The second was Teak Oil and the third was Boiled Linseed Oil. I didn’t want to rely on one finish alone without at least trying others. All finished were applied using a lint free cloth.
After applying the black tea solution, which adds tannins to the wood, I applied the oxidising solution giving the results above.
Happy with the finish, I applied it to the handle itself.
Although it looked OK (like the sample above), I decided to through caution to the wind and add a second coat. I think the gamble paid off.
In order to give the handle an authentic, beaten and aged look, I decided to “distress” the wood by bashing it around into the odd piece of furniture (don’t tell my wife!). I then applied 3-4 thin coats of Briwax Natural Wax followed by a buff each time with wire wool.
The final step was to affix the stone into the handle, using a leather strip I picked up at hobbycraft for around £3.00.
Overall, I was happy with the way the Axe came out. Let’s just hope my friend feels the same way!!
Thanks for reading.