I have worked many jobs from Peace Corps volunteer to English teacher to lawn guy to fork-lift driver.
Easily Repair Any Wooden Handle
You can easily repair the wooden handle of any of your home tools, hammer, rake, broom, or axe. Yesterday, I repaired my cracked axe handle. It is stronger and better than new.
I bought this axe at a garage sale very cheaply, because the handle had a lengthwise crack in it. It was obvious what had happened. The previous owner had missed his swing and hit too far forward when cutting wood. The axe blade missed, and the handle hit the wood instead. The violent force cracked the handle for about six inches down from the head.
I fixed it then using the same technique described in this article. I have used that axe off and on for five years with no problems. This fall, I have been using it a lot more, and I did the same thing the previous owner had—I struck too far forward and bumped the handle rather than hitting square with the blade. The axe handle survived just fine, but my repair work was damaged.
I decided to do a new repair and record the process. This is a useful trick to know, and it can save you a fair bit of money on a new axe handle. New axe handles cost about $10. This repair will cost pennies, and save you a trip to the store and the bother of extracting the old handle and replacing it.
Note, this repair method will only work for lengthwise cracks. If the axe head is snapped right off, no simple or easy repair will fix it well enough to be safe. Please, in that case just buy a new handle!
For this repair you need two simple items, which you probably (and should!) have in your house right now:
- Wood glue: For best results, you should use a good wood glue, such as Titebond or Gorilla Glue, though almost any glue will work, including regular white school glue, like Elmer's.
- String: Cotton string works best because the wood glue sticks to it as well as it does to wood. Synthetic string would work better with a synthetic glue. But most synthetic string, like nylon, has too much stretch, the repair will loosen over time as the string gradually relaxes. Stick with cotton.
In the picture above, you can easily see the tight and closely wound cotton string extending from the axe head down about one foot of the handle. This completely covers the cracked area plus another six inches or so. This is important. The cracked area must be completely covered plus some extra, or you will not have a safe and strong repair.
Step 1: Clean and Apply Glue
- Clean the area to be repaired. If possible, use sandpaper to completely remove surface grime. This helps the glue to make the strongest possible bond with the wood.
- Squeeze some glue into the crack in the handle. Try to get as much glue as possible between the two pieces of wood, inside the crack. Don't worry at this point about using too much glue. Any excess will be squeezed out when you begin wrapping the repair with string. Don't wipe off the excess, it will be used in the next steps.
- Rub the glue thickly over the entire area you intend to repair, extending a few inches beyond the cracked area. Use plenty of glue in this step, too.
Step 2: Wrap String and Apply More Glue
- Lay one end of the cotton string at the top of the repair, and begin winding the string around and around the axe handle. You don't even need to tie the string, just cross over the end a few times as you begin winding and that will hold it tightly, especially as the glue begins to set. Make sure to wind the string as closely together as you can. You want little or no gap between each wind of string, for maximum strength. You will note in the picture above how closely together the winds of string are. Make sure to pull the string as tightly as you can. The strength of the repair depends on a tight wrap!
- You should be able to finish wrapping the string in just a few minutes, before the glue has completely dried. It should still be wet or tacky. If it dries too much, no problem—just add a bit more glue. The string will soak up a lot of glue, so as I mentioned above, use plenty.
- Cut the string and tie it off. I don't really tie it, I just tuck the loose end under the last couple of wraps and pull it tight. It'll hold. Once the string absorbs the glue it dries really fast.
- It doesn't hurt anything (and may help) to add a second layer of glue and string over top of the first.
- Last, use some more glue. Rub more glue generously over the top of the string, massaging it into the threads. This turns the separate strands into one, strong laminate material.
- Let the glue cure for a few days before use. The outside glue will be dry, but the glue inside the cracked wood takes longer.
Stronger Than Ever
This glue-plus-string technique can be adapted to repair many things. Small items can be repaired with thread and glue. The repair is actually stronger than the original.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
NOT SAFE! on August 06, 2019:
From someone in the construction industry and who has gone through countless safety training programs, this is not a safe repair. Do not attempt home made repairs on damaged hand tools. It is much safer and lower risk to purchase a new tool rather than take a chance using a tool like the repaired one above. The risk level, particularly in a hatchet, is extremely high.
CP on April 09, 2019:
awesome! thanks for the write up!
Matthew Williams on January 30, 2018:
I overkill with this technique:
Two layers of brushed and twisted cotton string w/glue,
then leather straps, then heavy fishing string w/more glue,
making sure to keep the fishing string extra tight.. cutting the line every so often and tying then starting a fresh piece until I get the length and thickness I want.
tmbridgeland (author) from Small Town, Illinois on April 03, 2013:
I don't believe so. My reason for thinking this is that it is critical that the wrap be as tightly wound as possible. This is simple with string, but would be much harder to manage with a wider piece of cloth.
I do suppose you could take narrow strips of cloth, perhaps one inch wide, and use them to make the winds. I am not sure they would be strong enough though. It might work if you used several layers, and overlapped them to build up a solid wrap.
In that case, you might want to do one layer, let it cure overnight, add a second layer, let it cure, etc, until you had it several layers deep. Try it and see, I guess....
David on April 03, 2013:
Would a cotton fabric or cloth work even better?
tmbridgeland (author) from Small Town, Illinois on December 16, 2012:
String works better for two reasons, one, the force is even spread over the whole area to be repaired. Second, you have to eventually take the vice grips off, and then there is nothing but the glue to hold the broken pieces together. With the string you leave it on, and it protects the wood and adds strength.
kar on December 16, 2012:
used glue to repair tools before with vice grips to pull pieces together, but brilliant idea with the string....I will try it with my now broken axe