Replacing a Maul Handle | Popular Woodworking Magazine
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Winter is the perfect time for fireplaces and firewood, and the best firewood is the one you make yourself. Late Moravia psychoanalyst, Dr. Schtriker Von Axen taught his meek and weak patients the art of using a sledgehammer with strength and determination as a vehicle for self-improvement. It said, “If you learn to use a sledgehammer to chop firewood from your billets, your family and neighbors will learn to appreciate and respect you, and your self-esteem will grow respectively to cultivate a healthy sense of accomplishment and competence.”
The good doctor’s advice resonates strongly with me, and whenever I can, I try to split my firewood with my own hands.
Firewood is best split with a sledgehammer, a tool that looks as if an ax and a sledgehammer have rolled in hay. The tool feels heavy, with a hammer mass and squat proportions that tapers at one end to form a blade. Last spring the handle of my maul, which I had rescued from the roadside on garbage eve (the night before the garbage truck made its rounds) had finally split, so I had to find and hang up a replacement handle.
Fortunately, many hardware stores still carry these handles, which are made of American walnut and come with two wedges: a wide wooden wedge and a stepped steel wedge to enhance the fit.
Before hanging the new wedge I had to do it remove the old one. First I sawed off the split handle and tried to push the remaining “stump” through the eye of the maul.
Unfortunately, the stump was fixed so tightly and I couldn’t push it out. So I grabbed a drill and drilled around the steel wedges and then tried to pry them up with a cold chisel and a pair of pliers. Once the steel wedges were removed, I drilled a little more to free up space and used a bolt to push the stump into freedom.
Hang the handle
After cleaning the eye, I oriented the cut of the new wedge on the new handle with the long axis of the maul eye and inserted it. With a few strokes of a rawhide hammer, the handle hung tightly. After inserting the handle, I marked the location of the lower part of the maul head on the handle and then pushed it out. I did this to verify that the bottom of the cut reaches a sufficient depth to about of the thickening of the head. In some cases, and depending on how far the head is pushed into the handle, you will need to deepen the cut to allow for the wedge space to insert.
I shortened the excess length of the handle and prepared the wooden wedge. The generic wedge that came with the mesh handle was too wide, so I narrowed it down with a carving knife.
Driving the Wedge In
I spread some wood glue on the wedge and inserted it as deep as I could. The orientation of the wedge grain was not ideal. Instead of a parallel configuration, the grain flowed diagonally and towards the end of the feeding process the top corner of the wedge actually cut itself. Fortunately, the rest of the wedge was properly hidden within the cut.
Saw the protruding wedge
With a small saw, I cut the extra length of the wedge and then cut the final grain with a sharp chisel.
Driving the Steel Wedge
Although I could have used the newly supplied wedge, I decided to reuse one of the old ones. After inserting the wedge (through the wooden wedge) I attempted to sink it further with a cold chisel. But after thinking about it it’s not really necessary. The steel wedge must be inserted at right angles to the wooden wedge or diagonally to it. If the annual rings at the top of the handle are oriented in the same direction as the wooden wedge (A), it is necessary to insert the steel through it to form a cross. If the rings go diagonally (B), wedge the steel at right angles to the rings or diagonally to the axis of the eye.
Finish the job
To conclude this task, the stickers should be removed from the handle, then lightly sand and apply a coat of the finishing oil of your choice.
Good cut! And next time you perform your home fireplace duties, don’t forget to toast the good old, albeit fictional, Dr. Von Axen who was infused into this story for the sole purpose of literary embellishment.
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