Primal Concrete Sledge

That’s actually a song by Pantera.  Barracks music again.  I don’t think a sledge made of concrete would be very practical given the poor performance of concrete in tension, but who lets a thing like reality intrude into art!?  That’s so…so…bourgeois!

Yeah.  Anyway.

Once the head fits on the haft, it’s the same procedure to form the handle as with the rest of the cut/rasp/sand work we’ve done here.  Figure out your max dimensions, cut the corners off to make an octagonal form, then round everything over.  You can use a coarse rasp, or a drawknife and spokeshave, or even a belt sander if you were so inclined.

An aside here.  There is very rarely a “right” way to do things in woodworking.  This is not dogmatic.  Rather, there are many paths to enlightenment project completion.  Though others may not follow your path, this does not make them wrong…unless it’s dangerous.  Those are the wrong ways.  But other than that, there’s usually just degrees of efficiency.  Many times the most efficient way to do something is also the most expensive, with a special plane or a special jig or something.  But at only a small cost in time and a significant savings in funds, some other way can usually be made to serve perfectly well.  For this project, hammer handles are typically turned on a lathe.  I could theoretically have done that.  But the reality is that the bearings on my lathe are pretty worn out, and a 36″ blank whipping around would have severely overtaxed them.  Add to that the fact that I suspect many of you either don’t have lathes or have shorter ones, and I felt perfectly justified using a rasp.  Don’t constrain your thinking by focusing on what you don’t have.  Instead, see how you can turn what you have to task.  I think you find that a basic toolkit goes a long way.

Back on our subject, once the handle is a nice smooth oval in shape, we have to wedge the head on.  Now, this is an interesting subject.  What wood to use for the wedge?  Well, you could use the same wood as the handle, but I prefer to use nature to my advantage.  See, woods differ in how much they move with humidity.  If I want the head to always remain secure, then I will choose a wood that moves more with humidity than the wood of the handle.  The wedge will expand more than the handle and everything will stay nice and tight.  A good chart for this (and how to do expansion math) can be found here.  I can save you the trip and tell you that beech moves more than ash, and I had a little piece of beech in the burn pile, so I sawed a wedge off that.

The kerf for your wedge should be along the long axis of the handle.  Saw down (keep it straight!) to a little above where your head will end.  And do you remember how the elongate wedge split our piece in the experiment this week?  Make your wedge fairly stubby (something around 1:5 or so if you want numbers).  If you don’t, you’ll split the handle and have to start over.  Go ahead, ask me how I know this…

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Once your wedge is made, put the head on the haft and go to the kitchen.  Put the stove on around 300°F, and let your wedge bake for fifteen or twenty minutes.  This will hyper-dry your wood.  When you pull it out, it will be as small as it can get.  Quickly dab hide glue on it, and hammer it in.  When it slows down to a crawl, give it another wallop or two and stop, even if there is still wedge sticking out.  Nice and firm, right?  That’s good.  Let your glue set up a little, then pare off the handle/wedge remnants flush.  You’ll then use a steel hammer and hammer in two steel wedges obliquely across the wooden wedge.  They don’t need a kerf.  Pound them in flush.  When you’re done, it should look like this:

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A smaller hammer only needs one steel wedge.

Once the head is on there, see if you need any touch-up work on the handle, and rag some oil on it.  Give it a couple of coats, and buff a little wax in there.  And that should be that.  Go split some firewood with your newly repaired sledge!

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