How to Make Primitive Tools Pt. 3: DIY Axes

These DIY axes are multipurpose tools — they can fell trees, split wood or carve out handmade boats.

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The various styles of DIY axes and hatchets really have no equal among the numerous hand tools used by man.

Photo courtesy Paladin Press

Content Tools

In Makeshift Workshop Skills for Survival and Self-Reliance (Paladin Press, 2009), author James Ballou provides creative and, certainly, unconventional workshop skills from construction to repair. Ballou also offers useful DIY projects for around the workshop. The following excerpt from chapter four, “Improvised Tools,” details how to make a variety of DIY axes and hatchets.

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The ax is perhaps second only to the knife in terms of its recognized utility value as a simple tool. For felling trees, notching poles, carving dugout boats, trimming branches off logs, chopping and splitting firewood, or hacking through the heavy bones of large animals, the various styles of axes and hatchets really have no equal among the numerous hand tools used by men and women. We will explore three different makeshift ax head designs here.

The Small Hand Axe

The first example is merely a 4-inch section of steel that was hacksawed off a log-splitter wedge. The head was grooved around its circumference with a half-round file to receive the primitive-style wraparound handle. The handle consists of a thinned tree branch that was pliable when green, which was folded around the groove in the ax head and secured with strips of rawhide and glue. Despite the fairly soft steel of the wedge, this little hand ax functions surprisingly well. I’ve used it as a camp hatchet and as a small hammer.

The Punched-Eye Hatchet

Our next example is a more contemporary design consisting of a hammer-forged, wedge-shaped hatchet head with a punched hole, or eye, through which the wooden handle fits. The handle is held tight by means of a tiny steel wedge driven into the top of the eye in the conventional manner. This head was shaped from a short section of 1-inch-diameter square stock. It makes a handy little belt ax.

The Split-Branch Axe

The last example is a forged and tapered flat bar of steel set into the end of a split branch and secured into position with strips of rawhide in the same manner as a lot of early stone ax heads were affixed to their handles. This system is perhaps the least secure of the three mentioned here, but I’ve chopped through some branches and small logs with it, and so far the head has not worked itself loose. 

This discussion about makeshift axes brings to mind the ice skate lashed to a stick that was used as an improvised ax by Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Cast Away.” There are numerous such ways in which improvised axes could be fashioned in an emergency, using just a little imagination.

More from Makeshift Workshop Skills:

Making Primitive Survival Tools Pt. 1: Homemade Saw Blades
Making Primitive Survival Tools Pt. 2: DIY Saws

This material was excerpted from Makeshift Workshop Skills for Survival and Self-Reliance by James Ballou with the permission of the publisher, Paladin Press. The material is copyrighted and cannot be reused or reprinted without written permission. Buy this book from our store: Makeshift Workshop Skills.