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.

| January 2014

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.
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