As I’ve mentioned before, I like to re-use things or find old, broken or discarded items and revamp them for a new lease on life. So when I was chopping wood one day, and my trusty old axe broke, I was determined to find something interesting and unique to do with it. Since an axe is a sharp weapon of a decent size, I needed to find the right use for it, as trying to force it to become something it wasn’t meant to be would make it look silly or jarring. For instance, think of planter or lamp stand and how “not right” it would be to use and axe for that. I pored over the web looking for ideas that I could piggy back off of or that would give me some direction.
Finally, I came across this example:
Now this guy’s plan is/was to actually HIT the shelf into the wall, creating an insta-shelf. Okay, interesting, but not sturdy, or level, or safe. But it got me thinking that I’d build myself a set of axe shelves.
- 3 boards of your choice
- 1 axe
- 6,35mm steel dowel
- Hanging hardware
- Circular saw (or table saw)
- Power drill (or drill press)
- Orbital sander
- Scroll or Jig saw
- Metal saw or bit
- Stud finder
- Wood glue
- Furniture repair markers
Step #1: Get and ready your materials
Since I had a well-used axe, using brand-spanking-new wood didn’t jibe with me. So I rifled through my wood and found some used, old shelving that I had pulled out of another area of the house to use. It was a little beat up but had a lot of character.
This is what the axe looked like beforehand. It was broken, dry, dirty, chipped, etc.
Step #2: Get the boards notched and cut
Since I was designing this from scratch, I didn’t have a template to go with, so a lot of it was trial and error. So the first thing I did was to cut the boards to the length that I wanted, which was 81cm. I knew I wanted the axe to be diagonal with the tip of its blade touching the wall. So I played around with angles and such on the floor. If I kept all of the boards the same depth, I would have to notch out almost the whole board for the top shelf and I didn’t want that look. I wanted the axe to be at the edge of each board. The bottom board was already 30,50cm wide (28,60cm real size), so I kept that as is. The middle board I ripped to 24,15 cm and the top board to 17,15 cm. I used a circular saw for this but you could use any sort of saw if you have a steady hand.
The next step was to cut out the notches on each board to accommodate the axe handle. As I said before, it was a little trial and error. I measured the axe handle at about 5 cm thick/deep and 3,8 cm wide. I then used a jig saw to make the notch. Since the axe is at an angle, the top of the notch is a little bit deeper than the bottom. I used a rounded rasp to achieve the correct angle in the notch. Just a note, make sure you sand/file/rasp DOWN into the notch. If you use an upward motion, you could easily splinter the top edge which wouldn’t make it look clean. Use sandpaper on the inside of the notch if you need to get a little more space. Start with a smaller notch and make it bigger until you’ve got the right size.
Step #3: Prep the axe handle
First thing I had to do was to repair the broken chip near the head of the axe. I used simple Elmer’s wood and clamped it down to set overnight. Before I left it, I wiped off as much of the excess glue as I could so I didn’t have to sand it down later.
When I can, I like to sand and strip everything down to the base and start over again. That way I can remove most of the imperfections, dirt and other discolorations and stain or paint it any color I want. For the axe handle, I put it in a vise with a little padding, as I didn’t want to vise to squeeze or deform the handle. Then I hand-sanded down one half of it, making sure to always follow the grain length-wise and not to go around or up and down. When done, I flipped it over and did the other side. Start with rough grain and taper down to medium and then to fine. Make sure that you don’t overly round any edges and try and keep as much of the contour as you can. I didn’t want to use an electric sander as it could remove a lot of the rounder edges.
I put a tarp underneath to collect the dust for easy clean-up.
Step #4: Make the shelves look pretty
Same thing as the axe, it was time to gussy up the shelves. Now, as it was “reclaimed” wood, part of the draw is that it shows its character and age while still looking clean and polished. I used a medium grain sandpaper to smooth out the boards. I didn’t want to use coarse, as that would remove all the character from them. Once they were all sanded, I stained them a dark walnut (Minwax #2716).
Step #5: Bring the axe back to life
Two things needed to happen to make the axe look good again. The first thing was to stain the handle. The axe started light-colored and I liked the contrast of dark and light. So I wanted to keep it on the lighter side, comparatively speaking. But I wanted a rich deep color as well, so I used Minwax Provincial #211. To stain it, I did the same thing as I did when I sanded it. Put it in a vise, use padding and do one half at a time.
Once the handle was done, it was time to work on the head. I like the classic red & silver look to the axe heads, so I wanted to bring that look back out and make it look clean and new-ish. I picked up some metal paint and did a few coats. If you use a new/newer axe, you can skip this step.
Now it’s time to start putting it together!
Step #6: Attach the axe to the shelves
I wanted a lot of support for everything, so I wanted the axe and shelves to be able to attach to each other and to be able to hold their form and their own weight, regardless of how I would attach them to the wall. The process I came up with was to insert a steel dowel into the shelves that would then go into the axe handle. The dowel had to go into both materials enough that it would hold weight well. I used a 6,35mm bit and drilled about 9 cm into each shelf and about 2,5 cm into the axe handle.
Using a metal bit in my saws-all (though you could use a hacksaw, dremmel or other metal cutting tool), I cut three pieces, each about 6,35 cm. Insert them into the shelf and then fit the axe handle on to the dowels. You might need to adjust a bit to get the exact fit right.
I put it together on the floor to make sure it all fit together, looked right, was proportional and all. Looks good! I did not permanently attach them at this point, I just placed them together to make sure everything was copacetic.
Step #7: Prep shelves to hang
There are many ways to attach shelves to the wall. As the size, material and color of the piece was rather robust, I didn’t want to complicate and weigh down the build with clunky and ugly hardware. Plus, I have always loved the look of floating shelves so I wanted people to look at it and wonder how I attached them. There were various different types of floating or invisible shelf hardware.
I wanted them to be strong, sturdy and capable of holding a decent amount of weight. The only issue with these is that you are going to be making LARGE holes in your wall, so you’d better be sure where you want to put your shelves!
For each shelf, I needed to drill a 6,35 mm hole, 10,15 deep. This is what the website says: “This job is not for someone without access to some accurate drilling tools like a drill press.” I did not have a drill press. (In fact I just bought my first drill press yesterday!) However, I have a good eye and I have a power drill with a level-bubble in it. I propped the shelves up on their edges, placed heavy books on either side to support them. Then I started with a 30 mm bit and carefully drilled straight down. I upped it to a 66 mm, following the 30 mm guide hole. Finally, I used a 1,5 cm bit to get the hole the right size. If you are using one-of-a-kind material, you may want to practice this on another piece first so you don’t ruin your materials.
I did this to each of my shelves, drilling two holes in each, 45,5 cm apart so that they would go into the studs in the wall. (45 cm is the standard space between studs in modern houses. Because people are crazy, never take this as a given. Use a stud finder to make sure where your studs are before you make any final drilling decisions.)
These MUST go into studs. Smaller shelves can use drywall anchors, but this is a beefy shelf that is going to hold some heavier things. You don’t ever want this ripping off the wall, so double check where your studs are.
Step #8: Attach hardware to the wall
Once you’ve figured out where you want your shelves to go and know where the studs are, it’s time to make the holds for the brackets. I figured out where I wanted the bottom shelf to be and drilled into the wall, making two holes for my brackets. Again, I started with a smaller bit before using the full 1,27 cm bit. I fit the bottom shelf onto the hardware with the axe and middle shelf attached. This helped me figure out exactly the location for the second set of brackets. Repeat for the top shelf. Yes, you can simply measure, but one can easily make an easy measuring error, so I like to see it actually in place first.
Step #9: Put it all together!
Shelves fitted onto brackets.
Axe fitted onto shelves
What went wrong:
1. If you notice in the second to last picture, you can see two holes facing out on the bottom shelf. Remember what I said about measuring wrong? Well, I went and drilled holes IN THE WRONG END! Filled the holes almost full with caulk. Let dry. Fill the rest of the way, to overflowing, with wood filler. Sand down the wood filler. Restain
The wood filler doesn’t stain the same color. So I needed to use furniture markers to match the color. If you look at the final photo, you can’t even see it!
2. Almost went through warped board. One of the boards was a little bowed and I almost broke through. Managed to notice it and drill another hole.
3. Had to bend dowel. I drilled one of the holes into the axe at a slight angle so I had to bend one of the dowels into a slight boomerang shape in order to fit it in.