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The Axe

Discussion in 'Gear' started by StG58, Nov 21, 2016.

  1. StG58

    StG58 Backwoods Amateur
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    Alrighty then. The holiday season is upon us, and I am getting out into the back of beyond less than usual. I thought that I would throw some thoughts on common outdoor gear and skills out here for discussion.

    Let's start with the Axe, for no particular reason.

    We've all seen the "Well equipped" off road vehicle tooling down the road with the safari basket on top, an axe, shovel and Hi-lift strapped to the basket and gas cans on top or on the back. Looks cool at the mall, and tells everyone within sight that you are serious about getting out into nature.

    Now about that axe. Axes come in many flavors. Falling axes, limbing axes, splitting axes, chopping axes, competition axes, throwing axes and battle axes. Single and double bit axes. Hickory handles, plastic handles, one piece steel handles and high tech composite handles. Expensive axes and cheap axes.

    Here's my thoughts on axes. I used to be pretty militant about having a Michigan pattern axe with a good hickory handle and made with good American steel rattling around in the backs of my trucks and crummies when I was out in the woods. It's a very useful tool to have when you want to clear small stuff from a trail, or rustle up a little firewood for a lunchtime fire. The local hardware store had them in the rack by the gross, and they were relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things. You could use them and abuse them without a guilty conscience.

    I haven't found a decent axe in a hardware store in awhile. The steel is either too soft, or too hard / brittle. The eye is shaped wrong, so the handle gets loose quickly. Replacement handles have the wrong geometry, the wrong shape and are often not straight. Wedges, steel and wood, are getting harder to find.

    Awhile ago I stumbled upon a Fiskars axe from Finland. Totally different shape than I was used to and totally different construction as well. I needed a new axe, the price was right, so I laid down my hard earned cash and took it home. The model that I purchased was a 3 1/2 pound with the splitting head. It has a high tech composite handle right at 24" long that wraps around the head instead of going into an eye and being wedged tight. Now the Finns have a little different take on the mechanics of chopping, so be more careful than usual the first few times out with it. This thing works great! Keep it sharp (you sharpen your axe, right!?) and it will do a days work clearing small stuff and whacking up a little firewood.

    Not everyone needs an axe along, but if you find one useful, check out a Fiskars axe. The splitting axe is very good at chopping and splitting.
     
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  2. Dozerdude

    Dozerdude Member

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    IMG_1496.JPG This works pretty good. The po put it in and left it when we got it!
     
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  3. EJD

    EJD TJ Overlander
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    I'm surprised you didn't go with the Gerber being an Oregonian, and Fiskars also makes them for Gerber. I have a 23" axe and the 17". I love axes, they are probably my favorite piece if kit.
    IMG_5206.jpg
    IMG_5207.jpg
    I have chopped through an entire fallen ponderosa pine that crossed my path on a trail with this little thing once. These axes are beats.
     
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  4. StG58

    StG58 Backwoods Amateur
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    Fiskars bought Gerber awhile back so it's same-o same-o. They do work very well, and are tough as all get out. The steel is pretty hard though, and you need to be careful of running them into the ground because the blade chips. Really like mine.
     
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  5. StG58

    StG58 Backwoods Amateur
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    Sharpening
    "Putting your nose to the grindstone" implies tedious, repetitious, and unending work. You will find that sharpening a dull or abused ax is indeed tedious and repetitious, but to do it right you have to do it slowly. Along the way, you'll learn the value of patience, and appreciate the differences in steel tempering and ax quality as you sharpen different axes. Best of all, you will appreciate the usefulness of a razor-sharp ax, and the importance of doing everything you can to keep it sharp.

    fig062.jpg
    The right way and wrong way to use a
    grinding wheel (drawings by Frederic H. Kock).

    Never use an electric high-speed dry bench grinder to sharpen your ax. That type of a grinder will almost certainly draw the temper from the ax and ruin it. Very few people have enough skill to use a high-speed grinder without drawing the temper from the steel, leaving the steel too soft to hold an edge. The only grindstone that I recommend is one of the old-style pedal grindstones that stay wet with a constant application of water to the stone. If you draw the temper from your ax with a high-speed grinder, you may have ruined the ax for good. At the minimum, you've drawn the temper for at least 3/16 of an inch back from the edge. You can always tell when the temper is drawn because the color of the steel at the edge turns blue. If this happens to your ax, you've got to remove a lot of steel to reshape the edge back to where it still is tempered. If you use a pedal grindstone, keep it wet, and always rotate the grindstone toward you and into the ax, not away from it.

    If you don't have a pedal grindstone, your options are limited to a file and whetstone. This is how most quality ax sharpening is done today. Few stores carry pedal grindstones. Wear leather gloves throughout the sharpening process, as the ax will become razor-sharp.

    fig063.jpg
    Tools for sharpening (clockwise from top left) include
    leather gloves; ax-bit width gauges; 8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch
    mill bastard files; Carborundum scythe stone; Carbor-undum
    ax stone; file card; and grooved Carborundum sharpening
    stone. Natural Arkansas sharpening stones also work.

    Fit your file with a guard to protect your hands. The guards, which keep your fingers away from the sharpened ax blade, can be made from leather, wood, or a piece of fire hose.

    fig064.jpg
    File guards help keep your fingers
    away from the sharpened ax blade.

    Clamp the ax to the bench at a comfortable height. Put on gloves to protect your hands. Hold the file as shown. Because you file into the edge of the ax, not away from it, you need gloves in case of a minor slip. Always file into the edge, toward the center of the ax handle, because this creates the least amount of burr to remove on the other side. The single-cut file sharpens only on the push stroke. Lift it away from the ax head on the return stroke. If you "saw" with your file, it will fill with metal particles. It will not cut well and it can also be ruined as the file edges are peened over. Occasionally brush the metal particles from the file with a file card. Always store and transport your files so they are protected from each other and other metal tools. Banging them together will dull their edges.

    fig065.jpg
    Clamp the ax to the bench at a
    comfortable height for sharpening.

    When sharpening, always try for a fan-shaped effect on the cheek of the ax. File back for a distance of approximately 2 to 3 inches from the cutting edge right at the middle point of the ax. Work your way from the cheek down to the actual edge, keeping a rounded profile. Stop filing once you have filed one side so that a burr of metal can be felt on the back side. Turn the ax over and repeat the process on the other side of the ax. Continue filing on the opposite side until the burr goes back over to the first side of the ax where you started. Stop at this point.

    fig066.jpg
    When sharpening, try for a fan-shaped
    effect on the cheek of the ax (drawing by
    Frederic H. Kock).

    It is time to check the shape of the edge with a sharpening gauge. This gauge can be handmade from a piece of cardboard, a small piece of brass, or even a piece of wood. See the illustration for the proper shape of your edge. The angle is about 25 degrees, but is slightly convex. The gauge is exactly to scale and can serve as a template.

    fig067.jpg
    Use a sharpening gauge to check
    the shape of the edge.

    fig068.jpg
    A template for a sharpening gauge
    (reproduced to exact size) and illustrations
    showing its use (drawings by Frederic H. Kock).

    Continue to file equally on both sides of the ax until the sharpening gauge pattern fits exactly over the edge. If you are sharpening a double-bit ax, keep one blade slightly thicker for rough work and grubbing near the ground, and the other blade shaped according to the sharpening gauge. Use the properly shaped edge for fast, clean cutting.

    Now it is time to hone the edge with a whetstone. The honing process finishes and polishes the edge and removes the burr. Honing should always be done immediately after reshaping with a file. It should also be done in the field during use and every morning before starting the day's ax work. Natural whetstones are quarry stones. My favorites are Arkansas stones, which come in different grades. The Washita is my favorite for fast cutting and the Hard Arkansas is my favorite for finishing. One of the finest finishing oil stones is called a Surgical Black Hard Arkansas. This stone will put a razor edge on your ax. Manmade stones are usually oil stones of Carborundum and come with a coarse and a fine side. Other whetstones are called water stones and use water to float the metal particles out of the stone instead of oil. Always use oil with an oil stone or water with a water stone to float the metal particles away. Wipe the stone clean of these metal particles periodically and apply more oil or water. Water stones are quite a bit softer than oil stones and tend to cup and wear faster. The advantage of the water stone is that it rapidly puts a fine polished edge on your ax.

    Round artificial ax stones are sometimes called pocket stones. I know of two types. The traditional type has both a coarse and a fine side and is about ½ inch thick. This traditional ax stone can be dangerous to use, because your fingertips are always in jeopardy. Another type of ax stone has a finger groove in the center to keep your fingertips out of jeopardy. Both of these round ax stones are of Carborundum and require oil to float the metal particles off of the stone.

    fig069.jpg
    Round ax stones, sometimes
    called pocket stones.

    fig070.jpg
    Use oil to float metal particles
    off ax stones made of Carborundum.

    Use the ax stone in a circular motion, working into the edge, toward the middle of the ax head. Work one side of the ax with the coarse stone until it creates a metal burr, then flip the ax over and use the coarse stone until it pushes the burr back. Switch to the fine side of the ax stone and repeat the process until there's a very fine burr and both sides of the ax edge have been honed. Honing the edge removes very small particles of metal from the blade and causes the remaining ax metal to burr slightly. This is sometimes known as a wire edge or a feather edge. At this point you may want to move to one of the Arkansas stones like the Hard Arkansas finishing stone and work the burr back and forth until it breaks off or becomes very fine. I recommend stropping the edge by drawing the ax toward the edge (opposite the direction used during sharpening) on a piece of finished leather or a piece of soft, clear wood like pine. This stropping will remove the final burr or wire edge.

    fig071.jpg
    Use the ax stone in a circular motion,
    working into the edge, toward the middle of the
    ax head (drawings by Frederic H. Kock).

    The last step is to apply a protective coating to the ax head itself. You can clean the rust and pitch from the metal with an abrasive impregnated rubber eraser block called the Wonderbar. Wipe light machine oil over all the metal on both sides of the ax, and then carefully rub a beeswax and oil mixture into the steel. The mixture will cling to the steel and protect it from rust. The ax head should be warm to ensure better coverage of the mixture.

    fig072.jpg
    Protective coatings for the ax head.

    Always check the ax for sharpness. A honed ax will cut faster, be safer to use, and stay sharp longer. If you look directly into the edge of your ax with the light over your shoulder (either sunlight or artificial light), the edge that you've just honed will reflect no light. If you see any light reflected from the edge, you need to go back and hone the ax with the stone. Occasionally, a ding or a nick in the edge will reflect light just at one point. It is not always necessary to remove these dings as they will disappear through repeated filings. A correctly honed edge is sharp with no wire edge. It reflects no light. If you followed procedures, your edge should be sharp enough to shave with. I sometimes check the sharpness by carefully dry shaving the hair on the back of my hand. This is a traditional method used in the woods for years. A safer and equally effective test is to carefully put your fingernail (not your finger) against the sharpened edge. The edge should bite into your fingernail and not slide down it.

    fig073.jpg
    Shaving hair on the back of your hand
    is a traditional method of checking an ax's
    sharpness. A safer method is to place your
    fingernail against the edge. The edge should
    bite into your fingernail.
     
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  6. StG58

    StG58 Backwoods Amateur
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    Chopping Technique
    Chopping is an art. Start out loose and relaxed. Hold the ax with one hand fixed just above the swell at the end of the handle. On the up-stroke, the other hand slides up the handle close to the head. On the down-stroke, it slides back down the handle. At the point of impact, it is close to the lower hand. Each blow lands exactly where it is intended, with the proper force, and at the proper angle. There is no shock to the hands or shoulders. One corner of the ax blade should always be free of the wood, so that a slight twist brings out the chip and releases the bit without undue strain.

    Grip--On an ax that is hung properly to fit you, place your left hand about 1 or 2 inches from the butt end of the handle or helve. Place your right hand about three-fourths of the way up the handle. This is the proper hold for a right-handed person.

    fig076.jpg
    The proper ax hold for a right-handed person
    (drawing by Frederic H. Kock).

    Forehand Swing--This swing is used to cut the right side of a notch. These instructions are for right-handed choppers. Raise the ax over your right shoulder, your hands in the starting position. Swing the ax down on the log with a very natural swing motion, your right hand sliding down the handle toward your left hand at the bottom of the handle. You will end this motion with both hands at the end of the handle when the ax strikes the wood. Do not drive the ax straight into the wood, but instead cut on an angle about 45° to 50° from the edge of the log. Raise the ax again, slide the right hand up about three-fourths of the way on the handle and start your next swing. Continue this motion for the forehand swing. Your left hand never leaves the end of the handle.

    fig077.jpg
    Forehand swing
    (drawings by Frederic H. Kock).

    fig078.jpg
    Cut at a 45° angle to be most effective
    (drawing by Frederic H. Kock).

    Backhand Swing--The backhand swing is used to cut the left side of the notch. Bring the ax over the right shoulder as in the forehand swing, but shift your body well to the left so that the ax comes down more in line with the left side of the notch. This backhand swing is somewhat more difficult to master gracefully. Proper ax use always includes these two motions, the forehand swing and the backhand swing, always over the right shoulder for right-handed choppers. Changing hand positions instead of using or developing the back swing technique is not considered acceptable ax use.

    fig079.jpg
    Backhand swing
    (drawings by Frederic H. Kock).

    Accuracy is the only thing that counts; the force of the swing is not nearly as important as its placement. Chop with a series of strokes: the top, the bottom, and then the middle. If you chop in that order (top, bottom, middle) with both the forehand swing and the backhand swing, the chip will fly out after your last cut. On your last cut in the middle on the backhand swing, you should give a slight twist to the ax as you sink it into the wood to pop the chip out. Swing with a natural rhythmic and unforced motion. Always watch your aim. Leaving one edge of your ax blade exposed will help ensure it doesn't get stuck in the log.

    fig080.jpg
    Sequence of strokes for most
    efficient chopping (drawing by Frederic H. Kock).

    It is best to confine yourself to one grip and do all the chopping either right- or left-handed, whichever is your natural swing. In the long run, it is important to learn to chop well both right-handed and left-handed. Being ambidextrous can save a chopper a lot of trouble in everyday work in the woods, particularly in limbing.

    Other grips besides the full-swing chopping grip are used for specific tasks. For careful and delicate work, such as sharpening stakes, notching house logs, or some limbing, use a two-handed choked grip, with both hands grasping the ax near the center of the handle. For cutting brush or sharpening wooden wedges, use a one-handed grip at the ax's point of balance near the head. For splitting wood, cutting saplings, or sharpening stakes by yourself, use a one-handed grip, with your hand about halfway down the handle. Your spare hand should be nowhere near the ax blade during these operations!

    fig081.jpg
    Three ways of gripping the ax for precise
    strokes; a) two-handed choked grip; b) one-
    handed choked grip and; c) one-handed full swing.
     
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  7. StG58

    StG58 Backwoods Amateur
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    Limbing
    After the tree is on the ground, the next step is removing its branches, called limbing. Start at the butt of the log and work toward the top, cutting on the underside of the branches. Always limb from the opposite side of the log with the log separating you from the ax. Limbing is a dangerous operation because of the chance of glancing blows when the ax does not dig into the wood.

    fig088.jpg
    Cut the underside of the branch when
    lopping branches (drawings by Frederic H. Kock).

    fig089.jpg
    Guidelines for limbing
    (drawings by Frederic H. Kock).

    You need to pay attention to branches that are under compression, those that bear the weight of the log. When the limb is cut, the limb may spring free, striking you. The log can also roll.

    Limbing is like other chopping in most ways. The same grips on the ax handle are used and the swing is the same. Much of the ax work, however, is performed in constricted, awkward positions. Some branches are large, others small. You need good judgment to place the right amount of force behind each swing of the ax.

    The danger of accidents from an ax that has been deflected by branches is much greater than with clear chopping. One important precaution is to clear interfering branches before attempting to chop a large limb. If the log is so large that you cannot reach over it to limb, chop the top branches off first. Stand on top of the tree trunk to chop the side branches. Cut each limb flush with the trunk; leave no stobs or pig ears.

    The inexperienced chopper should do very little limbing while standing on the log. Experienced choppers with sure control of the ax will be able to work safely in the more hazardous positions.

    text09.jpg

    For large limbs, particularly on hardwoods, it is often necessary to cut a notch similar to that used in cutting down a tree. Cut from the lower side of the limb, as always, and keep the bottom of the notch even with the trunk surface. The vertical side of the notch should slope somewhat with the angle of the limb. Often a larger notch is easier to cut than a smaller one. The downward cut is made with the grain of the wood and not directly across it.

    fig090.jpg
    Cutting off a large limb.

    A word should be said about hemlock knots. These knots are very hard, especially on dead limbs. It is sometimes better to break off small limbs with the poll of the ax than to try to chop them. It is easy to take a huge nick out of the ax bit by swinging too hard at right angles to a hemlock limb. This is more likely to happen in cold weather, when the ax is more brittle. In such cases, warm the ax bit before using it on such limbs. If possible, use an ax with a blunter taper than you would for ordinary chopping. As a final precaution, chop lightly at an angle to, or with, the grain, and do not attempt to twist out the chips.
     
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  8. UPJOHN

    UPJOHN TJ Enthusiast

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    I can remember turning the crank on our grindstone for my dad when I was a kid. Ours was on a wooden frame with a tire cut in half where the bottom of the stone picked up water.
    My grandfather was a blacksmith and taught my dad the art of sharpening tools. People brought my dad their sithe blades to sharpen where he would pound the cutting edge razor thin, then sharpen with a wet stone. A lost art.
     
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  9. Stinger

    Stinger TJ Addict
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    Of particular note was seeing this right after the first aid kit thread.:rolleyes:

    Great article. Thanks for posting. I have been chopping for a long time but still picked up a couple of tips---ya know, the old dog stuff!

    And they take and hold an edge. Fiskars rule! Would trade it at all for anything for a travel axe. I do have a double blade axe at home. I found the head in the ashes of a camp fire. I guess some body broke the handle and they were trying to burn out the stub. Anyway that blade is great! I can put and edge on it that will slice paper and it STAYS SHARP. What I don't like is the double blade. Always scares me to have a sharp blade staring at me when it is stuck in a stump for example.
     
    #9 Stinger, Nov 22, 2016
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
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  10. StG58

    StG58 Backwoods Amateur
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    Now for the fun stuff...throwing a Tomahawk (or hatchet)

    Before You Begin
    Anyone can throw a tomahawk. Hatchet or tomahawk throwing is an activity that can be enjoyed year round in the back yard or in the woods. For centuries Native Americans and Mountain Men have used tomahawks and axes for hunting, chopping firewood, and protection, now they can be used for recreational fun. With these basic skills you can learn to throw anything from an ax, tomahawk, or even a hatchet.

    Before you start throwing your hatchet or tomahawk, you will need good target. The best target is cut rounds from a fallen tree stacked like a pyramid or a tripod holding up the tree rounds. The bigger the target, the easier it will be to learn how to throw a hawk. The wood must be soft so that the blade of the ax or tomahawk can penetrate easily and “stick” into the logs, so older wood is sometimes better.

    Choosing the Right Tomahawk

    The most important reminder that most tomahawk throwers would give you as an advice is to get the tomahawk that is best suited for you. When you are choosing your tomahawk, you should always consider your height and reach as a factor. For beginners, a professional thrower’s advice is to choose a lighter tomahawk. Getting a tomahawk with the proportional weight to your body will help you get a better stance when starting off with the throw.

    You should also consider the length of the handle when buying a throwing tomahawk. Ensure the handle is just right for your reach. The length of the handle often affects the impact of your throw.

    Grips & Stance When Throwing
    Stance should be upright and level and feet comfortable side by side. Stand like you're about to throw a ball. Some people feel comfortable having one foot forward and resting on the extended foot rather than the one behind. Grip the tomahawk like you would a hammer and like you were as if shaking hands with the handle. Arms should be raised straight without bending the shoulder, extended towards the target. Tomahawk should be held perfectly straight so it wouldn't wobble when throwing. The most important thing is power and speed while throwing, you can worry about accuracy eventually by practicing more.

    Steps to 'Hawk Throwing


    1. Measure about 13-14 ft from target

    From the target, measure about 13 -14 ft or about 5 - 6 paces and make a line in the dirt. From this distance the tomahawk, hatchet, or ax will be doing one revolution till it reaches the target. The distance is determined by how long the handle is.

    2. Make sure the tomahawk blade is pointing toward your target

    This is a little more obvious but you never know.

    3. Pitcher's position

    Position your feet in the pitcher's position with the foot opposite your throwing arm forward.

    4. Hold handle at base of tomahawk

    Hold the handle near or at the base with the tomahawk blade at the top.

    5. Straight back & straight forward

    Bring the tomahawk straight back and throw straight forward aiming for your target.

    6. Follow through

    Follow through with your arm while still keeping your wrist locked.

    'Hawk Not Sticking? Diagnosing the Problem

    If you find that you cannot stick the tomahawk or axe after a few tries you have the distance wrong. That could be because of two things. First, the hawk could be under-rotating. Take a step back and try it again if you think your hawk is under rotating. If it is over-rotating then you need to take a step forward. Over-rotation may be cause by a shorter handle than normal. Shorter handles take less time to do a revolution than larger handles. So start a little closer if you have a shorter handle. That is why the distance to your target depends on the length of the tomahawk. So don’t be worried if you miss the first few times it takes a few throws to calibrate the right distance. With luck and a little practice you will be able to stick it every time like a pro.

    **Always remember that a tomahawk, axe or hatchet is not a toy and should be treated with respect and control**

    Most important rule of all...Be safe and have fun!
     

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