Monday, June 30, 2014

Rehanging Another Old Axe

rehanging and old axe
Well I managed to go seven months without purchasing a new axe to work on. Seven months ago I wrote a blog entry detailing the last axe I worked on and how I felt the addiction take hold. I had rehung an axe before that, but it was just a tool to me then. I didn't know anything about axes or picking a good handle and didn't really care either. It split wood just fine and lived outside. It's always interesting to look at the way your perceptions change and for me I can't always figure out exactly what factors came together to facilitate the change. Somehow I came to the realization that the standard 36 inch handle was too long for me. We had actually hung a 36 inch handle on a boys-size axe head. I didn't know. That was the handle the hardware store hand so that's the handle it got. Needless to say it took a LOT of fitting to make it work given the eye size difference. I am always watching outdoor kinds of youtube videos and I have always understood the value of the axe, I just hadn't made the deeper connection with the value they once had for people who did all manner of work with one. It was a necessity. It built houses, provided warmth and even income for many. There are many kinds of axes for special jobs, but just one axe has more potential uses than virtually any other tool, rivaled only by a knife. For a long time I've understood the intrigue of popular survival tools - little things that fit into tins, survival this, survival that. However, I've always been conflicted about them as well. Watching craftsman or any skilled person work with the tools of their trade has always been one of my favorite ways to learn. When you watch people who live and breath by their tools, you don't see them using any kind of nifty little survival gadgetry. Whether it's an axe, knife, or large jungle blade like the parang or e-nep, they are well rounded tools capable of a variety of daily living tasks and are combined with skills, not gimmicks.

And so my perceptions of the axe changed. I rehung that Wards axe in November, about the time we started burning wood for the year and it did a lot of splitting over the winter. Not only are axes always going to be useful for their intended purpose, there are tons (literally and figuratively) of them out there rotting away. To me that's unfortunate so there is the fun factor of finding a gem, saving it, and bringing it back to life.

Lately, my home town seems to be haunted by oppressive humidity which significantly hinders my micarta making process which in turn slows down my whole wallet project. Add in some rain, and cabin fever gets to me quick. I had to get out of the house so I swung by a local antique mall where I ran into a friend who was suffering from the same ailment and had a handful of old tools already picked out when I showed up. I had a 28 inch handle sitting around and what good is something like that without a head? Low and behold there it was, this Gambles Artisan axe in great shape. The internet can't tell me much about it and so I don't even know how old it is but I do know that Gambles was pretty much dead by the 80s as a company. Chances are it's pretty good. My file pretty much skittered across the bit without really digging in, so I feel good about the cutting edge. Overall, with a few splotches of blue paint that I suspect was its original color, the fact that the bit doesn't seem to have any extra rounding from years of sharpening, and the lack of abuse to the pole, I can conclude that this axe had very little use. It rested in one place for at least some period of time because one side has some minor pitting where it may have laid. I suppose these are indications that it could be 30 or 40 years old, older if it was used very little throughout its life and kept in a dry place. 

Here it is in the condition I got it in. Very little rust and a scary grinding for a cutting edge. The line under the head on the handle is where I had already begun to drive the handle out. You can see that the previous owner used a file to fit the handle.

The grain on the old handle wasn't great but I liked the overall shape so I wanted to salvage it just in case.

Here is a better shot of the original condition.

Here are some of the markings - and you can see only minor pole abuse.

Here is the Gambles ARTISAN logo on the opposite side
So I managed to get the old handle off in one piece and here is my new House Handle. I got it from a local hardware store and it's not great. It may be hard to see but it kind of had this huge bulbous swell. The nice part though is that I was able to reshape it to my liking and you can see my pencil lines in the picture basically where I cut the new profile. On my last handle they got stingy with the swell so I couldn't really change it, but in this case I had material to work with.
Here is the new shape. It's different and I like it.
The end grain here is nice and straight - a little wood burning going on too.
But toward the head it takes a turn. I've only used 2 House Handles but they seem to leave very little extra material for fitting and here you can see I had to drive in some filler pieces at the rear of the eye. I didn't get a picture but that gap was really only toward the top. From the bottom is fits very tight all the way around and I'm satisfied with that.
Something odd I didn't notice until I started grinding was these dips near the bit. I could see them being a functional feature, but they are only on one side and it makes me wonder if it's not just half-assed craftsmanship. If you look closely I was able to clear out almost all of the grinder marks except from these two low spots. The other side came out nicely which you can see in the picture at the very top. Here you also see a little streak of heartwood but nothing terrible. Overall it's a user, not a beauty queen and should work out fine.
UPDATE 10/15/14: I noticed that this post is getting some views lately which prompted me to go back and read it - that and the fact that I have re-rehung this axe since. Early on I was caught up with getting the handles to fit tightly from top to bottom and often the kerf would close up when I seated the head. I would then have to really fiddle around with getting the wedge in, ultimately without great success as in this case. The picture above shows how thin the wedge was. Now, the fact of the matter is that this axe would have held up just fine and getting the head off was still difficult when I went to round 2 with it. The handle was made for a boy's axe and this is a full-size head - without ordering a stick online, this is often the only way to get a shorter handle. However, unless that boy's axe handle is left pretty over-sized it's going to be much too small to work on a full-size axe. But this experience, and another, taught me a valuable lesson - it can be done. 

Here is the same axe 4 months later on the same handle, rehung. My original hang was slightly "open" and with the head properly seated it all fit together much better.

This wedge is much more effective than before and the eye is full.
So fitting the handle that tightly was actually holding me back, something this project taught me. While it is slight, an axe eye is tapered from top to bottom. If we think of this in an exaggerated way, the eye is a traffic cone upside-down where the bottom is smaller than the top. With that in mind, how can you expect for something that fits through the smaller bottom hole, to be the same size as the larger top? Obviously, this is by design and the wedge is the device that makes the magic happen. If you take away the mystery of the wedge, the simple function is nothing more than to spread the wood at the top of the eye so that it is impossible for it to be pulled free through the bottom where the opening is smaller. Without the exaggerated mental picture, this isn't really very obvious if you're new to hanging tools, especially with axes. I learned a lot about eye taper from hanging hammers where it is more obvious, but for the most part it isn't apparent when you look at an axe.

The point is, you don't really want the handle to fit tight at the top when you seat the head, and you don't want the kerf closed. You will hear different theories on the subject. For instance, some people cut the kerf wider to accept more wedge. Some people just leave a slight gap, maybe 1/16th, around the eye. I personally don't see the point in a wide open kerf if the handle is tight. You'll get a thicker wedge in there, but is it really having a wedging effect if the wood has nowhere to go? Therefore, both theories are a different approach to the same thing. You are trying to bend the wood slightly to fill up the cone, which means if the handle is tight around the walls of the eye, then it has nowhere to bend to. Whether you cut a wider kerf or not, you need to spread the handle and I like to wedge it until it begins to bulge from the top. The image below illustrates the bulging effect.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Design Progression of My Micarta Wallets

I wanted that finishing touch feature for my wallets and I was thinking that I could maybe even make them a little lighter weight, but I couldn't quite figure it out. I made a couple with aluminum tubing and yes, that tiny bit of aluminum weighs nothing, although really a couple screws and the spacer I was using for the floor of my wallets before probably wasn't all that heavy - and necessary for a clip. The postman told me my shipping weight was 4oz, which suggests to me that the wallet must only weigh about 3oz or so. But then I tried out a piece of brass. Yes, it weighs more than the aluminum tubing and it costs more, but it does add that little something extra that a couple screws in the bottom just didn't do. I really like it and it gave me yet another idea that will be seen very soon. I've got plans.

Now, I'd like to get some feedback (so post some comments if you wanna) but I am really looking to phase out the clips. I've got 10 of them ... or 9 .... I've got a handful of them in stock and I'm not looking to get more. I think the "idea" of them is nice. People have to put cash somewhere. It's like a value adder I guess. But I think it's clunky and I just stuff money inside the wallet and call it good. I pay with a credit card 99 times out of 100 anyway. I have talked about pricing multiple times in these posts but the bottom line is, the complexity, extra steps and cost of including the clips is going to force the price up. OK if you love the idea of the clip so much that you are cool with more money, leave a comment. I will make them. But have no fear, I am working on a different way to secure your currency and possibly the modularity to choose whether you want it or not.

So here are some shots of the new designs and as of this writing there are some available in my Etsy Store.

minimalist wallet front pocket wallet

An awesome new color combo that I am really happy with!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thrunite T10 Series In For Testing

high value edc flashlights
Thrunite T10s and T10.
When I originally saw the Thrunite T10s I guess I wasn't thrilled. I honestly can't fully say why except it seemed to me at the time that making it from stainless steel didn't do much beyond increase the price and the weight. I can even recall commenting on this in one forum thread or another and it went to the back of my mind to be forgotten. I don't know the exact order they came in but eventually the line expanded to a titanium version and finally an aluminum version. Somewhere in there I stumbled across them again and at $30 the aluminum version, with everything that's included, easily falls into the good value category for EDC flashlights. The major highlights are the pocket clip, size and form factor, mode spacing, and the steel switch cover and bezel. You also get a few goodies in the nice little tin it's packaged in, including a diffuser. Another member of the OS crew was looking for a new light and so, the deal was struck. I guess it's evidence of how our perceptions change over time, although it has to be said that the Thrunite T10 checks all the boxes for my EDC flashlight requirements nearly without exception. I see the benefits of various features of flashlights and so I don't think I have a perfect light - each one has its place - but somehow the T10s went from not thrilling, to essentially my "grail" light if you will. I say it that way because it costs a little more than I would typically want to spend, and it's a little nicer than I find absolutely necessary, so rather than grail, I am inclined to say that for me, if I wanted to step up to a little nicer light that I think is probably pretty high quality, this one is it. There is a series of youtube videos in which they abuse the T10s and are proof enough to me that it is a tank. So even the stainless "s" version strikes me as a good value at $40. But this isn't really a review so much as an introduction. There aren't a lot of reviews out there yet, and even though the one I mentioned is very compelling and thorough, I feel like a fair amount of testing is in order before I can write one. With two T10 models now in rotation, and having a couple weeks of use already done, I should be able to put some useful thoughts out there in another few weeks.
Thrunite T10s review
Here you are seeing the aluminum T10 (black), the T10s (center), and the Solarforce Z2 (gray).

Thrunite Saber 2014
The Solarforce Z2 is a spectacular value and excellent product. To the left of the image you are seeing the Thrunite Saber 2014 which comes with two tubes, one for AA and one for CR123.
EDC rotation budget EDC
So this is my current EDC rotation with the T10s, my customized Boker Magnum Slicer, and of course an O'Dell Studios Micarta Card Wallet.

Even with all the modifications and new parts, the Slicer costs less than the T10s.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

More Micarta Wallets for June 2014

Couple more added. Thanks to all my customers for lots of great feedback and an awesome Etsy experience so far! I've probably said it before but nothing is ever good enough and there are some other changes coming up in my designs. Hopefully they will show up soon.

First one ever made with Moss Green Canvas. Very pleased with how it looks.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Boker Magnum Slicer Customizing Project Complete

custom scales micarta bronze pillars
I ordered the Boker Magnum Slicer because they have a handful of blades in that line that I like the looks of and I wanted to know just how bad they are. After some testing I posted up my review and began tearing the knife down for customizing. For those who insist that a real review can only be completed after testing, I submit that the knife must be taken apart and customized before a review can be called "real". Yeah, not really. But the thing with the Magnum line is that there are lots of reasons to be wary (outlined in the review) and the point of purchasing one was to really see what they are all about. In the end there was some good, bad and ugly but much more good than I had anticipated. I like the way the knife looks so well, and was happy enough with the performance, that I concluded a customizing was in order.

Now, I may have been joking about having to take the knife apart to do a review, but that's not to say you don't learn a few things along the way that are actually important. For instance I learned that the width of the blade + the washers came to .165 inches, while the pillars and stop pin only measured .157. What this means is that the space inside the handle was less than the width of the blade and washers and I theorize should cause the stiff opening that I experienced out of the box. So I promptly ordered new pillars in a screw size that doesn't make my brain hurt, and a new pocket clip to replace the awful factory unit. The washers are nylon and truthfully when you feel them between your fingers they are slippery as snot so I don't see why they aren't perfectly useful. I would have liked to slim the handle down some but in the end decided it wasn't necessary. I could have ordered thinner washers and pillars to match, but the wider handle feels good in hand I have to admit. Slim knives are good for carrying but less so for use. Regardless, the result of matching pillars is smooth operation and perfect blade centering.

Note the substance in the threads of the screw to the left.
Another thing I've learned repeatedly when disassembling cheap knives is the (yes you've heard me complain about this numerous times and I understand if it's getting old) use of what appears to be super glue on every screw in sight. It doesn't have a red or blue tinge and is white and crusty. I don't know what it is really, I can't prove anything, but I know I wish they would stop using it. Whatever it is it is much stronger than the steel used in their fasteners. It takes far more heat than red thread locker to get it to release, if you can get it to release at all and you will strip screw heads long before it gives. You might be thinking, yeah but this is only a problem if you disassemble the knife which isn't really necessary for use. True enough. A knife like this with pillars is wide open. You wouldn't really need to take it apart to clean or lube it but you might. And if the pivot were to need adjustment you'd never be able to. I got lucky and the screw in the picture only had a couple threads filled up but the screw on the other side of the pivot was much worse. Some of the handle screws came out, some didn't. I knew I was just going to replace everything so I drilled some of them out and broke them off. No sense wasting time. 

Anyway, lots of fun stuff. I made some micarta, tapped the liners for 4-40 pocket clip screws (pictured above), acid washed the liners and new clip, heat colored all the fasteners and pillars, and put it all back together. I screwed up counter sinking one of the pivot screws, but overall the project went smoothly and with a belt sander, took remarkably less time than it would have without it. The final product is smooth opening, feels great and doesn't look too bad either. I did notice that the blade got a tiny dent in the edge while rattling around in a box with all the other parts (I usually just throw it all in a box to keep track of everything). It is fair to say that the "440 Stainless" is not amazing steel but I still stand by my testing and conclude that it is perfect adequate for typical daily tasks, takes a nice sharp working edge without much effort and will do a lot of cutting for you for very little money.
Roughed out scales.

boker magnum review
Blade centering looking good.
liner lock magnum slicer
Solid lockup

The new pillars are awesome - from The pocket clip is also from them and is a little longer than I would have liked but low profile and straight to the point. It's goes completely unnoticed while gripping the knife.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Micarta Wallet Update for June

Many wallets have come and gone since my last post but I wanted to quickly get some pictures up to show everyone what's been coming out of the shop. I am still learning how much is really going into each wallet. Belts and tiny sanding drums for the Dremel don't last forever, gloves to keep hands clean and even wax paper for the making of micarta are all little expenses that nickel and dime the project to death. It's so difficult to determine what the cost really should be. I look at my ledger and I know that I have invested in material that will eventually pay off but it's hard to see that. With all the nickel and dime expenses it's also difficult to figure the cost per unit. I hate the idea that my wallets are so expensive to make that they will have to be priced beyond their value and that notion is starting to creep in. I am going to have to move quite a few more of them before I will be able to see how my income stacks up to my expenses. On top of that nothing is ever good enough for me. I know that they are a solid product but I never get over the notion that someone is going to hate it, or for some reason it's going to fail. Anyway, just fear and doubt as I embark on this new project. Up to this point everything I've ever created for someone has been a known commodity for me. I knew how it would be made, I knew the overhead and I knew the results. These wallets are new.

Anyway, jump over to Etsy so see what's still available. Thanks!

minimalist wallet, card wallet, front pocket wallet, everyday carry
These are the latest.
Gray cotton canvas with black spacers and hardware.
Gray cotton canvas, dark green spacers and bright green liners.

This one looks like it has black spacers but they are a real dark gray.