Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Snow & Nealley Axe Restoration Project

o'dell studios axe projects rehanging an old axe
I have had this axe the longest and my Dad had it for who knows how long before that. It's appeared in some of my other posts as well on a 36 inch handle. Basically, some years ago I needed an axe to split wood for the furnace in my house and this axe head was just laying around. It might have been on a handle but at this point I can't remember. Anyway, I went to the nearest hardware store, grabbed the first handle I came to and set off to hang that bad boy. Well I had a 36 inch handle and what I believe to be a boys axe, so we had to carve away a ton of material to get it to work. It never even occurred to me that it was odd looking with the tiny head on the long handle or that the handle had terrible grain. I just needed an axe. And it worked for a long time. We left it outside, the handle had lacquer on it that began to crack as the handle dried out, it was neglected. Eventually the head got loose and I think this is the point where I started caring about my axe. I am thinking it must have been on a handle because somehow we saved the wedge. It was a full steel wedge - not the little ones that you drive in sideways. This was actually lucky because when the head got loose I was able to dig out the old wedge. I split off a wooden wedge from whatever I had around and with very little effort had my old axe back in fighting shape. I soaked it in boiled linseed oil and even with the poor grain orientation, that axe would have gone on to do lots of work as it was.

rehang an axe
But as I have learned more about axes and grown to enjoy them I have realized that my Snow & Nealley has sentimental value, is a really well made axe, and the handle was too long for my body dimensions. One day while cruising a local hardware store I stumbled across some handles and found a couple 28 inchers hanging there - this was pretty surprising given where I live. Upon closer inspection I discovered that both of them had excellent grain orientation and one in particular was almost flawless in every way. Things get a little unclear at this point though. Eye sizes really seem to be approximate from what I can tell. You will recall that I originally put a 36 inch handle on this axe and we had to remove a significant amount of material to fit it. That would lead me to believe that it is a boys axe. It is marked with a 3 however, which would indicated its weight, and I can say the handle at the hardware store, the perfect one, would have slid right into this head with no fitting at all. Suspecting this to be the case, I took some measurements before returning to the store and neither handle was really large enough, but one was close. They are Link handles and the two 28 inchers side-by-side were nothing alike. One was thinned down and had a grayish color while the one I ended up buying is very white and a little on the thick side. 8/21/14 Editor's note - I am learning a lot as I go along here but none of the axes I own are boys axes. My dad always liked the shorter handles and perhaps long ago it was common to get a 28 inch handle on a full size axe, however in my hardware stores there are 28 inch boys handles, or 36 inch full sized, nothing in between. It's true that the eye sizes are somewhat approximate, and in this case I was able to find a 28 inch boys hand that was so over-sized I made it work, but the beauty of House Handle is that they stock 28, 30, 32 and 36 inch handles made for full size axes. - end note.
axe restoration
Small wedges added at each end to fill gaps.
Of my three axes, no two eyes are the same and from my experience it's looking like a combination of eye variance and handle variance can lead to the need for some creative fitting. It seems no one makes a really nice handle these days. With that said, House Handle sells 28, 30, 32 and 36 inch handles with the larger eye dimension, so I believe that's the route I will take no matter what the axe itself is. Furthermore, some of the space, theoretically should be taken up by the wedge. I've made the mistake of using the supplied wedge on these projects but I don't plan to make it again. It makes sense that with the kerf and a wedge perhaps one quarter or three-eighths of an inch wide that the handle can't really be the full length of the eye. The wedge on the other hand, can be. I think from now on I will make my own wedges the length of the eye and use them to fill every gap. With that said, the shoulder of the handle itself, needs to be large enough because those gaps can't be filled with the wedge. I'll detail this in the pictures. Overall the Link handle is ok. The grain is good and the wood is white, and I don't mind the extra girth at all. None of the other handles I've dealt with soaked up so much boiled linseed oil so quickly though. I coated this one multiple times and within hours it was bone dry - an interesting observation maybe, but I can't say if it's good, bad or indifferent.

boys axe
Here is my Snow in original condition. You can sort of tell that over time I ground away a lot of the previous handle just under the head. An over sized handle is easy to chip while using an axe to split wood.

Here I've cleaned the head up pretty nicely. I don't want a vintage head to look brand new and when I think of an axe, I don't picture something with a mirror finish. I knocked off some minor mushrooming - the stamp never was deep and I didn't remove any material there.

This shows the 3 stamp and the gap toward the poll end. I don't think it is an issue with my extra wedges, but a properly made handle should definitely be over-sized down toward the shoulder. It looks like a black hole here, but the small wedges I drove in nearly reach the bottom and I made sure the sides were very tight.

Pictures don't illustrate it well but the Snow is on the lighter colored stick to the bottom left. It is much wider than the center one and just a little wider than the third. It gives me some variety to determine preference.

The Link handle is also straighter. This probably saves lumber, or maybe it's just how they do it. I like more curve but I didn't feel that it was actually any different to use while splitting with it.

Here you have a shot of the nice grain. It's tight and running the right direction.

Snow & Nealley at the bottom, then the Gambles ARTISAN, and the Wards Master Quality.

For fun I made these little curls to test the sharpness of the Snow and just to see how it felt in my hands. Being summer time I don't have much wood splitting to do but I still wanted to get a feel for it.