Monday, September 29, 2014

Axe Restoration/Refurbishing Projects

The finished product, sharp and ready to work.
I took a chance on this one for no other reason than I liked the pattern. The problem is that I don't really know what it is and if anyone reading has a clue, feel free to leave a comment. I do know that it possibly had blue paint once upon a time because a streak of blue came through on the handle as it passed through the eye while I was working on it. I know that it weighs 3lbs (2lbs 14oz on the scale), appears to have a "3" marked on the pole and nothing else. I liked it because it is a somewhat compact head while still coming in at 3lbs and with the extra weight concentrated around the eye, it has a little extra splitting potential for its weight without having thick cheeks.

This axe was pretty clean when I got it, so I gave it a quick vinegar bath to have a look at the tempering line and finding that it had plenty of edge life it was time to hang it. I started with a 28 inch House Handle, thinned it to my liking and took an inch off the swell. I certainly like a large swell, and all too often the handles available today are already lacking in that department. This one was no different. The swell on this one had some length, but didn't really have any extra girth toward the bottom, so what I removed was really just a misshapen growth which didn't improve function. Beyond that there wasn't much work to do. I personally like variation when I put an axe together and I love seeing new (and OLD) and different handle designs. Luckily, over-sized handles aren't hard to come by - though as I mentioned the swells rarely are - and they can be customized a little bit here and there.

rescue vintage axe head custom axe
Here it is next to another one that I got at the same time in the condition I got them.

After its vinegar bath - there are almost two hardening lines maybe?

no metal wedge hanging an axe
The wedge being driven - note that the handle is spreading to the point that it is wider than the eye itself, creating a good lock. Also, you can faintly make out what I believe is a "3" laying on its side stamped into the poll.

This image shows that there are about 8 growth rings per inch. Apparently there is a sweet spot, but like many other handle rules passed down throughout history, I don't believe they have a lot of merit. I say that in this case because the sweet spot is somewhere between 10 and 18 (or something like that) with as few as 5 being acceptable. At the same time, those light colored speckled bands you see in this picture are supposed to be thin while the darker bands are stronger wood and therefore thicker. Picture twice as many bands, making each one half as thick and doubling the number of light speckled bands which are supposedly weaker. Yeah, if you're thinking that sounds contradictory, so do I. An axe handle at the time of this writing is no more than $10 and I can do a basic, no frills, serviceable hang in about 30 minutes. 

hickory handle sources

bushcraft axe camping axe hiking axe survival axe
It just so happened that I got a Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe in trade that day. The SFA has a nice feeling handle, but in the case of a larger axe, where the user's hand slides from top to bottom as it's swung, a little thinner stick works a little nicer. Supposedly it will have better shock absorbing capabilities but I have to wonder if that's not just more of the same smoke as growth rings per inch.

camp axe
The Gransfors thicker handle has a purpose in my mind. For one thing, I just don't get hung up on these details. I can pick up 10 different axes and use them just fine. How do I know this? By having 10 different axes. The girth of the SFA really comes in for one handed use and I found that it has particular advantages in that respect.

One last shot of the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe with my very handy new chopper.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Handmade Axe Handle

It was bound to happen sooner or later and somehow the handle, in certain ways, has become more important than the axe head itself in my eyes. I guess I already know what the axe will do and what its limitations are, so the new unknown is what the handle can be. I have done quite a bit of research on handles, their strengths and weaknesses, and found that a lot of the "required features" of handles are less important than we're led to believe. I suppose we could go into the intricate details of handle selection and the various qualities of wood, and some people like to obsess like with any topic of interest, but there are two points that I keep coming back to which I think nullify all the academia. One; handles are consumable and two; perhaps the long established criteria for handle selection, regardless of scientific foundation or lack thereof, can serve to increase the likelihood of long service from your handle. In other words, why not try to get the best you can? The reason I say the handle has become more important in certain ways rather than all ways, is that I don't think it is vitally important to have that perfect handle, but I definitely want a nice one. Part of being nice is feeling right, fitting right, and looking right. The handle is the portion of the tool the hand interacts with and because I enjoy the process of fitting them, quality matters.

My little hewing hatchet only needed a short handle for the kind of work it is meant to do, so it seemed a good opportunity to begin learning. I chose an unlikely wood specifically because it was unlikely. It is made from Redbud, a short living, often twisted tree that most likely wouldn't yield a straight board any longer than my handle. They grow very fast, as you can tell from the very wide growth rings. Getting a suitable piece was actually pretty difficult but we managed to saw out a small section and I began whittling at it with an axe. With a rough shape finished I set it aside to dry for a few weeks. It had come from the stump that had been left high after the dying tree had been taken down, but it was very wet - shavings felt damp to the touch. I doubt it is dry even now, but I don't have the sort of patience needed to let it fully cure. Worst case scenario is that the handle shrinks and loosens in which case I will pull it, and simply rehang it. Loose tool heads are not difficult to remedy and rehanging them on the same handle is the best option in my opinion when the handle itself isn't damaged.

In the end it ended up being an awfully attractive piece of wood and certainly unusual. It's already helped with some minor carving which will be seen in the pictures. Thanks for reading!

hand carved axe handle
Kelley-How Thomson Hickory Hewing Hatchet made by Plumb
Everything came out nice and straight.
Another shot of the alignment. It all came together smoothly.
custom axe handle
I made sure the wood bulged pretty good from the top in hopes of keeping it tight as it dries.
edc knife budget every day carry blades
I tell you what, this hammer is actually great for driving wedges.

 Another thing worth noting is that Boker Plus Titan seen in the last picture. I used it in a number of different ways on this project; as a fine scalpel, push cutting with both hands, a mini draw knife, you name it, and it was really excellent. I highly recommend it. I have an overview of it elsewhere on the blog.