Friday, March 21, 2014

My Project This Week


The two axe heads above were purchased at antique stores in Ohio’s Amish country. I suppose because I cut my teeth on axe handles, so to speak, I can’t bear to see an axe head lying around unhafted. As a result, I often come back from taking my wife to the tourist traps of the areas frequented by the plain folk with an axe head in the back of the truck. I don’t NEED another axe, for heaven’s sake! I have a hatchet “collection” of sorts and the beginnings of a collection of full-size axes. It’s a sickness, I suppose, like kleptomania or gambling. With three chainsaws, I don’t even USE axes as much as I used to, when I was on the farm. However, let me go into an antique store and see a usable old axe head sitting unloved on a shelf, and something in me wants to save it from its embarrassing incompleteness and restore it to its formerly honorable usefulness. If it’s five dollars or less, and in decent shape, it’s coming home with me; it’s a given.

The top axe in the photo above was four dollars, I think. I’d guess it at 3-1/2 pounds. In carelessness, I let the blade tip away from the camera when I snapped the photo, and the blade looks shorter than it is. It has a pretty good nick in the blade, but nothing that won’t grind out with little effort. Despite being unmarked, it seems to have a blade thickness about right for chopping. I prefer a square cornered axe, but hey, it was calling to me for mercy; what could I do?

I’d guess the bottom axe head at 2-1/2 pounds. I think I only paid two dollars for it. From the grinding that’s been done around the poll, I’d say it was abused a little in the past and someone ground off the battered corners to make it more presentable. From the rust on the grinding, though, it was sometime in the past, but AFTER the blade was allowed to lie somewhere and rust enough to pit the surface slightly. It shows no markings, either, but appears to be of decent design. I’d wanted to put a 28 or 36 inch handle in it to make a light-weight cruising axe, but I couldn’t find any long handles to fit that were smaller enough in the eye, so I put it on a 20” hatchet handle. I could have worked a long handle down to fit, but decided against the effort. The head is almost too heavy for a 20” handle, but it would make a good heavy-duty camp hatchet, or a logger’s marking axe. Be assured that anytime you see a handle colored such as it is, that it’s done for a reason. This one has a big mineral streak in it, which could weaken a handle on a full-sized axe, but should cause no problem for the short handle of a hatchet. So, they stained it dark, hoping no-one would notice.

I’ve never tried making my own handles. With the amount of time I’d spend making them, I don’t consider it practical, as long as I can get serviceable handles for five to nine dollars. My usual method is to drive the handle in as far as reasonably possible, then start cutting or rasping a line on the handle, just below the socket. After driving it in until that line is covered by the socket, and small splinters are starting to form there, I take the rasp or knife to the handle again to work it down a little more, then, drive the handle in again. This, I continue until the handle is sticking out the top of the socket slightly, at which time I drive the wooden wedge in the slot in the handle to expand the top to fill out the socket. “Veeing out” the groove very slightly before starting to drive the handle into the head allows the wedge to start easier. After trimming the wedge even with the end of the handle, a little linseed oil or lacquer or such will help swell and seal the end of the handle.

Such things could be done in an hour or less, perhaps, but my work space in the basement is directly below my wife’s big screen TV upstairs. As a result, I can only beat on the end of the handle a few times before she threatens violence. So, I drop the project for the day and move on to something else. That project, too, may only get a few minutes of my time, often for similar reasons, but if you keep returning to such projects, they do EVENTUALLY get done. These two examples prove the fact.

Well, gotta run; the missus is calling for me to spend a little “quality time” with her and the dog in front of the TV! © 2014


deborah harvey said...

could you recommend a book that will describe types of axes and other tools.
you have introduced several words new to me in this article and i want to learn all i can.
these things were everyday to our grandparents but they are esoteric knowledge to us.
thanks, deb h

Lady Locust said...

They look great. I like the red handle. My first thought was "Hey wouldn't lose that one so easy."

Gorges Smythe said...

Well, dh, if you want a book on axes only, I'd recommend "The Ax Book" by Dudley Cook. If you want one about edged tools in general, I'd go with "The Woodwright's Guide - Working Wood with Wedge & Edge" by Roy Underhill.

Bright blue is hard to lose in the leaves, too, LL.

Brian said...

Very nice Gorges , I see a few axes for sale but generally they are really beat up pounded to the point where cracks appear . So I'm still waiting for a nice one to restore. Wranglerstar on youtube does some great hand tool restorations for folks that like that kind of thing ;)

Gorges Smythe said...

Thanks, Brian, and I'll have to check out Wrenglerstar.