Posts tagged #tools

The BuckStop is Here! Training ProphylAXis For Bucking Firewood Safely

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I came up with this simple, but very cool idea for safely learning to buck logs with an axe. Here are the whys and whats and a few options for building one.

Watching people learn to buck in person and on video has been fairly horrifying at times. Most of the injuries we’ve seen during the cordwood challenge over the past two years were cuts made while bucking logs. This simple concept could allow people to train in bucking more safely, and just as important, to progress in that training more rapidly. I just came up with this idea a year or two ago and finally got around to trying it. The device is a simply a low guard wall that can be slapped together with some junk that might be lying around. I put together four different versions in about an hour including running around looking for materials. To make just one out of materials laying around would probably be about a 10 minute job.

This low wall should stop the axe should any cut go over the top of the log or through it, thus protecting the user from injury. This idea comes from the practice of using a backing log to buck, as recommended by Mors Kochanski and others. Using a larger log behind the log you are chopping can be very helpful, especially in preventing the axe from coming all the way through the work and continuing to the other side where we are standing. The Bucking Wall is taller and flatter than a log, so it should be more effective in preventing the axe from coming over the top of the log. It also allows one to stand closer to the work, which to me is preferable with a short handled axe. It is also lighter than a log. Finally, it can be built with a floor of plywood to catch the axe in case of over reaching strikes that would normally cause the toe of the axe blade to end up in the dirt.

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Consistent results and physical competence with an axe requires a certain amount of time served swinging one. They also require a certain amount of confidence to use well. The tool needs to be taken in hand and used with enough confidence to keep it under control and it is hard to be accurate and effective when timid and hesitant. It is possible to be so cautious and physically stiff that mistakes are increased or amplified. But how do we have confidence before being habituated to the tool? We don’t, which is why the learning phase is so dangerous. Observe the following quote from The Axe Manual of Peter McLaren published by the Plumb tool company.

“The danger of an axe is largely a mental hazard. The user is fearful; he stands so far from his work that his axe is not under control, forgetting that if he misplaces a stroke, or hits a glancing blow, the axe will always come home to him.

“Safety lies in learning to swing correctly and in placing your strokes accurately. Then stand within easy swinging distance and chop with confidence.

“Of course, there is always a careless man who minimizes any risk and chops more with abandon than with skill. In his hands the axe (or any edge tool) is dangerous. Play safe! But do not fear your axe. Instead--- Master it.”

Celebrity Axeman of old, Peter McLaren’s Manual of axe work put out by the Plumb Tool company. Download for free here…  https://scoutmastercg.com/the_axe_manual_/

Celebrity Axeman of old, Peter McLaren’s Manual of axe work put out by the Plumb Tool company. Download for free here…https://scoutmastercg.com/the_axe_manual_/

It is a lot easier to have that confidence once a reasonable degree of physical competence is gained. We don’t want to have false confidence, but ultimately McLaren was right. As a dangerous tool, it needs to be taken charge of and used confidently, with commitment and purposeful intent to do the work at hand.

But he recommended that we learn to use the axe, then use it with purpose and confidence. When each swing feels utterly lacking in said confidence as to where it will end up, or whether it will bite or bounce off, and we are not sure how to gauge distance from hands to the blade, how do we learn to use it safely? A certain amount of time must be spent with the tool before it begins to feel natural and go where we want it to. Enter the Buckstop

Because it is vertical and not round like a backing log, it is even more likely to prevent the axe from coming over the back board and hitting the user. So, at a certain height, it is almost 100% sure to prevent deflected and follow through cuts to the legs while bucking. So, there is the obvious advantage in terms of just preventing accidents, but I think the benefits will extent further. With the fear of injury essentially gone, now we can chop with some impunity, which means any timidity caused by being uncertain of striking our target is no longer at play. This may be a significant factor in allowing one to relax a little and chop with more confidence while working on physical technique. A new user can experiment with things like wrist torque for increasing speed, without increasing danger. In order to chop at their best, the lighter axes that I would typically recommend people start with need to be used with a little snap to create adequate head speed. But experimenting with that head speed is the last thing I would want to see a very new user doing. Using the bucking wall though, you could experiment with that acceleration and with tweaking style and technique in general, without fear of injury. Finally, when you do screw up, it is pretty obvious and I would hope that every time the axe hit’s the wall or wooden base, it stimulates the question of what would have happened if that wall wasn’t there. Even when making the final severing cut at the end to separate off the round of wood, the axe hitting the wall means the axe would be coming through, and if we look at footing position it should give some idea of whether we were at risk for injury.

I think this simple device is a solid idea, and could fill a very important need in the learning phase until confidence and skill are gained. I also think it could build that confidence and skill faster if used with intent. It’s not forever, it’s just a training aid. Many axe competitors habitually wear chainmail socks in both training and competition. Safety is good. But, I would recommend not using this indefinitely, because it could very easily foster bad habits and a false sense of security, which brings me to the down sides.

The two caveats I would say are, first that the buckstop should not be used as an excuse to be sloppy and complacent. One should still concentrate primarily on technique and aim, with a relaxed style, and not on speed and power. Ultimately speed and power are earned over time and more importantly they are nearly useless without a good level of accuracy. Forcing speed and power under normal conditions is dangerous, but even with a backing wall, they still will tend to cause aim to suffer and should be pursued intelligently with an aim to improvement of overall effectiveness, of which power is not the main ingredient as every experienced axeman will tell you. I do however, as I said above, think that using the bucking wall could allow one to progress more quickly into not just speed and power, but efficient speed and power by liberating the trainee to experiment more without putting limbs at risk. Which leads to caveat number two.

One could easily develop bad habits and a false sense of security if released from the fear of injury. I actually think it will be hard not to do so, and it is probably even inevitable. If I were training someone from scratch, I would probably approach it as two different stages, where in the second stage with no Buckstop, they have to learn new important habits and reboot the brain into danger mode. There is, of course, the opportunity to learn some safety lessons if you are continually watching that back wall and every time you hit it asking whether or not you would have lost a toe or two, but that requires a sort of intent or presence of mind that many of us aren’t going to have. Try to use the barrier consciously with the intent of hitting that backing wall as little as possible and not as an excuse to flail away with impunity. When the wall is gone, certainly more awareness and presence of mind around possible errors is going to be essential. Regardless, I would try to make the switch from buckstop to no buckstop as consciously and soberly as possible.

As far as design goes, watch the vide All of them work. You can just use a log that is larger than the piece you are bucking, but the wall should work better than a log in that it easier to move around, often easier to come up with, more transportable and allows one to stand very close, which I tend to do in bucking with the short handled axes I use. It is probably also safer, since it is both taller and flatter. If the device is made with a wooden platform for the log, it will also protect the toe of your axe from sticking into the dirt. @watch.your.follow.through on Instagram pointed out that if there is no base at the front for the log to rest on, it allows the device to be moved easily along the back of the log as chopping progresses. That is true, but it is also probably easier to slide a log along a piece of plywood. In a design with no wooden platform at the front, you can just jam a piece of plywood under the section to be cut to protect the axe, though it may not be as effective. Given that this is a training device and not a long term tool, any minor convenience issues like those only matter so much.

I would encourage making something that is super easy to throw together with common materials or junk that is lying around. I like elegant solutions, which means making and using the simple, easy, cheap thing that works. I am very resistant to keep tweaking the thing and turning it into a design project. Many tweaks could prove useful or clever, but the device that works and is actually built because it is so easy to put together is the best one, because that is the one that will actually be in use. Keep it simple and start using it, worry about tweaks later if they really seem compelling for some reason. If you have a saw and either some nails and a hammer or a screw gun, building one should be very fast. So fast in fact that it shouldn’t be a big deal to build an entirely new one or cannibalize the first to build a new one if it seems worthwhile.

I made them at different heights and it looks like 10 to 11 inches will be best. One I made with a 2 x 12 board had to have the front edge chamferred off as I hit the handle on it a few times. If the back stop is plywood, it probably wouldn’t damage the handle. Unless it needs to be shorter for portability, I think that for cutting 16 inch firewood lengths, 5 feet (150cm), or 6.5 feet (200cm), are going to be the magic numbers, with a 5’ wall, you can safely and comfortably cut 3 notches before moving it along and with a 6.5’ wall, you can make 4. But I would not hesitate to use almost any length if it’s easy or what you happen to have on hand.

As far as using the buckstop to train yourself or anyone else, here are my thoughts. First of all, this is so awesome! I’ve not had the opportunity to train someone from scratch, but I’ve often shuddered at the though of teaching someone to buck for the first time. This tool makes that so much easier. We can both exhale a sigh of relief and work on aim and a relaxed technique without worrying about safety. We can also work on the mechanics of acceleration and other technique stuff that would be much more dangerous to toy with otherwise. If used consciously, we can also get some good feedback on when the axe comes through or over the log and whether it might have hit a body part, trying to form good habits regarding body placement. Footing placement should be conscious as otherwise students might tend to stand right behind the cut with feet together, rather than in a safer wide stance. I think in a long term group or fixed camp such as scouts or a multi-day class it might be good to have one for each student. That way every cut in the board adds to a personal history. The wall could also be painted initially so that cuts show up better. Not every cut to the wall really indicates an accident, but it means something. For a more formal training for kids, I could see having a graduation test at some point where you have to buck so many feet of log with a freshly painted wall and if you make no cuts in the wall or base and meet some other criteria, you get to burn the thing ceremoniously and move on.

It could also be very useful for the student to carry out comparative lessons about such things as chopping styles and angles of cut. Also for trying different grinds and tools, but it can all be done safely. You can not only show people what can go wrong, you can have them do it, which will drive the point home much better, without driving the axe into their leg.

I do think that when it’s time to ditch the thing there should be a hard reboot on safety and awareness. I noticed just testing it briefly that I became very lax about footing placement and edge awareness. If you’re working on your own, you have to be your own bad guy, which is not always easy. If training someone else, be the eyes they need to help them cultivate that constant awareness of the edge and of follow through in relation to their body parts. When it’s time to move on, there really will need to be an emphasis on the fact that the game just changed and there are now real consequences and you can’t just hit NEW GAME after a serious accident.

As I said, I don’t think this should be a long term solution. I think it should be used to the best effect, then gotten rid of or it will cultivate bad habits and dependence. Switching back and forth could prove dangerous, because the two mindsets will be quite different. It is also more work to have it available, to move it to the logs or the logs to it. A skills over gear mindset doesn’t accommodate unnecessary accessories. Make a crappy one out of whatever cheap or free junk is available, don’t fix it unless it’s causing you problems, use it mindfully, then get rid of it and reboot your brain into high safety alert mode.

I think this device is going to prove very useful in certain contexts if it is used with intent. Let me know here or on YouTube if you try it, as I would like to get some feedback. As always stay safe and keep the red stuff inside.

CordWood Challenge 2019, New Leadership and Expansion

This year, I have turned over leadership of the challenge to a young, enthusiastic and very intelligent guy named Ben Scott on the other side of the Atlantic. Though relatively new to the game, he is level headed, confident and truly curious. He posts more to the cordwood challenge facebook page than anyone, including me and has been hammering out axe related YouTube content, much of which shows insight from experience. A lot of that experience and insight comes from doing the cordwood challenge last year where he cut 4 ricks of wood. I think he will not only do a good job, but a much better job than I at facilitating the project, taking it forward into new territory, and being consistently focused and involved. We chatted on skype for quite a long time and have very similar visions and ideas about the cordwood challenge concept and where to potentially go in the future. Pretty early on in the challenge I think I realized the potential and the need to grow or centralize a community and information source around practical axe work. I even took out a domain name, which I’ve offered to Ben if he wants to run with the idea.

I can see clearly the need for such an internet destination that is strictly focused on practical axe work and design and specifically avoids a sort of axe fetishism centered around collecting which tends to take over axe groups and discussions. I think such a project could be run and funded by members, and could house a database of sorts. This might provide a mutually supportive community that learns at an exponential rate and that is instrumental in welcoming novice axe users to facilitate their progress and understanding of the tool and it’s safer use. Ben has also already added some other challenges that could make the project more accessible to people that don’t have access to a forest, or that are doing axe-centric building projects.

I feel like this is really the best case scenario right now. I am also very sure that I know the best place to put what energy and time I can into engaging with the axe community by providing content on axe use, safety and theory. That also has to compete with the many other subjects I want to cover, but I’m quite sure the content I have planned on axe stuff is extremely important, and will do a lot of good and will very likely remain viable into the future. As popular as axes are, my take on them as a practical user who generally buzzkills gearheadism, collecting and fetishism is not very popular, but I feel almost obligated to produce that content, especially in support of the cordwood challenge project.

Any axe head should subscribe to Ben’s YouTube channel. People just interested in the Axe CordWood Challenge in general, or who just want to be supportive of the project are welcome to join the FaceBook page, which Ben is now an administrator of along with myself.

If you want to know more about how my messed up life and health have compelled me to forego this project this year and are limiting my activity, you can watch the video below. My life is pretty messed up lately and I’m having a hard time maintaining anything resembling focus to carry through projects.

As always stay safe choppers.

Axe Handle Breakage, Designing For Resiliency, Weak Links and Stress Distribution

An axe head with a wooden handle has some inherent problems. The head and handle are made of very different materials that behave differently. Steel has a very high density compared to wood. Wood is much more flexible than steel and will dent and break more easily. When using an axe, these differences can cause problems, such as the wood being damaged by forceful contact with the hard unyielding metal head, or the relatively high density of the steel head behaving differently than the handle, thereby putting stresses on the weaker wood. Breakage just below the eye is a very common occurrence. This article and video are an attempt to explain some common reasons why axes frequently break near the eye, having to do with design, or perhaps lack of design in some cases. Breakage in the main body of the handle can of course also occur, but I’m not really dealing with that here. I’m pretty sure that the greater percentage of axe handle breakages are initiated right where the handle meets the bottom of the eye, or within the first few inches of handle, especially if the breakage is not due to wonky grain or other defects. Shear stresses seem to be particularly high in this part of the handle.

In this article, I will be assuming that we are dealing mostly with American axe head patterns, which tend to have thinner eyes than European and Scandinavian axes. Even though American axe styles migrated back to Europe (many axe patterns on that side of the pond are actually American or modified American patterns) the axe eye sizes largely remained bigger than American axe eyes. This is an important point when we look at overall handle design, because with any given axe head, the eye shape just is what it is, and the size and shape of the wood where it enters the eye is therefore pre-determined. Some of these problems are obviated by the use of tapered axe eyes, in which the handle feeds in from the top and fits by friction, but that is a separate subject also. The assumption here is that we are dealing with American style patterns that are wedged from the top. For whatever mix of cultural and practical reasons, these axes have pushed the limits of strength and resilience of the wood used in handles, by evolving toward a small eye.

Aside from the size of the axe eye being fixed, there are two other things that are pretty much givens as well.

One is that the section of handle just below the eye, lengthwise (poll to blade) is wider than the rest of the handle. If the whole handle was the same front to back dimension as the eye length, it would be unusable, so the body of the haft has to slim down soon after leaving the eye.

Predetermined factor number two is that we need a slight flair in handle thickness just below the eye at the back of the handle, as well as on both sides, so that the head seats firmly around the bottom as it is driven on. The front edge of the handle can come straight out of the eye if desired, with no rise, but the other three sides need at least some flair, though not very much. In my view, it is always unnecessary, and also a detriment, to come out of the front of the eye and then immediately outward, forming a shoulder. I see no reason to do that, and every reason not to. If the handle isn’t completely straight coming out of the front of the eye, the rise is best made as a gentle transition.

WE CAN CONSCIOUSLY WORK AROUND THESE FIXED PARAMETERS. IN OTHER WORDS, DESIGN AROUND THE THINGS WE CAN’T CHANGE.

Axe Buying Checklist Series, #1 Damage and Wear

This is a series on common problems found with axes from craftsmanship to use and abuse.  There are many points, like a checklist of things to look at when picking up an axe or axe head which few people are savvy enough to know to look for all of.  After this series, you'll have that mental checklist. 

The four video segments are on:

Wear and Damage,

Symmetry,

Handles

Options and Axe Hunting

Most used axes are either worn or abused in some way.  Fortunately, they are often perfectly serviceable anyway, usually after a little work.  New axes can have various issues and seemingly perfect axes seem to be the exception. 

This links to the video playlist.  One video will come out every day for the next few days.

Axe CordWood Challenge 2017 Final Results, 12 Cords, 13 Choppers, 1,536 cu ft.

The Axe CordWood Challenge for 2017 Ended in the first week of june.  It was a considerable success.  Altogether we had 13 people finish 1/4 cord or more.  8 of us finished 1 cord or more and one person cut over 2 cords.  The total quantity of wood was probably around 12 cords, which is a closely stacked block of wood 8 feet wide, 4 feet high and 48 feet long, or 1,536 cubic feet!  The web page is here, with participant links and photos.  ACWC 2018 is on the way...

Penetration, Saturation and Coating, 3 Main Factors in Oiling Wooden Axe and Tool Handles

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Over the years I keep evolving and refining my methods and understanding of the process of oiling tool handles.  Although it is painfully simple, the obvious is not always so obvious.  I've been soaking my handles pretty deeply with oil for a long time, but still have had something of a fixation on coating them with a protective coat.  Until, I realized that a well saturated handle is it's own finish, and more.

a Coating ona a handle is a barrier between the wood and the environment.  But does it achieve that goal well, and what is the goal anyway?  The goal is to protect the handle from environmental changes in moisture basically.  Moisture swells the wood, and when it leaves, the wood shrinks.  When wood shrinks, it is stressed and those stressed can lead to cracks.   For some reason cracks seem more likely to form if the wood swells and shrinks repeatedly.  If the wood swells within the eye of a tool, the wood compresses against the hard metal of the eye walls, becoming crushed.  When it shrinks on drying again, it many shrink smaller, than it was before it expanded.  That is why soaking the eye of a tool in water when it is loose will eventually make it even looser.  A good thick coating of cured linseed oil can help prevent the entry of moisture, and anytime oil is used on a handle, some of it soaks into the wood to some depth, bringing in the factor of penetration, which must help some.  A coating is basically still very thin though and will wear off over time.  These are handles remember,  They are essentially rubbed over and over again.  And although some penetration is always occurring, the questions to ask is how much good is penetration when it is shallow and of a low saturation.

Enter Saturation.  Saturation if you look it up, basically means full or at maximum capacity.  But it is commonly used with a quantifier or clarification like partially, mostly, completely.  If I soak a handle numerous times with linseed oil, it will penetrate to a certain depth, but unless it is applied regularly and in quantity, it will have a very low saturation as the oil spreads itself out deep into the wood structure.  Eventually, it either reaches the middle or some unknown depth and starts to increase it's saturation eventually filling the wood to the point that no more will soak in.  This 2 minute video shows the process I pretty much use now.  If you get tired of adding expensive oil to a handle, try stopping for a month to let the oil in the handle cure and penetration should slow down.  Some handles will take a lot of oil.  Fortunately, oil is light.

Now if we think about a handle that is fully saturated with oil, for even 1/8 of an inch deep, let alone more, we now have something like the equivalent of a 1/8 inch coating.  But even more cool, it is actually protecting the wood itself by filling the pores and structures that water would fill.  If you leave such a handle out in the weather, water droplets just bead up on it and sit there.  Not recommended, they aren't necessarily immune to moisture, but it's telling.

droplets on a well saturated knife handle.  Two hours later they were still there, though smaller, but I have little doubt that at least the majority of missing water left be way of evaporation and not penetration.  That is a test better done in high humidity, not on a warm breezy morning.  This handle has probably not been oiled since it was originally treated 2 or 3 years ago.  After all, the treatment cannot wear off.

droplets on a well saturated knife handle.  Two hours later they were still there, though smaller, but I have little doubt that at least the majority of missing water left be way of evaporation and not penetration.  That is a test better done in high humidity, not on a warm breezy morning.  This handle has probably not been oiled since it was originally treated 2 or 3 years ago.  After all, the treatment cannot wear off.

Try it on a handle and see what you think.  It is a long process and the oil is not always cheap.  many tools are also not subjected to much in the way of atmospheric changes, so it's not something we have to use everywhere.  I'm pretty sold on it though and any axe that I plan to keep and use gets the full treatment now.  Dudley cook recommends the same basically, but he maintains with an occasional coat, which I think is unnecessary if the wood on the outside of the handle is well saturated.  The wood essentially becomes it's own finish.  If the wood will ever take oil on and soak it up, do it, but it it doesn't, there is no need to keep coating it. 

I use food grade linseed oil (usually labeled as flax oil, which is the same thing) anymore and have found ways to pick it up cheap enough.  Boiled linseed oil is toxic and I think it probably dries too fast.  Prices change on amazon constantly, but this brand is usually about the cheapest, but do your own research.  I've also found flax oil at the local cheap food outlet where they send overstock and expiring stuff.  Other oils can be used as well, walnut, hemp, poppyseed and tung oil should be adequate, but I really haven't used any of them enough to say for sure.

For handles that you don't need to saturate, I recommend a thin coat of oil once or twice a year, or better, just whenever you have an oily linseed rag.  Raw linseed oil will cure, it just takes longer.  So called "boiled linseed oil" contains metallic driers and solvents that speed curing time.

I have more ideas and experiments brewing around this problem, and no doubt you'll hear more about it in the future.

Opinel No 8 Knife Modifications and Cheese Glue Experiment

The videos below are about modifying a popular knife.  This basic French Opinel No. 8 model is a lightweight, easy to sharpen pocket knife that whatever combination of reasons has stood the test of time.  I like a few things about it, and dislike a few, so I picked one up to play with and modify as necessary.  What I do like is the thin carbon steel blade, the light weight and the low cost.  It is similar to a sheath knife in size and function, but the folding design and the light weight make it an entirely different animal than most pocket knives.  It doesn't weigh down your pants or draw any attention in the pocket.  I dislike the small round handle and the shape of the tip of the knife.  I'm also not crazy about the sharp radius on the belly near the tip, but haven't yet modified that. As far as build goes, I'd say it's well put together for what it is, though there are obvious limitations and potential pitfalls, mostly in the joint "hinge" area.  The joint can only be so strong and the wood is obviously prone to swelling and shrinking.  That said, robustness is far from everything.

Many modern knives are overbuilt to my way of thinking.  I think the phenomenon is due to overthinking extreme scenarios where strength is paramount because survival of the knife is equated with survival of the person.  If functionality for everyday common tasks, or even important infrequent tasks is lost in favor of robustness, then the design has in turn lost me.  While this is far from a robust knife, and certainly may not be hurt by a dose of robustness, it does seem like it has potentially good functionality for a lot of everyday stuff and things that are important to me.  If it is damaged or worn out, it is inexpensive to replace and ditto if it is lost.  As a beginner knife, there are certain advantages to a cheap knife, but also to a not-too-robust knife.  With this knife a new user that puts it through the learning experience is not likely to be left with a false sense of security that might be imparted by an overbuilt knife.  The thin blade, weak attachment point and delicate tip are not going to withstand much abuse.  Honestly, bending and breaking tips, mangling edges, loosening joints or even outright breakage are almost an essential part of the learning curve that will serve well down the road.  Where else do we learn the limits of our knives, but by crossing them?

I've not used it enough to know if there are other things that I will really dislike about it, but will probably use it a lot and none too gently, although I'm not likely to flagrantly abuse it.  I've used enough knives and have enough opinions that I would already like to see a model that is optimized for more all around use, though modifying this one is not so difficult.  There is also a model with an unfinished handle that can be carved to suit the user and it's the same price roughly.  I haven't seen it in person, but it might solve the handle issue and even an inexperienced filer can probably take the tip down to make it more functional in 15 minutes or less with a sharp file.

The shape at the tip of the knife just has to go.  This is the most important, non-negotiable modification, requiring just a few minutes of filing.  This mod puts the tip more in line with the center-line of the knife and makes almost every task I would do with the tip easier from cleaning fingernails, to detail carving, to cutting leather and paper on a flat surface.  I can't really think of anyplace that the original tip design is going to be really advantageous for me, and it is nearly always disadvantageous rather than neutral.

The handle size and shape is not very functional.  It is round, so it turns in the hand too easily.  It is also small and doesn't fill the hand up, which can cause cramping and require excessive grip to keep it stable, especially since it is round and prone to turning.  And finally, it is hard to tell how the knife is oriented in the hand without looking at it.  The shape of the base gives some idea of the plane the blade is oriented in, but it's not like the simple automatic feel of an oval handle which drops the blade right into line where it should be.  I used some wood shavings with casein glue as an experiment toward a sort of natural glue laminate to build the back of the handle up.  Cheese glue is more or less waterproof or water resistant, otherwise I would have used hide glue.  I'm not sure I got the mix right or if this will really be water-proof/resistant.  I really need to do some formal testing and experimentation with casein glues and paints to better understand capabilities and limitations.  It's neat stuff though and was once a common glue and paint base when and where water resistance was required.

What is Sharpness, Basic Sharpening Theory, the Starting Point for Learning to Sharpen Tools

Today's video is about basic sharpening theory, looked at through the question, what is sharpness?  This information is where learning to sharpen should ideally start.  Information like which type of sharpening stones to use, techniques for using them, which tools are sharpened at what angle and so on, are not much use without understanding what sharpness is and the factors that create it.  This information illuminates the goal and by extension possible ways to go wrong in pursuing it.


Splitting Axe Cut Wood With a Sharp Felling Axe, Safety and Effectiveness

The first video is a short trailer or propaganda piece to promote the second video.  Below are a few non-technical points I wanted to elaborate on.

I just have a few points I want to emphasize or elaborate on.  I made this video in response to a lot of questions from people about how to deal with wood that is bucked with an axe, since it can't be set on end, or on a block.  Also, because of how I'm operating with one axe, I assumed that it would be a small short axe and that it was intended to retain the edge in chopping condition.  That wasn't so much a plan as it was just how it turned out since that's my world right now.  It is not the only way to approach it.  You could, and most probably do, have a dedicated splitting axe, or maybe a splitting edge on one side of a double bitted axe that can taste a little dirt here and there without much worry, especially if it's ground with a fat bevel that is less likely to suffer severe damage than a thinly ground edge.  A longer heavier axe with a fatter grind is great, as is not having to baby it.  However, using a small, short axe and keeping it sharp requires one to refine technique and strategy, and I think that is a good thing.  I'm also very interested in making whatever tool I have work, and in processing wood with one axe.  You'll hardly find anyone out there recommending an axe ground for felling, limbing and bucking as a splitting axe.  Probably the opposite in fact.

One of the important points in this video is that it requires some investment to figure out what is possible.  Many will discount the possibility of using axes, but not always out of experience, but rather assumption.  I've been guilty of this to an extent myself and it's a mistake.  I personally think that it's worth some investment to figure out what is possible and where an axe is more advantageous than a maul.  I really like splitting with a maul and with some of the stuff I have to split, like dry hardwoods with knots and forks, I'm not likely to ditch my maul altogether.  But, I will keep pushing my limits with axes of various kinds to find out what those limits really are. 

It is not enough to just just smack a few rounds with an axe to see if anything falls off.  It takes some investment in yourself to develop good technique and at least a basic understanding of strategy as presented in these videos.  The flick technique, as Buckin' Billy Ray Smith calls it, or the twist as the Vido's call it, is essential to develop for splitting anything difficult with an axe.  It is just a way to use the power generated in the swing to good mechanical advantage by prying the wood apart on impact instead of just wedging it apart with the shape of the axe.  It can make up for the lower mass of an axe head v.s. a maul in some cases.  I believe that Tom Clark, inventor of the buster axe, an axe optimized for this technique, actually hit the wood with the head tilted at a slight angle.  I think I twist it on impact, but it's hard to know for sure without a slow mo study.  Either way, you'll develop a feel for what works.  It is a skill that has to be learned by some time spent as it's rather clumsy at first to get the timing right. If you have a very sharp short handled axe that you are trying to stay out of the way of, which often requires somewhat awkward positioning, and on top of all that are trying to hit the center of a knotty piece of wood within a quarter inch, you can imagine that some time will have to be put in to gain a reasonable level of skill.  The catch 22 is that it's only by gaining a certain level of proficiency that we can find out what is really possible and not.

The flick technique can be used as an alternative to generating velocity in splitting at times, but should not be thought of as a permanent stand in for it.  The ability to generate a high velocity is a critical tool to have and will only complement that sideways torque when both are needed.  I didn't go much into it, but will in the future.  From my observation and experience so far, high velocity is primarily created by the axe head scribing an arc around a relatively fixed, or at least more fixed, point, like the wrists, elbows, shoulders, waist, or a complex combination of all of those.  it is a complex topic.  With the target at a certain height, it becomes less possible to generate velocity, and the higher you go from there, the harder it gets.  That is one reason I don't use splitting blocks much.  Working close to the ground has the advantage that it is easier to generate velocity, because you have more distance in the swing and can use body mechanics to better advantage.

For me, doing the axe cordwood challenge, in the way I approach it, has been perfect for developing these skills.  I stick pretty much with the axe I'm chopping with, which for now is always small and sharp, and I split in the field with no blocks or contrivances of any kind.  I can only remember abandoning two, maybe three, pieces of wood that were just really knotty or more likely forked.  Even those could likely be split with enough energy, but I know when not to beat my head against a wall for a peanut.  I'm glad that I've invested in this skill, because it will ultimately increase my splitting efficiency in all arenas.  I now have a pretty good idea of what I can get away with and am further refining and defining when an axe will be more advantageous than a maul in splitting sawn rounds as well.  For what it's worth, these videos at least show some possibility that can be put to use or invested in later.  It's not for everyone, and not for every situation, and possibly not for every species, but in the right circumstances it is remarkably efficient and satisfying.  I can say, that just splitting what I incidentally have to cut here, which is Madrone, Bay, Fir, Tan oak and Black oak, that none of those species are consistently difficult to split when young trees are cut and split green.  Older Madrone and Bay can develop some wicked cross grain, but a person is not likely to be cutting those for firewood with an axe, and if they were, large trunks would have to be split, probably with wedges, before bucking, not after. 

The axe and the technique of using it with good strategy are just another set of tools in the bag to be applied where they are best suited, or when necessary.  But, again, it is a tool that has to be developed and refined to be appreciated and applied to anything but the most easily split woods.  I'm glad I've put in some time and forced my progress by using axes that are not ideal for the job and I get to reap the rewards of that from here out.

Did I mention that it's fun?  It's really fun :D

Axe Cordwood Challenge Almost Over and a 1 Week Extension

The axe cordwood challenge is nearly over.  I'm closing in on my own cord and 3 people have already cut a cord or more.  I'm adding a 1 week extension, just because this is the first year and we got started kind of late.  Actually it's mostly because I want people to have time and not rush too much since that is inherently more dangerous.  I still hope to finish mine by June 1st, because it just takes time to dry wood even in our hot summers and June 1st is a good last date to have green firewood cut.  I'm thinking about how to make it more accessible to people in the Southern Hemisphere in the future.  If you finish the challenge, send me info and pics or links to videos by June 7th through the contact on this website.  Also, leaving comments on the official Axe Cordwood Challenge page is a good idea as well.  I think a lot of people would like to know what axes participants used and what you learned whether you finished or not, and the comments section on that page is a good place to leave those.  I'll probably create a page for the 2017 challenge and post all the various links and experiences there.  I've heard from a lot of people who were maybe going to do it and more that have just been using their axes more and practicing and having fun with that.  No one said this completely sucks and I hate it and didn't learn anything, lol.  It's been pretty much good feedback all around and it's been fun having this thing in common with a group of people.

First Three Axe Cordwood Challenge Participants Finished! Shoutouts, Questions and Comments

Three people have finished the cordwood challenge cutting a cord or more!  Those people rock.  Also a shout out to people that have started or are planning to do it, all of whom are listed below.  Anyone who is doing the challenge should leave a comment on the official web page so that we all know who everyone is, and so that I can keep track of people. 

FINISHED!:

*Tim Springston, Oxbow Farms https://youtu.be/YbeCFT_SIh4?list=PLGQ0YYG8MKkXMuOmeHl_9Bloy5nLnR41d

*Todd Walker, Survival Sherpa https://youtu.be/dRJvHtcS55U?list=PLpxU0SQfqX02pmlspLody0oV8EJKSD2oBhttps://survivalsherpa.wordpress.com/

*Timothy Sutton, Flatland Woodsman https://youtu.be/8zlF4ZLu7v8?list=PLQunotaCvTeKSXcWdUVCU53QWLwxMc8-G

IN PROGRESS OR PLANNING TO DO:

*DevaJones03https://www.youtube.com/user/DevaJones03

*Aaron Fosterhttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgwXsfSS1lO3Jj_P0_sJiqA

*Patrick Hale https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYpFteNH2MOaFzQK7JPau_Q

*EmLill Thingshttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl8L71gIPWRs5muBtgUNRHw

*Homestead Boxhttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCD60T9zMzdmXr696wfqoZOA

*JayDigHsxhttps://www.youtube.com/user/dighsx

*J. Vanier

*Capt Henderson

*Brian Larson

*Crescentson

Axe Handle Shock and Preventing Repetitive Stress Injury in Chopping

These are factors I know of that play a role in the amount of shock you absorb from your axe handle, such as chopping style, grip, handle rigidity, cutting ability and wood type.  These are the kinds of things that can allow a person cut more, longer and in harder wood without incurring numb sore hands, tendonitis, etc.   More text below.

 

Chopping with an axe is a high impact, high energy exercise.  As choppers, we necessarily absorb some of that energy since we are holding the tool.  There are a number of factors I know of which are important in the cause or prevention of repetitive stress injury or discomfort in chopping, most of them at least partially controllable. 

The axe should not be gripped very hard while chopping except as necessary in specific situations.  A hard grip unavoidably tires and stresses the hands, but it also creates a more efficient transfer of the energy from the vibrating axe handle back into the hands.  The Style of chopping is also important and interrelated to grip.  A heavy handed chopping style should be avoided.  Don't think of chopping as pushing or forcing the axe through the wood, but rather as whipping or throwing the axe head into the wood using the handle.  Pushing on the handle after the axe hits the wood adds little if any real power to the cut, but stresses the handle and the hands and probably sacrifices control to some extent.  You can cut plenty deep if you build velocity in the axe head before it hits the wood.  If the work is done before the axe hits the wood, then the grip is only to lightly control the axe after it strikes.

The handle of the axe, depending on it's thickness, density, inherent flexibility of the wood and probably other factors, will transmit more or less shock.  Thin handles transmit considerably less shock than thick ones do and tuning your handle or thinning it down is probably mentioned by authors writing about axes more often than not.  Older axes tend to have thinner handles than modern axes, and vintage axes, old photographs and older illustrations demonstrate this fact.  There is a reason that axe handles have become thicker, which is that they aren't actually used very much.  Most axes are now the equivalent of handbags for men, and are put to real use only infrequently for short periods of time.

If you cut into wood at an angle, usually around 45 degrees, it cuts more easily than if the cut is made at a right angle.  When cutting at 90 degrees the axe stops suddenly and more of the energy embodied in the head is transferred to your hands rather than cutting into the wood.  It's fine to cut at 90 degrees as needed, but generally a poor habit to get into on a regular basis.  Most axe work is done with cuts around 45 degrees for a reason.

Another way to transfer a lot of the energy embodied in an axe head back up the handle and into your hands is to use an axe that is not cutting well for any number of reasons.  The axe must cut well and easily or it will stop suddenly causing more vibration.  Most axes as they come from the factory, nearly all in fact, require at least some reshaping to get them cutting well.  In most cases, a significant amount of metal needs to be removed from the sides of the axe near the bit in order for it to be able to slide easily into the wood.  It is often recommended to file the cheek of an axe in a fan shape, but that depends on the shape of the axe head to start with.

Finally, the wood plays a role.  When chopping hard dry wood, less of the energy from each blow of the axe is dissipated in cutting, whereas when cutting soft and green woods, the energy is dissipated gradually as the axe sinks deeply into the cut.  You may or may not be able to control what wood you end up cutting, but you can control other factors that cause or prevent the kind of handle shock and fatigue that might keep you from working or cause a longer term injury that will put you off of work for a while.  The stuff mentioned here is important if a person want's to be able to use an axe under varied conditions, on varied woods, for longer periods of time, on consecutive days.  What separates the men from the boys isn't being tough enough, young enough or dumb enough to tolerate a club of a handle or an axe that otherwise doesn't cut well, but to be wise enough to work smart and not hard.  If you are going to sit at your computer trying to breath life into your flaccid member to some freaky internet porn, or work your thumbs out pushing buttons on your t.v., remote then I guess maybe none of it matters all that much.  If you're going to dig, carry, lift, hammer, weed, process and otherwise use your hands, wrists and arms, you'll be able to do all of it more, and longer, day after day if you pay attention to these types of details.

Introducing Axemanship Series, S.T.A.T.E. Five Factors in Effective Axe Work

Somehow in thinking often and long about what makes using an axe effective, I came up with these five things that I think are pretty fundamental.  Surprisingly, they not only formed a real English word to use as an acronym, but three of them!  Some of these are interrelated and it is not a completely tidy concept.  It's more like a framework to define and identify the things we need to work on or have in line to operate effectively.  But if you think about these five factors and removing any one of them, it becomes obvious that effectiveness will suffer.  I think pursuing these ideas will ultimately make us able to function at a high level.  This video series will be 5 videos long aside from this introduction.

Strategy:  Strategy is all important.  Starting to cut a log with no strategy is like starting on a trip with no map, no idea how to get there, just the general direction and that eventually with enough time and fuel you'll probably get there.  Strategy is the planning of the trip to get to center of that log in the most efficient way.  It may not be the shortest direct distance on a bumpy windy road, but it's something that we think will be the fastest or require the least fuel and time.  Strategy is neglected for two reasons.  One is not knowing that it's important.  A lot of beginners will think about getting to the center of the log, but not how to best get there.  Another is lack of faith in the strategy or abandonment of it due to frustration.  Have a strategy, even if you aren't sure it is the best strategy and stick with it.  Sure, vary it, experiment, adapt, but do those things with intent.

Tool:  An axe is not just an axe.  Most of them need work out of the box in order to cut effectively.  There are seemingly infinite axe head designs, handle designs, lengths, weights and grinds that could work effectively.  But, there are certain parameters outside of which chopping will become much less effective.

Accuracy: with an axe is a hard won skill.  It certainly requires time spent, but I believe it can improve more quickly with intent and a little instruction.  Without it, you can't execute your strategy effectively.  Lack of accuracy is not a reason to abandon strategy or give up on attempting to be accurate. Quite the opposite I think.

Technique:  as I mean it, technique is separate from Accuracy and efficiency, though related to both.  What I mean here is the mechanics of chopping and what you do with your body to actually make the axe cut the wood effectively.  If all the other 4 factors are in place, you will still cut the wood, but there are things you can do to make the axe cut better all else being equal.  Mostly we'll be talking about the generation of velocity, but there are other things and not unlikely some I don't know about or haven't noticed.

Efficiency:  Like the word Technique, efficiency could be interpreted in multiple ways.  What I mean here though is economy of energy and motion.  Basically how much result from a given expenditure of energy.  We already know that it can take one person way more energy to get the same log cut in two.  The ideal of efficiency would be to whittle the amount of energy down to a theoretical minimum by letting go of unnecessary, effort/tension/movement/error etc.

As Onix Pyro said in the comments on this introduction video, "practice makes better, not best"  Any ideal of perfect axemanship is a fantasy when knowledge necessarily has limits, the machine is not perfect and the conditions are variable.  And there is no need for perfection or ultimate speed or any other ideal.  But realizing that there is something out there vaguely resembling a theoretical perfection gives us a measure to observe our effectiveness against.  While I lack the teaching experience to prove it, I believe that a little thought and action around these five points will quickly accelerate a beginners effectiveness with an axe and provide a framework for anyone to measure and improve.  I consider this a work in progress and am willing to revise this list if necessary, but it seems pretty solid as far as I can think and from the feedback I've gotten so far.

 

A Severed Tendon Story: Safety is an Ongoing Process

My homie David the Good recently severed two tendons in his finger with a machette when the hook caught on the brim of his hat in mid swing. The guy is not a novice to machettes or sharp tools and this illustrates perfectly the fact that sharp tools are never safe and that no user is completely accident proof. Occasionally you'll hear someone say that a dangerous tool like a gun or axe is 100% safe as long as it's used properly. That's not a very useful way to look at the problem when humans are always a wild card to some extent. It is the acceptance of danger that leads to the respect we have to embody in order to use these tools as safely as possible. Just as scientists are not vulcans, tool users are not perfect robots and being realistic about ourselves and the often ridiculous beings we are is critical to navigating the use of dangerous tools. 

There are a lot of things you can do to yourself with a sharp tool, but few that are fatal or likely to cause serious handicap. Bleeding out is unlikely unless you hit a very few specific spots (Artery on the inside of the thigh being the most likely and not at all infeasible, it happens). The most terrifying injury to me is definitely severing of tendons. Tendons are what attach your bones to muscles so that you can articulate your skeleton and do stuff. They are springy tense things and when cut through, which is easy since they are under tension, they snap. They can be reattached, but there are no guarantees that you will ever function normally again. I knew I guy who cut a tendon in his finger and while stretching during physical therapy the reattached tendon snapped again and couldn't be reattached.

I have tried to take these kinds of lessons and my many injuries and close calls to heart, but it is a constant challenge to me to be aware and step aside look at myself objectively enough to use dangerous tools safely. I think is is as important as anything to simply accept that every time we pick up a sharp tool that we take very real risks. Even a half inch blade is very capable of cutting a tendon in your finger. Next time someone tells you how safe sharp tools are if you just use them right, tell them to STFU. That is exactly the wrong attitude. Best wishes to David for a full and speedy recovery. His unshakable sense of humor can be a model for us all.

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Posted on August 22, 2016 and filed under tools.

Two More Lame Hatchets, Council Camp Axe and Vaughn Sportsman's Axe

A short overview of two hatchets I bought to check out.  I don't like either one.  The council tool hatchet has potential, but it is far from useable out of the box.  Given that it needs a lot of work just to function properly, I think a better option is to acquire a quality vintage head to put a new handle on.  I doubt I'll acquire any more hatchets to review, because I'm pretty sure the head that I want is not going to come with the handle that I want, so they will all need modification anyway.  I'll concentrate my hatchet related stuff on making and putting on handles and modifications, and maybe some stuff on using them..  Hatchets are an essential tool to me and I'm somewhat disturbed that I can't find anything to recommend that is really first rate out of the box.  I know it's been a total axe-and-hatchet-fest lately, but I'll get onto some other stuff soon.  Just thinking about and using axes a lot, so it's what I've been up to lately.  I just hit 2/3rds of a cord on my cordwood project.  I'm now back on schedule to finish my cord by or before June 1st!  

Straightening an Axe Handle by Steaming and Limbering the Fibers

This video is about straightening the green baywood axe handle that I made a couple of months ago, which warped during seasoning.  The first steaming failed, so I pulled out all the stops this time around soaking, steaming and stretching out the wood fibers to even out tensions in the wood.  I've been using the axe quite a bit and it has stayed put even though it is flexed a lot during use.  Long term results may not be as good, but for now, so far, so good, so I'll call that a tentative success!

Posted on April 27, 2016 and filed under axes, materials, tools.

One Cord, One Year, Cutting All of My Firewood With an Axe This Year.

Greetings internetians.  There is just something about axes and hatchets that gets some of us all worked up.  If you’re one of those types, I have an interesting project to talk to you about.

I’ve been interested in and using axes and hatchets for a long time.  It’s something I enjoy thoroughly.  If at any given time I think, what would I like to do if I could do anything, running out to the woods with an axe and chopping wood is right up near the top of the list!  Seriously, I think that all the time.  But I rarely do it.  There is no time, it takes too long, I have other important things to do, blah blah blah… so when I need firewood, out comes the chainsaw.

I started out as a complete novice with only some books, like Kephart’s Camping and Woodcraft, and others in that genera.  Later I met Mors Kochanski and picked up his excellent book Northern Bushcraft.  I almost hurt myself many times, broke handles, replaced handles, broke them again, made my own handles and generally picked up the basics in the school of hard knocks.  I’m not a rank amateur, but I’m no pro either, and by any traditional standards I’m still probably a complete and utter dorkus with an ax.  Why?  Because I don’t use them often enough, or consistently enough.  I use hatchets a lot more for small tasks around the place, and running around in the woods doing other stuff, but axes find less day to day use.  I do a lot of my limbing with an axe, but not a lot of felling or bucking.  Well, I’m over that.  I’m feeling better these days than I have in a while and as always making ridiculously optimistic plans, like cutting all my cordwood this year with an axe!

To some, that may sound like a nightmare, or like the least fun thing ever, but to me it sounds like just about the FUNNEST thing ever!  I’ve already started.  Best idea ever.  Now, I will be forced to dial in my gear, clean up, profile, make handles for, haft and sharpen all those axe heads that have been languishing coated in rust for years.  I’ll also develop even more personal, contextual opinions about handles, profiles and blade shapes than I already have, and chop my way through enough wood to be entitled to opinions about any of it.  Yep, fun galore, and not probably as hard as it may sound.  

Most people that have swung an axe have not exactly had a great experience.  There are a lot of factors that go into efficient and effective axe use and few of them are typically in play in the average scenario.  Sure, if we start with a dull axe, that has a fat bit and a thick handle, and if we have no practice, don’t understand the necessary strategy, strike at the wrong angle, can’t hit what we’re aiming at and start out expecting to make progress if we just give it a huge effort, it’s going to suck and we are mostly going to end up tired and discouraged with very little work done, if not injured or with a broken axe handle.  Honestly, even starting with a sharp axe will not help that much if everything else is not dialed in pretty well.  A good sharp axe in effective hands, if used to make careful, measured cuts, is effective and fun to use.  Watch a lumberjack competition sometime.

When I first was thinking about doing this project, I found the idea daunting.  Now I don’t.  One of the things that encouraged me was reading that a good hand in the old days could put up two cords of wood a day with an axe.  Two cords is a well stacked pile 8 x 4 x 8 feet.  YEAH RIGHT!?  Here is a quote from a random account I was reading the other day out of the 19th century.  It is an instructive letter to the editor about not using too heavy an axe.  Full text below: 

“When night came we piled up our wood and measured it. Joe's pile measured one and a half cords, mine only three-quarters of a cord…..  The next morning I felt lame and stayed at home. Joe put in his cord and a half, as usual.”  The farm implement news, volume 7 1885

Now, it doesn’t say what length the wood was cut to in those things, and that could make a very big difference.  Cutting 24 inch fireplace logs, 4 foot logs for transport, or arm-span lengths for a furnace of some kind is a good bit different than cutting the 16 inch logs I need for my wood stove.  200 feet cut into 24 inch lengths is roughly 100 cuts, while at 16 inches it’s 150 cuts.  That is very significant.  The other woodstove on the property takes logs about 12 inches and down.  I’m not cutting for that one :)

Another encouraging thing was hearing Mors Kochanski saying in this video that he could drop a 12 inch 50 foot tree, limb it and cut it into arm span lengths in guess how long?  10 to 15 minutes, maybe less!   skip to 11:00 min for that part.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aijEY9njOw

You just don’t get that good, or any good at all, whackin’ at a few trees or logs on the weekend.  Nope, as I’ve said about other things, if you want to get good at something and really understand it contextually, put yourself in a position where you do it as a lifestyle thing.  I need to cut wood this year.  If I decide that this year it’s axes only for felling, limbing, chopping and splitting a certain amount of wood, I’m going to learn a lot very fast!  Immersion! that’s what it’s all about!

Axes have become very popular.  That is really cool.  It is heartening to see the upsurge in interest in interacting with natural environments and using basic tools and materials.  Because of that, there is an increasing amount of information out there, but very few people that can actually use an axe effectively.  Of those of us who are not complete novices, fewer yet are anything like experts.  And it’s no wonder.  How many people chop enough wood with an axe to even get good, let alone very good?  Not very many.  That is an inevitable consequence of our modern way of life.

Well, one Person’s work is another’s play I guess.  As long as I have the energy to do it joyfully, effectively and relatively safely, chopping wood is fun as hell.  Using an axe, or splitting wood, or doing anything that requires skill and focus is very similar to a challenging sport.  And boy does using an axe require focus!

Axes and hatchets are extremely dangerous.  An axe is nothing to play with and chopping anything with an axe is a time for humility and sharp focus.  At first it is clumsy and tiring and seems futile, but as you gain skill, it becomes increasingly an extension of you and you can get into a groove, or zone as they say in sports.  The danger inherent in using an axe has a good and bad side.  On the one hand, danger makes us focus and adds an element of immediacy, much like a competition sport or a hunt does.  But, then it is also just dangerous and there is no way around that.  It can be more or less dangerous, but it is still dangerous to everyone, all the time, not matter how much experience they have.  And it’s especially dangerous when we’re learning.  

I was planning to do a cordwood challenge where I challenged people to cut a chosen amount of wood with an axe.  I decided to put that off.  Putting yourself on a deadline with only two months to go (done by june first is my goal, so there is time for drying) is not safe when doing something dangerous and unfamiliar.  My personal goal this year is just a cord, which is 4 x 4 x 8 feet stacked neatly.  I’d kind of like to do more honestly, but I actually don’t even need to cut a cord to get through next winter.  Honestly, I have a lot of wood now and may not need to cut any at all.  I might make charcoal out of some of my left over wood just to make room!  I probably don’t usually burn much more than a cord most years and often less.  I thought it could be a one cord challenge, but that is unreasonable for a lot of people and it seems better to just challenge people to pick an amount, even if it’s small, like a quarter of a cord (One quarter of a cord equals 4x4x2 feet stacked).

A person, could end up with an expensive hospital bill using an axe, or worse be maimed for life.  You could cut yourself where there is no one around and bleed to death.  We face these kinds of possibilities every time we pick one of these things up.  If you lack experience with an ax entirely, or with using similar long handled tools, a year of gaining familiarity might be in order.  That is a challenge in itself, so no hurry.  I’m just suggesting that this could be an edifying experience for some people.  There are many ancillary skills required too that one might not pick up if not pressed a little to do so in order to accomplish a goal.  An axe needs be sharp to be safe and effective.  It also needs a good handle.  Novices often break them.  I've broken many.  We all do.  Or you may have an axe with an old, weathered or warped handle that needs a new one.  Every axe user should be able to replace an axe handle, and it’s ideal to be able to make one.

As far as resources for learning go, I’m not sure I’m up to the task of teaching you how to use an axe, though I will certainly be sharing stuff and talking about the things that I learn or improve at.  I’ll try to spend some time on YouTube collecting some stuff worth watching.  Maybe I’ll make a playlist of them all, we’ll see what I come up with, but honestly, most of it is either not very useful, if not actually dangerous.  Book wise, Mor’s Kochanski’s Northern Bushcraft is a great read and probably the best thing going when it comes to axe safety.  I’ve also read the axe book by D. Cook this year and like it very much.  Both authors are thorough and thoughtful.  most importantly, their knowledge is something they own out of experience.

So, axe interested parties experienced or not, give some thought to taking on my challenge next year.  If you are inexperienced, it will be a journey.  You’ll need to acquire an axe which may or may not need renovation.  Spend the next year learning about axes and getting your gear dialed in, practicing etc.  Then when next late winter/spring rolls around, you’ll be primed to improve rapidly and succeed.  There is much to be learned and skill to gain.  Axes and hatchets can be very versatile tools.  Using one requires a lot of energy, but it is also great exercise.  Compared to using a chainsaw, an axe will greatly increase your coordination and strength.  It is also a more intimate way to interact with wood.  You have to pay attention.  Enough said for now.  I’m hoping to have my cord cut by June 1st so it has time to season.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from me about this project and various axe related things in the coming year or more.

The Axe Book by Dudley Cook:  http://amzn.to/1WQYhJe

Mors Kochanski's Bushcraft, great for axe use and safety  

Horace Kephart's Camping and Woodcraft, read free!  

 

full text of  Light versus Heavy Axes.
A correspondent of the Albany Cultivator describes his experience with axes, which we give in part as an item of interest to our readers who rely so much upon work with these tools:
"My first axe weighed 4-1/2 pounds, being the heaviest one I could find at the time. I was fresh from a class in natural philosophy, knew all about inertia, and had learned something of the force of gravity and the laws of falling bodies; had rightly guessed that chopping wood might be hard work, and determined that my knowledge of physics should help me out. I would have a heavy axe, a long handle—would move slowly, and take strokes that would count when they fell. My axe handle was 34 inches in length, the longest one in the store. I had hired a tough little French Canadian, weighing about 120 pounds, to help, he brought an axe—a mere toy I called it, which weighed 2-1/2 pounds, with a handle only 26 inches long. I told him I had a fair-sized job for him, and thought it would pay him to buy a full-grown axe. He smiled and said he gussed his would do. I had decided that we would work separately during the first day or two, in order that I might show what I could do. As I began to swing my axe I felt proud of its ponderous blows that rang through the woods, and rather pitied the poor fellow who was drumming away with his little axe, taking about two blows to my one. Presently I had to stop to rest, and then again, and still again; but my man, kept pecking away quietly, steadily, and easily, and seemed perfectly able to do all necessary breathing without stopping his work for the purpose. When night came we piled up our wood and measured it. Joe's pile measured one and a half cords, mine only three-quarters of a cord.
The next day I felt lame and stayed at home. Joe put in his cord and a half, as usual. When I went to the woods again we worked together. Not many days passed before I found an excuse for buying a lighter axe and a shorter handle. And every axe and handle that I have bought since, has been lighter and shorter than its predecessor. Whenever I use an axe now I select one very much like Joe's, both in weight and length of handle. I can use this without getting out of breath, and can hit twice in the same place. The result is that I can do more and better work and save a vast amount of strength.
Posted on March 26, 2016 and filed under firewood, Forestry, tools.