Posts Tagged With: cutting tool

Cutting to the Chase When Choosing an Ax for Self-Reliance

by Todd Walker

Cutting to the Chase When Choosing Axes for Self-Reliance | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I, an incurable Ax Junkie, hereby nominate the man or woman responsible for hafting a stone to the end of a stick as the first inductee in the Tool-User Hall of Fame. Second only to clubs, axes are possibly the oldest tool known to man. This wooden lever attached to a stone, a simple machine, was in use over 30,000 years ago revolutionizing not only our “survival kits”, but our destiny as tool-users!

anachronisim [uhnak-ruh-niz-uh m] – a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned.

To the modern backpacker, axes are an anachronisim. One reason I love axes is that they are no longer deemed necessary by moderns. Too heavy. Too dangerous. We have chainsaws now! Besides, who needs to process firewood when a lightweight compressed gas stove will cook freeze dried meal in a bag.

[See Christian Noble’s thought-provoking article on how Leave No Trace Killed Woodcraft… almost]

However, not too long ago, it was ill-advised to enter the backcountry without an ax. According to early Boy Scout manuals, young scouts were expected to be proficient axmen, to the point of cooking a complete meal with this cutting tool. Any person wanting to sharpen their woodcraft/bushcraft skills needs an ax.

Cutting to the Chase When Choosing Axes for Self-Reliance | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I’ve had several people ask my opinion on ax selection lately. This guide is written for those who have never owned an ax or may buy only one or two in a lifetime. It is not a comprehensive ax “Bible” but intended for novice axmen and self-reliant types wanting or needing to feel the pleasure of a hickory handle whist through air, hear the thud of metal striking wood, and watch wood chips fly.

Ax Anatomy

For the sake of clarity, refer to the diagram below of basic terminology. All you really need to know is that you grip the handle and swing the sharp end against wood.

Ax Anatomy Simplified | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The above photo features a single bit (aka – poll ax) Plumb Boy Scouts of America 3/4 ax with a fawn’s foot handle I acquired for $15. Not bad for a classic American-made ax!

  • Bit – the sharp edge that cuts stuff; also called the blade
  • Poll – the end of the ax opposite the bit; sometimes called the back and often misused to hammer metal stakes. The poll adds balance to prevent wobble during chopping/swinging.
  • Cheek – area past the bit; also referred to as the ramp or face
  • Toe – top corner of the bit; maybe to remind you to watch your toes while chopping
  • Heel – bottom corner of the bit
  • Eye – the hole in the axhead that receives the handle/haft
  • Handle – made of stiff wood with shock absorbing properties; usually Hickory in North America; also called the haft
  • Grip – no explanation needed, right?
  • End Knob – pictured is a sawn-off fawn’s foot

The simplified version of all these ax terms is… you cut with the sharp end while holding the wooden end.

Ax Selection

A woodsman should carry a hatchet, and he should be as critical in selecting it as in buying a gun. The notion that a heavy hunting knife can do the work of a hatchet is a delusion.

~ Horace Kephart, from Camping and Woodcraft, 1917

Selecting an ax has many variables, but, mainly, you want one that works best for your intended purpose. I have a small collection of axes in different patterns and weights. Each design was meant to do different jobs.

Ax Purpose

Early North American pioneers relied heavily on the ax. This cutting tool built houses, provided fuel for home and camp, built furniture, cleared land, and made a great barter item. Specialty axes in skilled hands crafted ships, cabins, beams, bowls, mortise and tenon joinery, and other essential items for self-reliance.

“Knicks and dull edges are abominations, so use knives and hatchets for nothing but they were made for.” – Horace Kephart, 1917

Belt or Hand Ax (Hatchet)

The ax that serves me in the field the most is a 16 inch Wetterlings Hunter’s Hatchet. Why? It’s not burdensome to carry. She’s always strapped to my pack or haversack. Just over 2 pounds, this hatchet has preformed yeoman’s work on tasks requiring a larger ax.

Cutting to the Chase When Choosing Axes for Self-Reliance | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

When my chainsaw died, the small Wetterlings hatchet proved its worth and maneuverability on our neighbor’s storm damaged hickory tree

Note: The shorter the ax, the more dangerous it becomes. Don’t fear the ax, learn to use it properly. Swing time with your ax is the only way to learn this skill.

Cutting to the Chase When Choosing Axes for Self-Reliance | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The most frequently used cutting tool when build this shelter is hanging to the far right

From spoon carving to building semi-permanent shelter, a hatchet can do the job. When scouting for shelter material, the Wetterlings rode on a loop attached to my belt. It makes a great light camping ax as well.

Three Quarter Ax

In colder climates where large amounts of firewood are required for warmth at camp, a 3/4 ax may be your best bet. This style ax reaches from armpit to the palm of your hand with a head weight of 2 to 3 pounds and is hafted on an 18 to 28 inch handle – an ideal tool for younger woodsmen (boy’s ax) and for general use for adults.

The deciding factor on which ax to carry is often an issue of conveyance. Tramping requires that you to be the “mule.” Where weight is not an issue, as in car camping, canoe trips, or on horseback, you might opt for the larger felling ax for wood processing. All the while packing your small hatchet for a scout-about, quartering game, and other camp tasks.

The most common purpose of an ax is cutting firewood. I asked the question, “How long will chainsaws hum along?” in a previous article. Even if the gas engines keep pumping noise in the backcountry, there’s too much nostalgia and practicality to not add a good felling ax to your self-reliance toolbox.

Felling Ax

Born Again Tools: Giving New Life to an Old Ax

Jersey pattern True Temper Kelly Perfect felling ax with scalloped cheeks

Above is a True Temper Kelly Perfect with a 30 inch handle I restored. This cutting tool chops large diameter logs like a boss.

The early American felling ax was hand-forged by local blacksmiths. Ax patterns were named based on their regional location; Dayton, Michigan, Jersey, Hudson Bay, New England, North Carolina, etc. Some of these patterns are still popular with modern ax makers. A typical felling axhead weighs between 3.5 to 6 pounds with a handle length between 30 and 36 inches.

Buy New or Used?

Most American ax manufacturers bit the dust when the chainsaw was introduced in the logging industry. Buyer Beware: Axes in big box stores (made in China) are not going to be passed down as family heirlooms. My most productive ax scores have been at local antique shops, flea markets, and yard/estate sales. Old American-made axes are still available and begging to be put to use.

Most used axes will need to be re-handled. Not a problem. Here’s how to re-haft an ax. Pay more attention to the axhead’s condition and manufacturer. More detailed info on vintage axes can be found at Yester Year Tools (link in the Ax Resources section below).

Hardware stores may have a handle with good grain, but not likely. No matter where you get your new haft, check the run of the wood grain from the side view. Grain running perpendicular to the handle won’t last long. Look for grain running parallel the whole length of the handle. A few stray grains won’t hurt.

Cutting to the Chase When Choosing Axes for Self-Reliance | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A True Temper hickory sap wood handle with good vertical grain found at a small hardware store

Check the butt end of the handle. Grain running vertically on the end is what you want. Horizontal grain in striking tools won’t absorb constant shocks.

When your search for a straight grained ax handle fails, make your own. Here’s a tutorial on making a hickory ax handle.

Finding a good ax that fits your needs is often a difficult task. Hopefully, this information will help with your search for a the most versatile tool of self-reliance.

Ax Resources

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube and our Facebook page… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network on PinterestGoogle +, and Facebook.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Gear, Homesteading, Preparedness, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

by Todd Walker

The thought of a second grader even touching an razor-sharp ax is horrifying to modern helicopter parents… and probably illegal in some jurisdictions! If so, please don’t share this.

Yesterday was one of the best days yet in my young grandfathering career! Our daughter and grandson came over to hang out and hit up our local farmer’s market for some naturally grown produce. Afterwards we played several rounds of Eye Spy at a local restaurant, ate lunch together and headed home. Max slumped in a patio chair and said what every young video gamer has running through their mind when their electronic device is not in their hands…

“There’s nothing to do.” *Sigh*

That’s all I needed to hear!

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to a Seven Year Old

I’m bored!

Like most school children today, our grandson had a fear of sharp, pointy stuff ingrained in his psyche within two years of public schooling. The NO WEAPONS mantra had stuck in his pliable mind. Knives, axes, and most of all – guns! These menacing, inanimate objects are inherently evil and must be avoided. Granted, these tools should not be left in the path of toddlers. This begs the question, what age is appropriate to begin training children to use a knife or ax?

You’re no stranger to the No Weapons Zone signs if your kids are school age. Yes, all these tools can be weapons. Yellow school buses and SUV’s possess the same ability.

But here’s the thing… the intent of the user is what matters. Even with the purest intentions, accidents happen. All the more reason to introduce safe handling and respect for these tools to the next generation at an early age.

Under proper supervision and training, Max discovered that my camp ax is a useful cutting tool – not the vicious weapon portrayed in Kindergarten circle time.

As a prepared parent or grandparent, you have to decide the appropriate age to begin training your children to use sharp stuff. There’s no magical age. We’re all individuals. Move slowly and follow their curiosity and maturity level. My children didn’t come with a user’s manual. You just have to figure it out as you go.

It’s my hope that these tips will help train our next generation to begin Doing the Stuff with the tools of our trade.

Fear Factor

While demonstrating my DiY Survival Sling Shot at our backyard, Max was afraid to try it out. He told me that he knew what those things were called, pointing my bag of ammo.

“What?” I asked.

“Bullets.”

“No buddy, these are ball bearings.”

“Well, they look like bullets,” he assured me.

My explanation of “bullets” gave him enough confidence to pull the sling without the “bullet” misfiring in his hand. He fired a few rounds and hit the target.

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

Taking aim!

Fear is overcome easily with truth and patience. Our body follows our mind (thoughts). An elementary physics lesson on what made bullets (or any object) move was all it took. I shot a pebble to prove the point.

Safety First

Obviously, safety of the child and bystanders is paramount when using projectiles or cutting tools! Our next skill came about through his curiosity of an ax in my shop.

Here’s a few tips I hope you find helpful for introducing your child to cutting tools.

First, allow the child to hold the ax with the bit (sharp edge) in the sheath or mask. I used my Backcountry Ax with a 16 inch handle. Take a moment to point out that the bit will bite and that axes should always be sheathed until they are ready to be used. Allow your child to hold the ax on their own strength under constant supervision. If they struggle to hold the tool steady, find a lighter ax or hatchet.

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

The Eastwing hatchet (at the bottom of the pic) is a few inches shorter than the Backcountry Max used and has a smaller handle grip.

Now, while you hold the tool, remove the mask to reveal the ax head. Explain the purpose of the cutting tool. No need to go into the history of axes. A few sentences will do for short attention spans.

Next, demonstrate proper technique on a wood anvil (chopping block) with your work space cleared of obstructions and tripping hazards. Find an anvil about waist-high to your child when he/she is kneeling. Always use a kneeling position when spitting wood with a short ax. If you miss the target in the standing position, the arc of the ax may find your shin. By kneeling, you increase the swing radius of the ax from the pivot point of your body.

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to a Seven Year Old

I modified the wood by cutting it into 4 inch lengths to make splitting easier.

Short Cuts

For young beginners, saw a wood round into 3 to 4 inch sections. I let Max strike a 12″ piece with no noticeable results. I ran into my shop and chopped a few pieces with my miter saw. You want them to have success and see the results as they learn a new skill. Seeing wood fly is very motivating!

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to a Seven Year Old

Explain the importance of placing the round to be split at the back edge of the anvil. Above I demonstrate the danger of swinging too closely on the near edge of the anvil.

Now assist them in their first swing with the ax. Have them swing at a spot on the back half of an empty anvil. The ax will get stuck in the anvil if enough force is applied on the down swing. Push down and pull up on the ax handle in a controlled movement to loosen and remove the ax.

IMG_0500

When you’re comfortable that they’re able to strike a target on the anvil with assistance, allow him to try a 90º swing on his own – with very close supervision. Repeat several times until accuracy improves.

Now place a short round on the back half of the anvil. This is where the fun begins! On his first strike, the ax head got stuck in the round. I had him raise the ax with the round still attached and swing it back down on the anvil. It worked. The wood split!

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

And he scores!!

He was so excited and amazed at what he’d just done. His next round split with his first swing… even more excitement! After carefully placing the ax on the ground, he ran to show his mom and DRG pieces of split wood.

As a reminder of this right-of-passage, his skillful work is proudly displayed on our fridge.

Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson

Fridge worthy wood!

I’ll give you one guess as to what he wants now instead of a bow and arrow set. Ha! He’s got a lot of learning and maturing to do before he gets his first hatchet. My father gave me my first folding knife when I was seven. I learned some valuable lessons that year and still sport a puncture wound scar in my left forearm for doing what I was told not to do while unsupervised.

Please use your best judgement when teaching Doing the Stuff skills to children. Scrapes, cuts and bruises happen as they learn. But with proper training, serious injuries can be avoided – and traditional knowledge gets passed on.

For more articles related to kids and self-reliance, check out these Trusted Resources:

Here’s two questions for you: A) When did you receive your first cutting tool? B) What do you consider to be the top 5 skills children need to for self-reliance? I’d like to put together a summer series on self-reliance skills for kids. Your thoughts and input are really appreciated!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube and our Facebook page… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network on PinterestGoogle +, and Facebook.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance, Survival Education, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 15 Comments

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