Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting a Handle on the Situation(s)

When we returned from our Maine vacation, I (tried to) immediately start on the heads. I used a bench grinder to reshape the heads, which I hear is a big no-no, unless you do it right. I’m not sure I did. Time will tell. I scoured the internet on how to fix the big chunks gone out of the axe faces. The best tip I found was written by Don Merchant at http://www.poleandpaddle.com/.

Don wrote, "If you use a grinder or disc sander to reshape your axe, be sure to work bare handed. When the metal becomes warm to the touch, it's time to cool it. If the metal turns blue, you overheated it and drew out the temper. If this happens you can grind past it, or if it's a small area, leave it and sharpen past it over time."

Take a minute to check out Don’s site. He has very cool stuff. He even sells old axe heads. My Christmas wish list will have one of his folding bucksaws on it, for sure. (Did you read that, Mrs. Hotel?)
Easy enough. I kept a pail of water beside the grinder and did it bare handed, just as Don suggested. I dipped the head about every 5 seconds (yes, paranoid) to be absolutely positive that it didn’t get too hot. Getting the same taper on each side was a minor challenge, but I think I did well. After reshaping, I hit each head with the wire wheel. It didn’t clean it up as much as I expected. I think I thought it would take it down to bare, shiny metal, but it didn’t. I don’t think these were ever shiny axes. When I had most of the rust gone, I hit them with some 3-in-1 oil. That did the job. They looked great!

Lesson #1 from Uncle Bern: A sharp axe is not a good splitting axe. You want it blunt and heavy, with lots of "cheek".

Lesson #2 from Uncle Bern: "Cheek" is defined by how the axe tapers by the blade. If the blade smoothly goes from the blade to the rest of the axe, it doesn’t have much cheek. If it pooches out as the blade tapers out to the rest of the axe, it has "cheek". Picture a kid with fat cheeks, then a scrawny kid with no cheeks. You get the idea?

Because I carve and craft a lot with my axe, I don’t like cheek. I like to be able to shave bark off the trunk of a log with ease and having the large taper of cheek on a blade will prohibit the shaving action. However, when I split, I use the fat, cheeky, heavy axe. The Hudson Bay-style Snow and Nealley that I posted in my last blog has darn near zero cheek. I like it.
I brought the three heads to work. We have pretty good scales there and I discovered that I had a 3.5lb head, a 3 ¼lb head and a head that weighed 2.85lbs. I’m a little confused on the last one, as I’m pretty sure they must have originally come in quarter pound differences. My thoughts are that it was originally a 3lb. head that lost a lot of face over time.

I found replacement handles at http://www.cspoutdoors.com/. The handles are classy with the S&N logo on them. When I got the handle in the mail, I was impressed. The grain of the wood went from top to bottom. That’s a good thing. Grain that stops and starts a new pattern half way up the handle is very bad. It makes the handle weak in that spot. If you ever see a painted axe handle, that’s probably why.

Lesson #3 from Uncle Bern: Varnish doesn’t belong on an axe handle. If your palms get sweaty, they could slip on the handle. You could hack your friggin’ leg off by accident.

So I shaved the varnish off with my knife and used fine sandpaper to take off the rest and even it out. Bern says the handle should be bare wood, no oil, no nothin’. Unfortunately, here in the west, wood gets dry and cracks fast. I can’t roll with Bern’s suggestion on this one. I put a thin coat of boiled linseed oil on all my handles. Wipe it on, wipe it off. If lovin’ linseed oil is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. It really gives the wood a soft, smooth look. And it feels good on the digits.

I tried the handle on all three of the heads (it is a 30" handle) and it fit the 3 ¼ head the best, so I mounted the head, drove the wedge and that was that. Simple. Almost too simple. I was actually a little disappointed. At some point in time, I’ll write about how I mangled my favorite hatchet head tying to mount in on a Gransfors Bruks camp axe handle. Very bad. Very, very bad.

Well, according to the stats, I’ve had five readers here on "The Sharpened Axe".  My followers include my dad's girlfriend and my wife, both of whom are awesome.  You must all be very, very bored…..but thanks for reading! Tune in next time for some leather work – the making of the sheath for the 3 ¼ head. Pax Domine Sit Semper Vobiscum.


  1. Nice axe heads! I like the top one best, myself. Thanks for sharing Uncle Bern's wisdom. :)

    How has the rehandled axe worked out for you?


  2. The rehandle has actually been great. I was easy on it for the first week or so, but now I know it is solid and have been sing it a bunch!

  3. Great to hear it! A good axe like that will last you many years. :)