Thursday, December 2, 2010

An Excerpt from "The Ax Book", by D. Cook

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This is an excerpt from The Ax Book:  The Lore and Science of the Woodcutter, by D. Cook.  I have chosen to put this piece on the blog because it shows how times have changed.  Not many men would have the knowledge that Lloyd had.about axes nowadays, with the exception being the bushcraft crowd. It explains the lack of selection and quality of axes that we have available at our local stores today. The book, which I believe was written in the late 60's, complains about the lack of quality tools, just like we complain about it now.  The time from which this piece comes is after a hurricane in Maine in 1938.  D. Cook was working on a maintenance crew with Lloyd, to whom Cook dedicated the book.

From Chapter 4, The Hurricane of 1938

"It was exhilarating to work on those hurricane windfalls.  I kept hacking where it seemed needed and watched Lloyd's work with open admiration.  When he struck a limb, it came off clean.  Except on the larger ones, he seldom used more than two strokes.   At the second, if not the first stroke, the whole limb would fly off into the air.  I tried to imitate him. That was not easy.  After letting me hack away and discover things for a few days he said, "Did you ever try a lighter axe?"

"At seventeen I was still skinny, but implying that I was not strong enough for my four-pound ax nettled me.   "Oh, this is just right for me," I said.

I might have saved my breath.  "Your handle should be shorter," he said.  In limbing, there's no room for a long handle.  And for you, your axe probably shouldn't weigh over three pounds."

Seeing the look that must have been on my face, he asked, "How much do you think mine weighs?"

I had wondered about that.  He had told me that it was a Snow and Nealley ax from Bangor, Maine.  Its shape was different from my ax and judging its weight was difficult.  From the cuts he had made, maybe his ax weighed ten pounds for all that I knew.  "I don't know,"  I said.

"Three and three-quarters pounds.  If I had to swing this all day, it would be all I'd want. My eyes widened.  He said, "I have a three pounder, too.  You try it after dinner.  You'll see the difference. It's what you should have."

Using Lloyd's three-pound ax was a revelation and I immediately had a new goal in axes.  Soon after, I had one of my own.  Mine was a Cock-'o-the Woods made by Emerson and Stevens of Oakland, Maine.  It did not come hung, so Lloyd helped me select a straight-grained handle.  He also hung the axe on the handle for me as I watched to see how he did it.

"This is a good ax," he said, I like it even better than my light one maybe.  You see.  You'll do better with this."

He was right again.  The pleasure of using that lighter axe made the days go fast.  I could swing it more often and, not becoming winded so quickly, I was able to strike truer.  Before long, I too was able to scale chips out from my deepening cuts instead of just making a lot of fuzz."

Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel


  1. There's a good lesson here: bigger (or heavier) isn't always better! Thanks for sharing.