Monday, January 31, 2011

Do I Haft to? Pt. 2, by The Wandering Thinker

Today in the News: The storm that they predicted has set down upon us.  Not too bad on the HHA yet, but Denver is pretty much a mess.  Not much accumulation, but slicker than greased owl turds on a brass doorknob.  If I go incommunicado, it is because the power went out. :)  I love it when the power goes out!

Link of the Day:  Seems fitting to post our guest writer's blog.  Check it out.  Click follow. 


Do I Haft To? Pt 2. - by The Wandering Thinker

As some of you know a lot has had my attention over these past few weeks, but thankfully I'm back for a minute to share with you part two of Do I Haft To. I had originally planned to have everything completed by the time I posted the second part, but as they say "Life happens while your making plans".

For starters, I have only one sheath done for the Axes..instead of two. The spoon knife has yet to be  sharpened. The camp axe has been used but not sharpened yet, I still have to make a handle for the hatchet, and the outdoor camp has only seen a little work ... but there was a lesson taken from it.

I must warn you now, this post is very picture heavy. But I thought I should give ya something good for being so patient with me

So where do we start ... how about the camp axe?

Certainly not the best of the bunch, but the camp axe holds a special place with me. I am a huge fan of the Hudson Bay style, but this one will do everything I want until I get a new one some day. The two defining features of this axe was 1.) It's hit a rock or two in its time. 2.) The handle had been secured with over 10 nails. Yes, OVER 10. Before I took these pictures I had used it to shape a new wooden mallet and as you can see the odd look of the eye ... I had to use a little glue to keep some of the nails in until I could find a new handle. Finding the new handle was a choir in itself, I think I tried four, five, maybe even six places before I found a 26 in. handle ...let alone one cut somewhat right and mostly free of heartwood.
There were a few small knots along the back side and a split starting from the butt when I got it. Can you believe that this is the absolute best a few weeks of searching turned up? Yes, this is the best I could do.
 The mallet I mentioned, it makes it much easier to drive the head up the handle without damaging it (or further splitting the handle as in my case).
 The next step in the restoration of the axe was a good vinegar bath. I use vinegar to remove rust,oxidation, scale ... you name it. It's good because it is a very forgiving process, just drop your metal in and wait a few hours, then sand and repeat as necessary. The top most layer ends up being the consistency of graphite which comes off in a few solid strokes with 80-100 grit, making it more of a waiting game than anything. The only thing I recommend here is coating any fresh or bare metal with a sharpie or any other permanent ink and a little oil to keep it from being patina'd and to keep the sharp edge from being eaten away. It doesn't make for a clean vinegar bath, but it sure helps that the ink and oil are being dissolved instead of your edge.

 After a few hours you can hardly tell its the same head.

 Then its on to saw the handle a bit, dry fit it, and start in on the night spots. I used a planer rasp and an extremely aggressive file while I had the energy, but after a while I had to switch to belt sander to take off the really high spots, then finish with the file.

 It didn't take as long as with the double bit this time, probably because I knew what I was in for when I started.

All that was left was to cut off the excess with a coping saw, hammer in the wedge (which doesn't go down as far as I though it would), and cut the wedge and place the steel. I used a much larger steel wedge this time (thank goodness Ace at least has that) to ensure this sucker wouldn't come off unless I wanted it to. I also decided to use a 1/8 length of brass to pin the head on and give a bit of character (i think) to the look.

 And that's that. I'm glad for the experience but honestly happy that its over with, I had no idea how aggravating a task this could be. Just think, there are people out there that have to make their new handle with only a knife and hang it too. We really are lucky to live in a country where we can just go out and buy one (once we find a place that carries them still).

And here is the sheath for the double bit. I struggled for a while with the design, but finally settled on a slip cover. The bottoms are left open and the cross piece is loosely braided so the covers can twist and flex as needed when removing. I must say that I am quite happy with this design because it keeps the covers on firm, but allows easy removal without unsnapping and losing a piece in the bush. Once I get the spare time I'm going to do one for the camp axe too, but that one will be a snap cover.

The Hatchet. Not much to report here, but it been one of those things that's floated round for almost as long as I can remember, so I thought I would bring it out of storage and give it a go. I think I bought it when I was 12 or 13 at a pawn shop. Just your run of the mill china "Drop Forged" all steel hatchet, but it has actually held an edge quite well over the years which surprised me. The only major draw back are the cheeks were extremely high. So after cutting all the electrical tape off (who knows why I did that, I guess to make it look more tactical) I hit it on the belt sander a bit and gave it my traditional soak in vinegar.

As you can see after a bit of sanding, the sucker really began to shine. But, I decided I wanted to do something to take that out, why?...because I have never done it before. So, Birchwood Casey makes an affordable gun bluing solution. All you do it wipe it on with a sponge, wait a few seconds, and wipe it off. The results are almost instantaneous on most metals which is really neat to see ... one second it shines, you wipe on a clear liquid, and all of a sudden the metal goes black like someone turned the light off. It may just be me ... but I could watch this all day and still not get bored with it. As you can see in the last few pictures it doesn't make it look like it has been painted, but it does make a huge difference. Once I get out some rotary files for my drill press and find a suitable piece of wood I'm going to make a handle cover for it ... but that will have to be another day.

I've been debating whether or not to include the spoon knife just yet but it has been a long time in the works and even though it's not sharpened yet, It still serves it purpose.

The spoon knife has to be one of the most interesting things I think I have ever made. I spent a few days trying to find out some info. on how the grind is on most of the bought ones, which is harder than you think because it seems every company does something different. So, I started by splitting a piece of 1-1/2" D2 steel and shaping the tip on the sander.

Once I determined that I wanted the grind to be on the inside, I shaped it down, drilled three 1/8 in holes for the handle, and threw it in the fire until it was hot enough to bend.

 I used a piece of pipe I stuck through the hole in the anvil to get the rough shape I wanted, then heated it up one last time (to non-magnetic which can be checked with a small telescoping magnet) and sunk it in an ash can to slowly cool overnight. The process of heating and slow cooling is called annealing, which basically brings the metal to a soft, somewhat uniform, state so it can still be worked and also relieves the stress caused by "forging", so the metal wont crack or break later on. It's the slow cool down that is key here, I did know the time/temp ratio for proper annealing ... but I cant remember it right now.

After it had cooled overnight it was time to heat treat, so I brought it back to non-magnetic (around 1800F) and quenched it in moving air (some steels require oil, others still air, and some moving air. D2 can handle still or moving air) and stuck it in the oven at around 500F for two 45 min cycles (air quenching in front of the fan). Bringing it up to only 400-500F takes some of the hardness out of the metal, which allows for easier sharpening and a blade that will flex a bit instead of snap. I believe at 500 D2 goes from 62-64 Rockwell C (the scale used to measure how hard metal is) to around 57-59, which some believe to be the ideal spot (others will argue otherwise, so far I seem to like 58-59).

So... who can guess what I did next?
Yep (oh please don't say it) that's right (please no... not again) ....vinegar (ah shucks)
After the soak I fitted some Poplar scales I cut from a section of heartwood and roughed out on the band-saw, sanded them down, and gave the handle a few dips in Minwax Polycrylic to seal the wood and protect it. Even though I would do this with any type of wood it was especially important with Poplar because it is such a soft wood.

While I was pondering on how to clean up the inside of the curve and start the bevel my dad showed me something he had made a long time ago that really made my day. 
Just a plain 'ol steel rod with a slot cut in the end. Simple, I know, but its just big enough to slip a piece of emery cloth into and wrap around. Then you just let the drill press do the sanding. Simply, Genius, Thanks Dad!

After the coating dried.

One last query, How do I sharpen this thing? Simple ...a section of "bamboo" and some sandpaper.

It even comes with its own storage compartment ... how convenient.

Then, a quick little carry case for it, which I screwed up by overheating, and I was done.

On that note, sure oil will penetrate leather better if its warm, sure leather will conform a bit better when its soaked in water and dried out around the item in question ... but if it overheats shrinks a lot, wrinkles, and gets extremely brittle; even when literally soaked in oil. My point being if your going to heat leather, don't forget about it for an hour and expect to find it in the same condition you left it it.

Although, it wasn't a total loss. The knife still fits in it, but it sits at an angle, and the belt slots cut in the back ripped because the leather was so brittle, so I had to stitch them up with some white plastic lacing. 

As I said waaaaay back at the beginning of this, I still haven't properly sharped the spoon knife yet. I apparently didn't get it close enough before I heat treated it and now it's so hard I'll have to spend a few hours with a good file to get a bevel going, which I haven't had the time to do yet.

One final thing before I finally end this. Always, ALWAYS sharpen your axe before using it and ALWAYS be sure your using the correct size of axe. You'll save yourself so much time, energy, and skin on your hands if you do.

I say this because, as you may remember, there was a tree across the path up to the home camp. So after some of the snow started to clear I went out to hack it up (come on, I couldn't let bmatt be the only one braving the snow). Once I got through the rotten pulp and down to the heart (which took two or three swings) I found it still intact. Twenty mins later I'm sweating in 20F, sore all over, developing a very deep blister on my left hand, and still no where near through the heart of this tree. I pretty much felt like trying to cut down a redwood with a pocket knife. Lesson learned, use something besides a lite camp axe to cut up a tree and make sure its sharp. Once it warms up a bit I'm going to take the double bit out there and see how it does but for now ... Rotten Tree 1 ... Me -1.

Well, that's all folks. I hope you enjoyed and learned a little something from my mistakes.
Take Care and God Bless.


Thanks, TWT!  Congrats on launching your blog!

Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel........out.


  1. TWT, looks like you really have been busy! You've got a great bunch of tools and projects there. All coming along very nicely. I also use the vinegar bath for axe heads. Cleans off the junk and adds a protective patina at the same time! :)

    Also glad to see you're braving the snow, too. ;) That looks like a sizeable tree. Add the fact that it's frozen and it sure will be a challenge. I just keep telling myself, "spring's coming, spring's coming, spring's coming..." :)


  2. Lovely post. I'm interested in the holes in the tang of the knife - were these drill pressed? Also, where do you get the brass cylinders for securing the tang to the handle pieces? Thanks!


  3. Great post there MOH! Nice work all around. I know I have had a devil of a time at the Borg Cubes trying to find straight grained, heart wood free, axe and maul handles. And forget about handles for a double bit axe! I ended up with one to small and had to carve out fillers for the fore and aft of the eye. It will never work properly, but it will do until I can find a proper one.

    Thanks for the entertaining walk thorugh!

    Best Regards,
    Albert “Afghanus” Rasch
    In Afghanistan™

  4. Photos are the best part of blogs, so thanks for posting so many! I really like the section on making a spoon knife, you make it look easy.

  5. Sorry to everyone for not responding sooner, I just hav'nt had much time to set down at the computer.

    bmatt, Thank you!
    I like it especially because on D2, which is a high carbon steel, it takes all the junk off without really toughing the metal. Now I hear all day long from knife-makers that it does....but I sure as heck have never seen it do that.
    I love the winter actually, but frozen roads and trees are slowly starting to change that. I just love that there aren't any snakes it! lol.

    Yes, I used a drill press with 1/8 in. and #30 bits (one to cut, one to ream). However, you can use any kind of hand drill... just so long as you use BOTH hands and don't let it catch. I heard about a guy today while I was Heat Treating my knives that snapped his thumb when his drill caught while reaming.
    The pins are pieces of 1/8 in. brass rod. You can find it most everywhere they carry welding or brazening supplies. I believe its very popular for brazening (like I know jack about it) so you shouldn't have any trouble finding them. All i do is cut to length, hit it on the sander, with a fine grit, to shape it down and heat it up so when I hit it with a ball peen it expands and gives a tight fit.

    At least someone shares my pain, thanks you.

    I'm glad you like looking at them because I like sharing them.
    Honestly if you have the right mindset it really is easy. So long as you hold no expectations, pay a lot of attention to what you are doing, and don't worry about what you don't know and just go for it really learn the rest very quick. But thank you.