The Axe and Adz at the Historical Society
My nephew L.J and I wandered around the 1860's portion of the museum until we found an older gentleman, dressed in a period correct outfit. He was feeding the sheep. I approached him and asked him of he knew about the axe and adz presentation.
"Oh, that? I didn't think anyone would show up for that. Hmmmmm, sure. Follow me."
He brought us to a log up on some sort platforms to make it easier to work on. He checked that he had his axes.
"Now, uh, let me show you the finished product."
We walked over to the 1860's style house that served as the centerpiece of the makeshift village.
"Now, you see these walls, the logs each hewn flat on one side......can you think of a reason for doing this?"
I thought for a minute. My nephew has already reached the age where he pretty much thinks I'm a moron. Giving the wrong answer would only hammer that ball over the fence.
I said, "I've got two guesses. One, it has something to do with keeping the bugs out from beneath the bark that would be there if the sides weren't hewn," he looked down.....I knew I was wrong. I then added, "The only other reason I can think of is that of the sides are flat, precipitation would roll more easily down the side, preventing rot in the log."
Again he looked down. Crud.
"Actually, you would think that both of those reasons would be legitimate. But they aren't. The only historical reason we've found for flattening out these logs like this is because of the women folk. They told their men that if they were going to toil in the frontier, their house had best look nice."
I looked at L.J., he looked at me. We were confused.
"Beyond that, do you know why they put wallpaper up on the inside?"
I took a shot in the dark. "To keep the wind from blowing through the cracks."
"Indeed, sir, indeed."
He then walked us back over to the log and asked us basic question such as why the log was hoisted up at each end by two smaller logs and the answer was easier to work on and saving your tools from hitting the dirt. He also pointed out a piece of string he had running from one end of the log to the other. He said that back in the day they would've covered the string in ash and used it as a chalk line.
He then explained the process - hop up on top of the log, chip into it as much as you can with a regular axe, hop down when you're done, skin it off with the broad axe, then smooth it off with the adz. In theory, that is.
I hopped up on the log (I don't have any pictures) and was given a nice, shiny polished 4 lb. jersey style axe that was duller than poop. I'm not kidding. It was really like walking up to a beautiful girl and when she started talking, nothin' came out except blabber about the Kardashians and her shoe collection.. I was disappointed, but hacked my way through it and thought that ten minutes with my sharpening puck and I could make short work of the log. In hindsight, it was probably a really nice looking splitting axe. I'm not a connoisseur or aficionado, but it just wasn't the right tool for the job.
When I got off the log and started to hit it with the broad axe (it was my first time using a broad axe), I immediately noticed how awkward it was. The axe was right, the log was the right height, I just couldn't help but think I could do a better job with a drawknife.
All in all, the presentation didn't last long. The man giving the presentation, Vic, seemed somewhat well informed. He knew some of the history of the tools, including that until he arrived, the adzes had been used as makeshift hoes in the gardens. Overall, I think I learned that someday, when I have time, I should volunteer at my local historical society.
L.J really likes the historical society, as do I. We poked around the place and wandered into the 1890's section where there was a blacksmith. We watched him give his presentation to a bunch of rabid cub scouts and he was really quite nice to them, obnoxious as they were. We wandered a bit more and by the time we wandered back through, he was alone. I poked my head over the boards in the door.
"Excuse me, mister - ever make an axe head?"
"Axe head? Nope. We don't have the right metal here.........but I know somebody who does......"
"Got his number?"
[As a follow up note, I contacted the man. He said he could make me an axe head out of a railroad spike but said he couldn't promise it would stay sharp. I declined.]
Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,
Mike, Oscar, Hotel.....out.