Friday, 14 March 2014

Axe handles, size is important.

Many years ago I had a 2.1/2lb axe which I made a handle for. My reasoning was that a bigger thicker handle was necessary for a better grip and comfortable working. A few years later I had a few times when I could not even pick up a pencil, let alone grip anything. The pain in my hand and wrist was terrible, especially at 3am in the morning.
An 8th generation hurdle maker at The Royal Show told me why. My handle was too big and the axe was also too heavy for what I was using it for.
Since making handles of the right size I have never had the same issues with my hand. I think that a lot of axe handles made today are too large and the wrong profile. Big beefy men may be able to use them but the rest of us will struggle and can damage ourselves through gripping the wrong size handle or loosing control because it is too big. What about woman and children and men who have small hands.
I measured some older axes with original handles, and then some of the modern made ones from respected makers. Personally I have no issues with reshaping handles and in some cases it is unfortunately necessary to make and axe fit for purpose.

Top axe 4 lb Elwell 36mm x 22mm and flairs width wise out to 27mm at the end
2.5 lb Elwell 20mm up to 23mm x 34mm
Small Whitehouse 20mm x 30mm
The bottom axe is a handle I made and conforms to the above measurements.

Top 2 axes are the GB wildlife hatchet.
Original handle as shipped 21- 23mm to 33 - 40mm
My modified handle
GB Carving axe 27mm x 38mm
Husqvarna 26 - 36 x 46 - 56mm
Not pictured here but I took measurements of a students Hans Karlsson sloyd axe 25mm x 35 - 40 

The GB carving axe is just a bit too big for me, and for people with smaller hands it is way too big.

Wildlife hatchet is fine at its smallest measurements but as you hold it near the head it becomes bigger and more difficult to hold. The profile changes to more of a point than rounded which hurts the fingers. I have just carved this off mainly from the underside of the handle but a bit off the top as well.

The Husqvarna, well IMHO this axe is designed for grunts hacking away blindly at bits of tree. I find it unbalanced and difficult to hold. Impossible to hold when choking it up. Was the reasoning for this handle that it would be employed by people who did not care for there tools and the bigger thicker handle would take longer to break.

Why is the Hans Karlson handle so large, it also looks too big for the head. The handle gets huge near the head, when choking it up.

I have been using axes most of my life, and I know we all prefer different size handles with different profiles. I would welcome feedback on handle size especially from experienced users from around the world.
My ideal handle size is about 20mm x 30/34mm, what is yours?

2.1/2 llb Elwell axe with original handle. Perfect fit for my hand
 Modified wildlife hatchet. I find that if my fingers just tickle my palm then this is a comfortable fit.
 Orignal wildlife hatchet. Too big and the bottom of the handle tapers to a point which bites into the fingers. This is a great axe for people starting out green woodwork as it is light. Choking up is a very necessary technique and this axe needs modifying for this to be safe and comfortable. It seems that this handle was designed for chopping branches and trees with no thought given to its other possible uses.
Husqvarna, very tiring and painful for my hand.

Making the handle too small is a problem as well. The fingers will press into the palm. I carved a GB carving axe handle, taking too much off. I solved this by wrapping and gluing suede leather around the handle. I rather like this very positive grip the leather gives.

Sunday, 9 March 2014


I met Jon last year at a show, unfortunatly life throws up all sorts of stuff that stops me from finding time to spend with others. This week I finally got around to meeting up with Jon in his workshop and had a great time talking about wood and tools. Jon has a blog if you want to see more of his work.
Jon has been researching and making riven oak furniture and has a beautiful joined chest in his workshop.

I had to take, and share a photo of his bench holdfast, just a bit of bent pipe.

Okay, they do not last forever, but it works.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Tool tidy

I am not the neatest of people, I just get stuck into my work and the tools can pile up. The problem with putting edge tools down on the workbench with all the other edge tools is that they can get damaged. We often spend too much time sharpening and getting the tools into perfect condition, and then a nick is found in the edge because it has touched another tool.

The way I deal with this is by spending 2 minutes of my time, and a few pence worth, of usually scrap wood, making a tool tidy.

This set up is the one I use for fan bird carving. Not only does it save the edge of the tool, it is also safer and quicker. I know exactly where each tool is.

I use 2 to 3 different knives for the fan birds, each one works well for a particular task. This system is also a great space saver as well.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Centre marker for turning

I have had a run on strop and slip sets, so more need to be made. I make them in small batches and one of the more irksome jobs is marking the centres on each end. What I need is a centre marker  and  I will not pay X amount for a plastic job when I can easily make one from workshop scraps. It is always worth spending 20 minutes to make a jig to speed up an ongoing repetative job.
My jigs are never things of great beauty, what I want is functionality and a quick make.

The wood is ash and is cut and planed square.  It does not matter what size wood is used, just make it with what you have and to the size you most commonly use. This is a big one and could have easily been made smaller.
A 45 degree square was used to mark the line from the bottom left corner. Using a tenon saw I cut about half an inch into the wood. The metal marking strip is a bit of bandsaw blade with the teeth left on. This was easily enough banged into the sawn slot.

The bottom guide fence is placed square with the edge tapped with a hammer to make a mark. This mark is then sawn.

Not having ever banged a toothed bandsaw blade into a slot before I thought it best to leave the edge square instead of sharpening it first. I finally used a carbide sharpener I was given years ago. I still do not like it, bloody useless tool. Do any of you use one? Do tell, and do you find it useful? 

So onward to using a file. This was all taking too long for my liking so I banged the blade out and sharpened it on a linisher. This is what I would advise you to do, and bang it in with a block of waste wood between it and the hammer. The bevel is about 80 degrees, obtuse and durable.
Screw the guides in making sure that they are exactly 90 degrees to each other.

To use place the wood in the corner, do make sure it is a good fit if you want accuracy. A gentle tap will mark a diagonal line corner to corner. Turn the wood  90 degrees and bang again. The intersecting lines will be the centre of the wood.

I turn a lot of smallish beads. I make longer billets of wood, when one end has been turned with six or so beads then the wood whips to much. I cut the beads off and start turning the much shorter other end. This jig will mark cylinders as well.

The square edge of kiln dried oak can be sharp and does fray the lathe cord, so I make up a simple sleeve from MDF and Gaffa Tape to protect the cord and also the square edge from being damaged.