Thursday, 3 February 2011

Quality tools - cheap axe

I love my Gransfor Bruks carving axe, as I love my Whitehouse and Gilpin kentish pattern axes. These are known as top quality tools by anyone in the know, and sometimes they can cost an arm and a leg. Gransfor Bruks has been doing outstanding business for some years now. I have seen people selling the axes at markets to passers by, and at £50 minimum each. That is something I thought that I would never see.

I am a great believer in using and renovating old tools that others throw away, and have written articles for magazines describing the processes involved. If you are starting out on your greenwood or bushcraft journey and can not afford a GB axe, or have not yet learnt the techniques of making, fitting and sharpening old tools then there is another option.

The old adage of buy the most expensive tool you can afford is still generally true, but to make my point about renovtion, I went out and bought the cheapest axe I could find. How much? £3.25 for a "Rolson Quality tools".
It was the gold colour that drew me in, a gold coloured axe, cool. Five minutes on the grinder, or you could easily use a file as the metal in axes is quite soft. Then onto the bench stones where I got the original angle of 60+ degrees down to 32 degrees and slightly sided. Siding means that the bevels on each side of the axe are not even, and being right handed, I need the left hand bevel to be longer and flatter and the right needs a more obtuse bevel. This is so I can use the axe in a more upright or vertical position, just what I like for green wood working.
The handle was a nightmare, far to big for my hand. I often hold the axe up near the head for greater control, so out came the knife and I whittled the handle down.

Above is the end result: it is sharp and can slice a sheet of newspaper easily. It worked a treat on green wood. On seasoned fast-grown ash I struck a problem as the edge rolled or bent over slightly, so out came the diamond stone and I resharpened it. The same happened again, cheap axes, I was thinking good for splitting wood only. This time I resharpened again and took the bevel to just over 35 degrees and I have had no problems with it since, and have hacked through a fair bit of wood with it.
I like the shape of the head and the toe is perfect for getting into the wood, especially when doing spoons. I still do not particularly like the handle, and would like to replace it with one I have made. The steel feels just a bit softer than my other named brand axes, but since getting the edge geometry right, this is not much of an issue.
The thing is, that if I sanded the handle smooth and removed all paint etc, blacken the head, and asked you to use it, would you be able to tell this was a cheap £3.25 axe?
This would not be my first choice when selecting an axe to use in my workshop, but then again I do have over 20 to choose from. With a little modification it works and works well. When I first got my GB wildlife axe I still had to grind the edge to the geometry I needed for the work I do.