Axe/Ax handles (not four candles) & ash

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Axe/Ax handles (not four candles) & ash

Postby ToneWood » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:28 pm

I made a short ax handle from ash today (#1); it didn't take long. Ash comes into leaf late and maybe that results in less wind damaged ash than other woods: this ash was brought down by when a big beech tree fell onto a much smaller ash.

BTW The Old saying: "If oak before ash, we're in for a splash. If ash before oak, we're in for a soak."
was wrong this year: ash definitely came into leaf after oak this year and yet we most definitely got a good soaking.

Although most of the wood is quite straight, I wanted something with a bit more character, a bit of a curve & a heel (something a little more Viking :D).

Ash & Kent patten axe head.jpg
Notice the leaves - this is still very green wood.
Ash & Kent patten axe head.jpg (87.94 KiB) Viewed 8600 times

I used the smallest ash log to whittle the handle this evening. To make the most of the wood, I was planning to leave the pith in the centre - although not ideal, Peter Follansbee has commented on seeing Swedes, such as Jogge Sundqvist, using handles with the pith in and they know a thing or two about axes. However, fortunately, it turned out that the pith in this log was way off to one side, so I simply carved down to it and removed it, making the handle from the other larger side :).
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Carving the ax handle

Postby ToneWood » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:39 pm

I had a change of heart over which end of the curved piece to put the head on:

Ax handle stick + Axe head + carving axe.jpg
Ax handle stick + Axe head + carving axe.jpg (90.12 KiB) Viewed 8599 times

Ash first cuts.jpg
The pith was to one side, so I carved that side off first.
Ash first cuts.jpg (95.37 KiB) Viewed 8595 times


I used just basic green-wood tools: carving axe, draw knife (v. useful for this) and the trusty Mora 106. Most of the time was spent trimming the end for optimal fit.

I was thinking if finishing it better but (1) it is still wet and (2) I'd only have to roughen it up/"fettle" it again (Gransfor's-style) later - so why bother! I'll tidy it up some after leaving it for a couple weeks to dry (I think Robin Wood said 2 weeks as he is impatient, Peter 2 years!).


I'm thinking if splitting the head with a knife, Robin Wood-style - scary but this handle didn't take long. Then inserting a wood (oak/beech?) wedge and leaving it sticking out the top, Will Sundvist-style, so that it can be hammered further in if further drying occurs. Hopefully it will eventually stabilize.

Ax handle - left side.jpg
Ax handle - left side.jpg (107.02 KiB) Viewed 8597 times
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Re: Axe/Ax handles (not fork 'andles) & ash

Postby nic » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:45 pm

Tony if the handle fits in the head now it is going to be pretty loose when it dries; it is tempting to get it to fit just so you can see what it will be like but much better to leave it oversize.
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Blunt & drying

Postby ToneWood » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:49 pm

Thanks Nic - too late for this handle though. It is my first attempt, no doubt there will be other problems. e.g. It is probably too slim already.

The cutting edge is very blunt but that's fine as I don't want to be handling a sharp axe while fitting the handle. I will sharpen it to carving sharpness once the handle is permanently fitted.
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Optimizing the shape/design of an ax handle

Postby ToneWood » Thu Jun 21, 2012 11:58 am

I'm having second thoughts about the practicality this type of curved handle design. The final back-sweep takes your hand a long way from the cutting edge when making full strokes (rather than a high choked grip), it feels odd & wrong but perhaps just takes some getting used to. The initial curve is good for finger clearance when using a high choked up hold when carving - although perhaps no more so than a straight handle. However, I'm not convinced this type of curved handle would work well for heavy woodland/bushcraft/firewood type chopping (although I have seen a felling axe with a handle curved like this, unusual though). I feel like I want the handle to come back again more towards the butt end, more like the Granfors carving axe's handle perhaps. Like this:
ImageImage

Or perhaps just straight (as I think jrrcaim - and most manufacturers - favour).
Image
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Drying/fit

Postby ToneWood » Thu Jun 21, 2012 12:16 pm

<removed - repetitive>
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Viking axe heads

Postby ToneWood » Thu Jun 21, 2012 12:47 pm

It looks to me like the Ronnqvist/Viking/Gotland-style ax heads may better suit this type of handle.
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Re: Drying/fit

Postby ToneWood » Thu Jun 21, 2012 11:27 pm

nic wrote:Tony if the handle fits in the head now it is going to be pretty loose when it dries; it is tempting to get it to fit just so you can see what it will be like but much better to leave it oversize.
Yes, just checked the axe, which is sat on the furnace (not hot) - already the head has become loose enough to wobble around - it was solid last night. By tomorrow evening I expect I will be able to pull it off by hand. Hadn't expected it to dry so quickly.
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Re: Axe/Ax handles (not fork 'andles) & ash

Postby ToneWood » Fri Jun 22, 2012 1:07 pm

"Not fork 'andles"? This will explain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUNVFrRy-cE
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Re: Axe/Ax handles (not fork 'andles) & ash

Postby ToneWood » Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:59 pm

Carved another ax handle this evening (#2) - gratifyingly quicker than carving bowls I like working with this wet green ash, it reminds me of the lime wood (/basswood) I used for spoons.
Branch + saw + axe + ax head.jpg
My favourite saw.
Branch + saw + axe + ax head.jpg (88.48 KiB) Viewed 8503 times
Ax attack + log.jpg
The carving ax's handle is coolest but I also like the look of the foot/heel on Pa's hatchet, right - although slim, this handle sits well in the hand too, with the little finger just over the front bump.
Can anyone think of a use for the bottom axe? I can't, so will likely sell it. Perhaps this Kent pattern axe too once it is done, sharpened & bed-in.
Ax attack + log.jpg (66.68 KiB) Viewed 8503 times


Again, I split a log through the pith (seems like a good idea - but time will tell); this time using the froe in order to leave me with 2 good pieces, each big enough to make a small axe handle, just.
Ax handle roughed out with carving axe.jpg
Pith visible. This is half of the round log - so it is not yet clear to me if there is enough wood to pull it off.
Guess which handle I traced in the end? :D
Ax handle roughed out with carving axe.jpg (77.17 KiB) Viewed 8503 times
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Re: Axe/Ax handles (not fork 'andles) & ash

Postby ToneWood » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:07 pm

The final handle, ready to put aside for drying. A little more slender than I intended - but it felt too bulky right up until it felt too slim, it never felt "just right" :(. However, it had to be slimmer than the SCA to match the head, which is smaller & slim. The 2nd handle has more meat to it that the first handle, which was a goal.
Ax handle ready for drying.jpg
Handle #2
Ax handle ready for drying.jpg (66.93 KiB) Viewed 8503 times

I 'll leave the head fitting until it is dry this time (thanks nic).
BTW As predicted above, I was able to remove the head relatively easily by hand this evening - the wood shrunk significantly in just 2 days!
As well as being a great tool, the Gransfor Bruk Swedish Carving Axe is a great reference to see how things can & should be done.
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Mo' axe 'andles

Postby ToneWood » Sat Jun 23, 2012 3:27 pm

I feel on a bit of a roll with the axe handles, so I carved yet another this morning (#3), using the other half of the branch above. This one is base on the SCA too. I left it a bit fatter than the last one, so it could be used for other axe heads if necessary, including the SCA ifself. I seem to habitually cut the handles a bit skinny immediately above the butt pommel - I need to break that habit. I think the problem is that there is more detail there & therefore more carving/cutting to do around that point. I guess it makes them distinctive - like a Queen Ann leg crossed with a Jack Russell :D
Ax handles 3 & 4 branch.jpg
Handle #3 and the log for handle #4
Ax handles 3 & 4 branch.jpg (104.1 KiB) Viewed 8481 times

I've also started yet another handle this afternoon (#4), this is a big one , a 3'/1m handle for the #4 Elwell Kent pattern head. I selected a straight piece of wood - my thickest piece, which has some knots, branches, etc. at one end, forming something like a natural butt. I've taken a different approach with this handle - it will have the pith running right down the middle. I've froed & axed the two sides off. Although it now occurs to me that this probably gives the least favourable grain arrangement possible! :( I think the pith through the middle idea was probably intended for small axes with round-ish handle holes - the Kent pattern has a slim hole, so there will be very little front-back grain. However, I am limited by the thickness of the branches I have available to me.
Ax handle 4 with #4 head & SCA.jpg
Note the shorter bevel of my right-handed asymmetric grain Swedish Carving axe.
Ax handle 4 with #4 head & SCA.jpg (113.97 KiB) Viewed 8481 times
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Axe Handle VIDEOS on youtube

Postby ToneWood » Sat Jun 23, 2012 10:47 pm

Axe handle carving videos:
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Re: Axe/Ax handles (not fork 'andles) & ash

Postby ToneWood » Sun Jun 24, 2012 9:48 pm

Concerned about the grain of #4 handle, I decided to make another 3' handle, this time splitting a log along the centre - actually managed to guide the froe quite accurately this time :). This turned out to be a good decision: not only is the grain more favourably aligned (more on this later) but I needed to remove very little as it was just about the right size. :)

After I had shaped #5 & left it to dry, I decided to finish #4 handle - despite the potential grain alignment issue. It was about 1.5-2" thick and it took a lot of work (with axe but mainly draw knife) to bring it down to size :( - a good workout I suppose! Almost demolished my workbench in the process. As I got near to finishing it, I tried to remove a knot that I had meant to remove earlier. Both handles have several knots in them - I suspect these will becomes points of failure - but ash branches, so perhaps inevitable. The knot was immediately below the back of the head. I should have used my sloyd knife but thought the SCA would deal more easily with a knot - big mistake! The axe split through the knot and carried on through the head, making the head too short for my #4 head :( . Perhaps this was also due to the unfavourable grain alignment?

Handles #4 & #5 with SCA.jpg
Handles #4 & #5
Handles #4 & #5 with SCA.jpg (68.81 KiB) Viewed 8390 times


So, 5 axe handles this weekend:
  1. Too curved & shrunk too small, right-hand bend. May keep for a smaller axe head or shorten for a hammer.
  2. Good slim handle for Kent head
  3. Good thicker handle for Kent head or SCA or some other axe head around #1/#2.
  4. Unfavourable grain alignment, head shortened. Head now too short for #4 axe head - might fit father-in-laws axe (he uses a small #2 head on a long handle for splitting - quite a good idea for an older person if you think about it)
  5. Good, slim handle for #4 head - would have preferred something a little thicker but this "is in the ballpark".
Main lesson learnt today: split the wood in half (or quarters if big enough) - that way there is less wood to remove, which means less waste and less work. The grain alignment should be reasonably good. If you do it right and are lucky, you can use both pieces (or all 4 pieces if quartered) to make axe handles :)
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Axe/Ax handles

Postby ToneWood » Tue Jun 26, 2012 9:13 pm

Read Robin Wood's excellent threads again today:
I was mistaken, he left his handle to dry for just 2 days, not 2 weeks! :) He mentions that the wood he used was already quite dry though. The very green ash I used, dried a lot the first day, and noticeably again the next day - quite possibly most of the drying happens in the first few days. I plan to leave mine at least a week, as the wood was very green - although I am sorely tempted to fit handle #2. The handles already resonate rather than thud (Robin's dryness test).

He doesn't think grain orientation significantly affects the strength of ash. That's re-assuring for handle #4. Although I have a hypothesis to test: I suspect my "axe-dental" split-off may have been at least partially due to the grain orientation, i.e. even if the orientation doesn't affect strength, it may make splits with the grain (e.g. when carving) more likely.
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