A cheap light axe




I had just bought the good Hults Bruks axe for standard retail price when Canadian Tire had a sale on axes. I was there anyway so I looked at axes and saw nothing I wanted. Later they had another half price sale and since I was there again I looked again. I finally found a 2 lb axe I liked - well it did have a good handle grain, was straight and for $10.00 CAN I figured I had little to lose.

Light axes are not used in logging so there are no good ones to be seen around here. Eventually I'll be somewhere where I can choose my own good axe, or get someone knowledgeable to select one for me - but I'm sure not going to get one mail order.

The Canadian Tire axe actually has a good handle in that the grain is vertical and the head is straight. The metal in the head is actually quite good and well tempered. It came with a very poor grind - about a 45 degree edge on a thick blade and so blunt that you could not cut anything with it. I got a friend to carefully grind an edge on it so as not to remove any temper and put it to use. The metal is thick around the hole for the handle so the tool is well suited for splitting and hammering tasks.

There ends the good side of the story. The axe would need a lot of grinding with a belt sander to thin it down enough for serious chopping. Basically you'd be making your own axe by stock removal. As a hand tool it is really poor since the blade is so thick behind the edge. The handle is set into the head with a huge metal wedge - it's so wide that I believe it has to be a T cross section. It'll have to be removed and replaced with a new wedge since the handle was loose when the axe was purchased - when you stick blade into wood and apply force, you can feel slight looseness: soaking in antifreeze has solved problem temporarily. The handle was varnished and so dangerously slippery when wet, but a propane torch easily burned off the varnish and an oil finish solved that problem.

Conclusion:

Quite simply - I got the axe to learn through fixing it up. Have a look at a really good axe and you will see that the blade shape is quite complex. It's not just two equal flat bevels leading to an edge. This makes an axe far superior for chopping but does reduce some of it's potential as a hand tool for planing etc. I'd like to see how a simple flat bevel edge makes out.

I wish I'd photographed the axe with the original edge but here it is with the start of a real edge. There's a long way to go..

A short axe is a wonderful tool replacing heavy knives, hatchets, planes - you name the task! Given that a good one will give a lifetime of pleasurable work - in contrast to cursing one's tools, it's false economy to go cheap. I expect to learn a lot from playing around with this cheap axe- but I sure don't expect to get a good axe out of it.

Bad stuff with axes:

  1. Poor temper. When you cut across grain with an edge it gets blunt fast if not fairly hard - even with green wood. Not much you can do to find out without using or buying from trusted manufacturer.
  2. Thick blades just don't chop well. Even a heavy axe will have a blade thickness of 1/4" - 2" behind the edge. We never think of an axe as a tomato slicer but it would work well.
  3. A lot of axes now don't even have hickory handles - or have a super cheap grade of wood. Look closely, especially if there's a lot of paint covering the wood.
  4. Paint or varnish on handles becomes slippery when wet and has to be removed before protecting the handle with an oil finish.
  5. These days even expensive axes may have handles out of alignment or poor grain. You sure have to look through a lot to get a good handle!
  6. Good sheaths are hard to find and you will probably have to make your own.

Update


I finally found a local supplier who carries Iltis axes. The bad news is that all I saw had misaligned heads or poor handle grain. I sure liked the metalwork though. So I'm still waiting on getting a Gransfors.

I did get a bench belt/disc grinder for making knife handles so I've been busy with the CT axe. Grinding down the bevels is a long process! There's no real effort involved but you have to be careful not to let the blade heat up so it's an aweful long job. Naturally once I finished with the bevels then it was time to go to work with a large angle grinder to put a concave into both sides of the blade behind the bevel. It's an interesting project but one certainly not worth doing if time is a consideration.



If you have questions, criticisms, or things to add - email me please.


Jimbo

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