Tiny Hatchets Part Two

Here I want to look at the extremes of what a person can do with them.

Splitting Wood

I sure learned a few things in the process of doing some real splitting. I've promoted the fact that a well set up Vaughan tiny hatchet can do a wonderful job of splitting if used with a baton. This leads to the question of how I know just how large a block can be split without the hatchet getting stuck in a block. Well that comes from experience, and is more an art than a science. Because the hatchets I'm using have a high polish all over - it's always been fairly easy to get them out. But I always expect a stuck hatchet and the answer to that is a wooden wedge and making one before starting splitting things which are obviously likely to give problems. Let's see how a big piece of wood is split with wooden wedges. That way everyone will see that it's not an impossible job.

The point of what follows is to show that a tiny tool can make other tools to get big jobs done - simple enough! For those who like big knives rather than a hatchet, please consider just how you would open the first split enough to drive wooden wedges in. Also it would be worthwhile to make a few wedges, because I found that while it was a simple and easy job with my hatchet, things aren't so easy with V ground knives.

Firstly the handy piece of hemlock, pretty miserably stuff to choose unless a person wants a challenge.

I wanted to see if it could be split along a chosen line rather than following an existing split which make things easier (far far easier). So I closed my eyes and drove the hatchet into the log, then pounded it in with a baton - a big baton. This opened enough of a split to drive wooden wedges into.

I soon learned that you need very thin wedges to be able to drive them in - and you can see by baton number one that a fair bit of force is needed. The good news is that the hatchet works great for splitting then shaping wedges.

Here I'm splitting wedges and getting ready to shape ends:

It took a bunch of wedges, and each one had to be pounded in turn - pretty time consuming and tide was coming in. But the split went half way, then it opened up a a natural split and I wedged it to see how much easier it was (lots!). Baton at left.

Here you can see the two splits by the line of the wedges. Yep I cheated and used a saw for baton and cutting wedge lengths as tide was coming in and we had to hurry a bit.

You can see that the wood fibres really hold together when you open a split rather than use a natural one, so the vaughan is needed to cut fibres.

A picture of the far end of log to give a better idea of size:

I don't usually walk barefoot - but I don't carry tape measures either so the runner helps to compare to last weekend's log.. Since it's 12" long it serves as a great measure. [I'd started off my splitting adventures using a large axe and a cedar log. The details are on the edged tools forum at Outdoors-Magazine.]

Part of the idea of splitting logs came from a comment in Ray Mears book about having to split a cedar on a British Columbia beach to make a fire drill setup. He said that the log was covered by tide. Well last weekend's cedar was still wet inside - you'd need one like this which only gets lower half covered by tide:

I wondered what was the minimal tool for splitting a log - even if you use wooden wedges you have to cut and shape them. While cedar is easily if opened up along existing splits - you need a hatchet that can really be pounded on to open a split enough to use a wooden wedge - in tougher wood. A big lesson was learning that it's best to have more wedges shaped than a person would think - before getting the hatchet totally stuck - but I managed and will know better next time.

Most outdoor books show pretty thick wooden wedges and those simply won't work. Lots of thin wedges is the key. The hatchet head is staying rock solid after the modifications - but I'm not sure if mine was - trying that stunt!

Pushing the Chopping Performance - I finally put together a Neolyth hatchet!

As with the above, this is just a summary of a post on Outdoors-Magazine. The reason I put information up there first is that forums exist for discussion. Obviously this - as with everything else I've written is just the start of things.

Being overly enthusiastic with prying yesterday, I managed to break the handle on the Vaughan. For some time I'd been meaning to put on a longer handle to try, to see if there were any advantages or disadvantages. Some years ago, Neolyth who was on many forums with us, came up with a new idea regarding hatchets. He ground the poll off a Norlund hatchet, ground it super thin, and then fitted it with a very long handle. Everybody will be thinking at first, that he just reinvented the trade axe or tomahawk - but the concept was to come up with a very light tool that could do extreme chopping - as in 15oz or less.

He had to do an immense amount of grinding to get a Norlund head down to 9.5 oz, so that with a 17" handle it would come out at 14.5oz. So I put a long hammer handle on the Vaughan. Then I gradually chopped, shaved handle, chopped. When I went out, the hatchet was 13.5oz, and when I came back it was 12oz.... I also came back with a few blisters due to my crude handle work..

I'd figured on the way out, that if I could chop 4" seasoned driftwood with easy light swings - but with far fewer chops than with the regular handle, that I'd be happy. So here's the first experimental chopping.

The head bites in so deep with light chops that a person tends to pry to pop chips and with a lot of leverage from the handle, that's not so great. But it worked very well indeed. The handle in this pic is still thick and makes the hatchet look pretty strange with little head on 16" handle.

But the chopping had gone well enough to warrant trying on a bigger stick. It's only 5" - 8" diameter despite perspective issues. And that's a non-alcoholic beer on the log, chopping is dangerous enough..

The effect of twenty chops on a bit over 5" diameter or 20 square inches of cross sectional area. This is the equivalent of two and a half 2x4s.

After another 30 chops:

And yet another 20. Notice that is notch isn't super wide or any little tricks - and notice that I didn't break the wood left at the bottom of the notch - and that that wood is supporting the overhang. Tough wood.

This gives an idea of how far the head sinks in with a light swing just using weight of head.

Here we get an idea of size of chips:

Not to get carried away, I'd also brought along a bigger Vaughan:

That doesn't take many chops to make an impression!

Chip sizes compared:

But it sure didn't take very long to buck up log with just about all work done by the little Vaughan. I'd brought along the Norlund too, and while it works better - it doesn't work 5-6 ozs better..

I was really impressed that the little Vaughan kept doing well as wood got thicker. It's only about 7" here - but that's close to 37square inches or 4 1/2 two by fours. A lot more work too, because of not really having room to properly open two notches.

So - look at the size of the slices with light chops!

Basically the hatchet looks strange and despite its weight would be more awkward to carry tucked in belt and such. The main issue would be the strength of the wood at the tiny eye - with a long handle especially a thicker one, it'd be easy for anyone without experience to put too much leverage trying to pry out chips - because it's really too acute a bevelled hatchet for the force imparted by even light swings of the longer handle.

For sure, though, Neolyth had a point. The simple point is that the only thing of comparable weight that could beat this is a saw. Less obvious until a person uses one, is how little effort is required due to the light weight of the tool and the light swings. My accuracy of chops was affected because I was changing the shape of the handle as I went - but overall accuracy is vastly better than I would have predicted for such a long handle.

If it were possible to get a 16" synthetic handle that would fit the Vaughan eye and make a stronger junction, then it could be a very practical tool for some people - or at least a fun tool to play with and learn from. Battoning with a knife would be be too time consuming on a log of that size as would using a small folding saw like a Laplander. A Sawvivor weighs 8oz and adds bulk. Carrying a saw blade is an option, but then you have to make a frame in order to use it.

I'm intending to eventually get to doing something very similar with a Norlund. I'll leave the bevels a little more obtuse to pop chips and fit with a 19" handle. That should give it enough velocity to bite deep and still pop chips. And eye is larger and so breakage wouldn't be such an issue. I won't be going to the extremes that Neolyth did because I want a strong eye for batonning use in splitting.

Don't be shy. Email me with suggestions for improvement, comments..


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