Here I Am Preparing a Vaughan Tiny Hatchet for Bogdan

In order to properly set up one of these tiny hatchets, a lot of work is required. Here, I'm using power tools such as angle and belt grinders which require EXPERIENCE to use without serious injury or wrecking the temper of the hatchet in seconds. You'll notice things that don't look too safe. The thing to remember is that the final edge wasn't put onto the hatchet until the very end. Until then, it wouldn't cut paper... It has to be that way to preserve the edge temper - and of course for safety...

So What Are We Up Against?

It looks nice enough until you look closely at the factory bevel...

And closer..

It's amazing to realize just how much metal has to be removed from this tiny tool before it will chop. A superlight hatchet is soon to become much lighter! On the positive side the profile isn't bad - just too thick and crude.

We begin by grinding the bevel where we want it to make a thinner but wider bevel starting a little over half and inch back from the edge. Again look at the thick original edge and poor factory grind.

Normally I'm not above taking a small triangular file shopping with me when I shop for axes. I got the Vaughan's from an online dealer and needless to say when I took the file to the factory edge I was pretty disappointed to find the metal soft. Once you get beneath the surface, though, it's darned hard! A person is into a lot of work with files, so I used an angle grinder, water to cool, lots of time, lots of care. I profiled the bevel I wanted but I DID NOT try to put a sharp edge on at this point. That work is not for an angle grinder and simply cannot be done without affecting the temper. The sharp edge was put on at the end and in fact I deliberately bluntened the edge with a belt grinder to remove soft weak steel.

It's tough to work on a handled hatchet as opposed to just the head - so first I looked closely at the end grain. This is good enough. If it hadn't been, then I would have removed the handle, worked on the head, and fitted another handle later.

As is seen clearly in this picture the Vaughan replacement handles are much thinner - so that might be a point to consider if one likes the original factory fitted handle. A point to notice is that the replacement handles are the old fashioned "flame hardened" finish. That's soon applied to the factory handles with a propane torch too - to take off the varnish. Both factory fitted and replacement handles come varnished and my recommendation is to remove the varnish, even on the replacement handles that one intends to use later. Let them dry naturally, which won't take too long with handles of this size, so that when fitted later they will stay tight and not shrink. The replacement handles are only $4 US despite a nice finish and coming with wooden and steel wedges. It's worth getting a few when a person orders a hatchet, since the tiny eye means they will be needed eventually. All the handles I've seen so far are at least decent in grain. So:

  1. Shipping can be expensive from Forestry supply - include a couple of spare handles when a hatchet is ordered. You'll never get handles made for $4!
  2. Remove the varnish on the spares and let them dry naturally. Oil with tung oil only after fitting.
  3. One soon gets used to the factory fitted handle on the hatchet, but at first one might be put off with the thin handles. Give the thin handle a chance, as it decreases the overall weight, tucks neatly in a belt - and eventually you will get used to it.
  4. With handles this tiny - or even on the original hatchet, one is likely to see things like warped handles so that the head doesn't line up too well. As with a big axe, you should be able to sight down the edge and see the handle line up perfectly. With a handle this size, you can use steam from a kettle to allow the wood to be bent back into line.

The big problem with the Vaughan hatchet is that the eye is so tiny that the handles will need replacing. They won't be as fragile as a person would think, but they will loosen and given the double steel wedges in the factory hachet - that means replacement. I'd figure a season's heavy use between replacements. It'd be nice to "get more mileage" out of the handles. A trick does exist and that is to file some tiny grooves from front to back of the eye. This type of grooving locks the handle in nicely and used to be a factory thing - actually forged in. Here's a picture of such grooving/ribs - and it's on a Vaughan head of all things!

Don't overdo the grooving on the tiny hatchet - not much is needed and you don't want to weaken the steel around the eye, as this little tool is likely to be subjected to a lot of batonning!

Next I looked at the profile and checked the symmetry - to see how much work would be required.

This is the bit we are interested in. Do the concaves match, or do we need to take note for special grinding...

When you look carefully and imagine the end result, you quickly see that the concaves on the face will have to be deepened. This is outside of simple file capability, and why power tools are needed - at least if you want to finish in under five hours!

Before actually starting, I marked the area for making a wide bevel.

Here we see the bevel coming into place, and you can also see that I'm lining up the slope of the bevel so that it matches the widest part of the head at the side of the eye. The bit just below the Vaughan stamp. Let's not get into axe naming... Yep it works out well, but problems are seen by the scratches on what is supposed to be a concave. Unless we deepen the concave, the hatchet is likely to bind.

As you can see, the hatchet is still very blunt! The edge is VERY THICK. Do not try to put anything like an edge on at this point! NO NO NO. Or in case that isn't enough for you - if you put an edge on at this point with an angle grinder - it's time to order another hatchet or two...

Now I put on a few scratches with some passes of the angle grinder so that reflections don't bother us. I've outlined three main areas:

  1. The bottom part below the dotted line is the wide bevel. This is essential to real chopping and splitting with a hatchet this tiny. "Gosh", people are saying, "Even my GB mini doesn't have a bevel that wide!" If it did we wouldn't be getting into all this work to convert a Vaughan!
  2. The concave isn't critical - it just has to be deep enough. Naturally the hatchet will look like junk unless you match both sides and polish it...
  3. The dotted line shows the transition between the edge bevel and the concave. It must be very consistent and polished. LOTS of work goes into this part, both with power tools and later by hand to hone it exactly even. Any lack of care in this will reduce chopping efficiency dramatically, and affect how well the hatchet can be used to make fuzzies. In short this hatchet can outdo most knives in whittling fuzzies due to it's acute and consistent bevel. It just takes work and care - and more work and care.
  4. The ramp up to the widest part of the hatchet head. This has to be matched to the edge bevel and be very consistent. Again lots of power tool and hand work! This long polished gentle ramp is what makes the modified Vaughan so good at splitting wood when used with a baton. LOTS more work goes into this section than a person would believe. The whole concept of this hatchet is a day to day cutting tool - but in the end a last ditch survival tool. For that a person needs to be able to split big wood. Unfortunately the GB Mini has too steep a ramp - but a person having one might still benefit by hand work in polishing it. It cannot be modified to work like the Vaughan - so don't try. As is evident in the picture, that steep ramp gives the need for heavy pounding and eventually the eye will warp.

Just to be clear - that's not a put down of the Gb mini. The mini is made to have the thickest handle possible on a tiny hatchet. Some people want that, and the design is a masterpiece. A thin blade and thicker handle make the steeper ramp necessary - it can't be any other way. A person simply uses the mini to split thinner wood, such as long conifer branches, so that the steep ramp won't be a factor. All blades are specialized and purpose driven...

It takes a lot of time to grind the concaves, because the angle grinder is being used on a large surface and you don't want the metal to heat up. Lots of water cooling breaks, and patience! You also have to keep the concaves even on both sides.

I'm using a new 50 grit pad, so big scratches are in order. As you can see in the ext pic, though, once you change the direction of grind, the scratches polish out. It'd be nice to use finer grits, but don't be tempted unless you have lots of skill and experience. Finer grits will generate heat faster!!!!!!

Here I am with the hatchet clamped to a table and taking lots of light passes with the angle grinder. Don't be worried about the clamping, since the passes are VERY light. The less heat generated the better! So the hatchet isn't going to fly away..

And in detail... I'm not taking too much care with the handle. Some new Vaughans ship with thick handle - it's actually thicker than the head so it has to be sanded down thinner close to the head to use the hatchet for splitting big wood. The replacement handles are all the old skinny ones..

We're sure not done yet! But a person who doesn't do this all day long and have real equipment needs to use a hand sanding pad to show spots where everything isn't consistent. Lots of hand work, then regrinding, more hand work, more regrinding at this point!


No for lots of belt sanding with 80 to 320 grit followed by 3M belt. The tough part here is that I work without a platen to hold the belt flat - so a bit of experience is need to keep everything even. The thing to remember is that every bit of nice easy belt sanding is followed by more hand sanding to check consistency. Lots of time goes into this bit!

Time to start ont he handle to remove the varnish and labels. No nice varnish remover here - we work fast with a propane torch!

Then a bunch of scraping and later more burning and scraping. Later with sandpaper, everything comes up looking like new - just not now it doesn't!

At this point, I'm ready to work on the edge with belt grinder and sanding pad. The edge is put on and a sharp edge it is! It just takes lots of time! Again - it takes lots of time to get everything consistent. I was going to include a paper cutting pic but that would be showing off. Probably four and a half to five hours of work are shown with the pics. Unless a person is well set up with industrial grade tools and more than a few axes and knives of experience - well the project is a five hour adventure. The adventure isn't done, the burning of the varnish and heating of the wood showed a bend in the handle developing. It'll be good enough to practise with, and with an eye as tiny as in this hatchet - easy enough to steam back into line. I'll do that if I have time, and I'll be including a spare handle anyway. So what's left to do now is some more handle sanding so that the hatchet looks, OK - Bogdan will have to sand it suit his hands of course. Then a little polishing with a rubber pad and some green buffing compound, a few pics and it flies. there will still be some hand polishing to do, Bogdan, but that will help pass winter nights.....

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


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