Axe Handle Knob Thread

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by Glenn Bailey, Sep 14, 2020.

  1. Glenn Bailey

    Glenn Bailey Gold Member Gold Member

    120
    Jun 1, 2017
    Need I say more? I'm having a hard time finding a centralized resource describing and evaluating pros/cons of knob choices on axe handles with the historical changes over time. I think there's a cultural (at least regional) aspect of this as well that goes beyond bit (single v double), function and price in production.

    I wonder if the knob style and handle type (straight v curved) needs to have as strong a relationship as is seems.

    So, we all know that 'pics sell' on the forum, so some (very limited) examples to start the conversation below.

    I wish Steve Tall was still active here to learn us all on this topic...

    These are from the 40's, single bit curved handles, standard for the time I think.
    [​IMG]
    standard modern single curved handle. Lots of meat left for customizing (House Handles).
    [​IMG]
    standard modern straight double handle (House Handles) again.
    [​IMG]
    random chaos, surprisingly homogeneous (OK, lots of House Handles).
    [​IMG]

    So, please pile on the knowledge! I have a handle coming that I will share that spurred many of my questions (old company, new-ish stamp, old school shape...guesses will be entertained) as well as Lane's new video (about time) talking about knobs on Russian axes. What do we know? What are your experiences? What did I miss? Thanks for any and all insight!
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2020
  2. cityofthesouth

    cityofthesouth

    Jan 29, 2014
    I think what is "right" pretty much boils down to what feels right (subjective) and what looks right (subjective, to include regional styles - because I think it really is a matter of style). And then I think the "why" some look the way they look boils down to the skill and/or amount of effort by the maker.

    The number one thing I look at and spend considerable time on when I make handles is depicted perfectly in your photographs. Since they are oriented the same in the top two pics I'm gonna use the words top and bottom. The "top" curve leading into the swell matches the "bottom" curve leading into the swell in the vintage handles. It is two separate curves in the new production handles (the smaller handle is actually pretty decent but the upper one is rough). I'd call that "wrong" by what is "right" in my eyes. The rounded off swells doesn't look attractive (or maybe for some it does) but it is probably totally functional.

    If the consensus is that handles have degraded in overall quality throughout the years I would chalk that up entirely to the diminished use of axes in general. If those two things were graphed together, the lines on the graph would likely match nearly perfectly.

    ETA: Those Russian axe handles are awesome.
     
  3. jake pogg

    jake pogg Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 20, 2015
    Glenn,neat topic,i'll be very interested in what everyone thinks.

    You don't state here the limits of "historical",but i'd presume you mean the American segment of axe history?
    In Europe until fairly late handles were straight and knobless,with some exceptions of course,but very generally speaking.

    Cityofthesouth,thanks for your thoughts.I think that you're an accomplished artist of the haft form(my favorite,in fact,i've yet to see hafts approaching yours even remotely in harmony).
    You're very much right probably,the decline of the importance of use of the tool,the skill itself and the entire cultural aspect have been steadily rolling downhill,for decades,and of course the form of hafts reflects that.

    (A factoid i recently read:Collins was the first company to sell their axes already hafted,1823,apparently.
    (i'd imagine that the factories producing handles must've changed things a bit,creating some mass influence of certain shapes?)

    I'm not sure what you guys refer to when you mention "russian" axes,but "traditionally"(the last 200-300 years of reasonably documented history) the axes of Russian empire had no nob,or very rarely at best.
    Sometimes a very gradual swelling towards the butt,but normally not even that.

    But thanks,yeah,good stuff.
     
  4. Glenn Bailey

    Glenn Bailey Gold Member Gold Member

    120
    Jun 1, 2017
    I'll answer more later, but the Russian axe reference was about Lane Packwood's (aka Bushcraft Sisyphis on youtube, co-founder of Lamaca axe) latest video where he compared a pair of Russian axes. One of them had a beautiful knob, the Fenix Drovosek-2.
     
  5. Glenn Bailey

    Glenn Bailey Gold Member Gold Member

    120
    Jun 1, 2017
    Thanks COTS and jake, I'm going to pull out a few comments for response hoping others will pile on.

    "If the consensus is that handles have degraded in overall quality throughout the years I would chalk that up entirely to the diminished use of axes in general." Can we agree that we may be in the middle of an axe renaissance? Maybe not due to the need for use, but new companies are popping up which means that there is a market. And handles are part of that 'boutique' market. There may be something to be said for the new market and their thoughts regarding the knob and it's function and design.

    "You don't state here the limits of "historical",but i'd presume you mean the American segment of axe history?" Jake, you subtly exploited a weakness in my question, and that is separating the knob from the handle. I was hoping that this wasn't limited to US, or even European knobs. When I wrote that, I was thinking of the French handle, and all of the Facebook comments in the usual groups calling out some US folks thinking that their patterns are the only patterns (etc). My hope is this will include as many styles, new or old, as possible.

    With pics!
     
  6. jake pogg

    jake pogg Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 20, 2015
    Thanks again,Glenn.I think you have an Excellent plan for the topic,and i'll try to avoid my usual scatter-brained angle on things(please don't hesitate to tell me where to get off;i too miss Steve badly...not only for his encyclopedic knowledge,and superlative research skill,but also for him often calling my b.s.,i learned a lot from him....:(...).

    Couple images i pilfered from a friend who's better than me at digging around Swedish museum database(https://digitaltmuseum.se/search/?q= yxa&aq=type%3A"Thing"&o=0&n=944)

    Sw.mus.2.jpg
    Sw.mus.1.jpg

    Regarding these above i'll make a general note:possibly,all tool handles have started out straight and unadorned;but at some point became curvaceous,and aesthetically pleasing as a part of their design.
    But different people came around to that at different times.
    Those Swedish axes above are typical(i think,though cannot say with certainty)of the general run of their older axes.
    Later,possibly in connection with working for the American market,that has changed.

    But their close neighbors the Suomi(again-in my estimation only)have gone all curvy and knobby much earlier...(several "whys" there,maybe...).

    Separately about the American axe hafts(arguably the most curvaceous ever,some bordering on flamboyant):I hear tell that the competition among the gazillion makers during the Golden Age of American tool-making was if not the cause,but at least one of the more powerful driving principles of that event.
     
  7. jake pogg

    jake pogg Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 20, 2015
    Who Really takes the cake in knobbery though it's the French,i think.
    Their many types of "doloir",a bench or side-axe,have a truly almost obscene knob:)

    Here's a fairly average one(they get Way bigger yet:)

    Doloir.jpg
     
  8. cityofthesouth

    cityofthesouth

    Jan 29, 2014

    Absolutely. When I started posting here the enthusiasts were a small dedicated band of users and historians (and many of those guys I learned from don't post much anymore). At that time no one made a great handle anywhere commercially. To me the handle was a vital piece to the puzzle and I started making my own. That's changed for sure since this hobby has exploded. And I think that's awesome.

    I obviously support handle style variations because I don't even have a single style I adhere to, and I think that was pretty typical regionally in America and the rest of the world. Sort of the way there are a bunch of different jungle machetes across the globe even though many of them are used for similar tasks on similar flora. There is tradition to consider, there is personal taste, there is pure function, and I vote for at least as many handle variations as there were head pattern variations. About the only functional aspect of the swell to consider is, does it keep the axe in your hand? Lots of "fawn's foot" ends are clipped with the notion that you would have a flat spot to re-seat the head should it come loose. Well, that might in fact be the case but I suspect it wasn't much of an issue for people who used and maintained their axes. Point being, I don't think there is a specific "function" to knobs and other swell decorations, but there may very well be an ergonomic function to the tip of the fawn's foot. I think, through the making process, that knobs and octagonal flats and other variations were the direct result of the making process. I can envision a guy making a handle in the usual way, putting in the flats to get the dimensions just right and asking himself, why not just leave them? They are kinda nice and saves time. Same with the swell. I learned that the swell is the last part of the process because having a chunk of wood on the end to whack makes hanging the axe easier and prevents checking. And again, I envision a guy asking himself, why not leave that knob on the bottom? Might protect the handle from cracking if it gets dropped or it kinda looks neat or it saves time. Form often follows function so I think it stands to reason. And a whole bunch of other guys probably made handles in a totally different way and their handles came out differently.
     
  9. cityofthesouth

    cityofthesouth

    Jan 29, 2014
    Thanks! I appreciate that. This made me think I should create my own pattern. Wonder how that would catch on?
     
  10. jake pogg

    jake pogg Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 20, 2015
    Anything you make will be superlative,maybe even better if attempted to systematize it,i can see that.

    Inasmuch as catching on,i'm not sure.(But what or why would i know of current cultural trends,i'm here tucked away in a very far-off corner of nowhere?).

    Among the general rise in interest in all things Axe,I do intuit a regrettable lack of interest specifically in older working(felling especially)axes.
    The Use of axes i think is still lower than the more general,cool-factor shade of interest.Bling-wise,and employed in a more ambiguous fashion-a bit of splitting,a bit of chopping,general trend towards universality,and lack of concrete axemanship.(maybe "gentrification" of axe-related skills?)

    Meanwhile,cityofthesouth,i think you excel in those older Working patterns in particular,they're longer,and very clearly purposeful;to appreciate those one would have to invest some time and work into Understanding,appreciating those shapes for what they really are.
    An intelligent user,with critical thinking well developed,with deeper,keener sense of a nice axe!

    But,in spite my doubts,here's to seeing more of those!!!

    :)
     
  11. veeteetee

    veeteetee

    24
    Aug 9, 2008
    The Finnish contribution from "Metsätyökaluopas" ("Forestry tool guide") from 1940: https://postimg.cc/FY8sqFff

    The handle knob ("ponsi") is seen as an important part of the haft, mainly because it prevents haft from slipping in use and also gives a good gripping point when carrying the axe.

    Beautiful Finnish style hafts can be seen in Markku Malinen´s axes:
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2020
  12. cityofthesouth

    cityofthesouth

    Jan 29, 2014
    Actually, I think you're right. Here in the states I think the boys axe is considered a large axe, especially in the outdoors community where axes are probably seeing more use than anywhere else.


    Those Finnish handles look great. It's so hard to tell "thickness" from pictures because it's hard to judge the size of the head, but they look nice.
     
  13. veeteetee

    veeteetee

    24
    Aug 9, 2008
  14. Glenn Bailey

    Glenn Bailey Gold Member Gold Member

    120
    Jun 1, 2017
    Great points about straight handles. I guess we can't have this discussion without covering slip fit handles v fitting from the top. Most of the slip fit axe handles I see are on smaller heads, but just weight doesn't explain railroad picks (and the like) being on slip fit handles. Maybe this is choice #1 when considering an axe handle knob.
     
  15. Glenn Bailey

    Glenn Bailey Gold Member Gold Member

    120
    Jun 1, 2017
    Agreed on every point. If it's cheaper, and we can market it as an improvement, do it! I worked for a farm here in Vermont for a few years. The owner was clever. He learned quick that the more 'natural' your produce looked, the more people would pay for it. So, garlic, onions, all root veggies, don't bother clipping the greens, it's more work for us and people will pay more for it still attached! (this doesn't explain why House Handle charges extra for no lacquer, but that's another discussion). I'd add that I think some (modern) producers have put a 'maker's mark' on the flat end of the handle, so a venue for marketing flare?
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2020
  16. Glenn Bailey

    Glenn Bailey Gold Member Gold Member

    120
    Jun 1, 2017
    Now that's what I'm talking about! More pictures please!!
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2020
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  17. Glenn Bailey

    Glenn Bailey Gold Member Gold Member

    120
    Jun 1, 2017
    Wild!
     
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  18. Glenn Bailey

    Glenn Bailey Gold Member Gold Member

    120
    Jun 1, 2017
    BTW, I kinda want to rename this thread "Knobbery", but I'm afraid we'll only attract knob snobs.
     
  19. Glenn Bailey

    Glenn Bailey Gold Member Gold Member

    120
    Jun 1, 2017
    I was searching for some pics of the Walter's knobs (I was remembering that they were fairly unique), and came across this Bladesforum thread, Knob End Handles (https://www.bladeforums.com/threads/knob-end-handles.1250002/), started by COTS 5 years ago! I should have revived this thread instead of starting a new one. Sorry for missing that COTS.
     
  20. cityofthesouth

    cityofthesouth

    Jan 29, 2014
    That's funny I had forgot about that and apparently let it die too. Square_Peg made up an awesome handle too. I actually ended up getting another example of an old knob end that had been broken off - I don't even remember now where it came from but it was virtually identical save for the octagonal feature. As far as I can tell, an octagonal knob end handle is still a relatively unusual animal. I have to assume that was the original handle and Keen Kutter had some connection to Wichita and I live in Kansas. So it would make sense to find Keen Kutters around - not that I find many old axes around - not that I ever look real hard.
     

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