The day the hatchet stopped

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by Raymond1000, Jul 15, 2012.

  1. Raymond1000


    Oct 8, 2006
    When I was a teenager we lived in an old farmhouse with central heating. The center was a wood furnace in the basement. Vents in the floors let heat rise into the ground and second story. The house sat on forty acres of land, most of it woodlot.

    One of my chores was processing wood. I’d fell trees, limb them, and cut them into logs. The horse did the hard part, dragging the timber to the house for bucking. I usually used an axe for felling. It was good exercise, and let me practice my axe skills.

    In those days I was under the influence of George Sears. When backpacking I carried a small belt knife (not a Nessmuk) and a double bit hatchet. A close match to the one pictured and described in Woodcraft. Except mine wasn’t custom made. When cutting furnace wood, I used a hatchet to limb the felled trees. Good exercise, good practice.

    One day I was trimming branches when something deflected my hatchet. Right into my knee. My luck was in. The hatchet hit flat on, giving me a nice bruise. Had it hit edge on, that would have been a life changing event. Perhaps a life ending one, since I was out there alone.

    I continued to use a full size axe. And yes, I got a lot more careful about clearing swinging room before I started chopping. But from then on, for anything smaller, I retired my hatchets. My Nessmuk double bit languished. Instead I used a trail knife or a heavy machete.

    When instructing an apprentice I always say, “This saw doesn’t care. It will cut off your fingers just as slick as it cuts lumber. The safety must be what you provide.” Blades don’t care either, nor blunt objects. It’s not that big blades aren’t dangerous. They certainly are. I just consider them less dangerous than a pocket axe. The thing about a short axe is all that weight on the end. The very thing for which it is valued. All that inertia so far from your hand is hard to abort when a stroke goes wrong. It is easier to correct a trail knife mid-stroke. That is why I consider big blades less dangerous.

    Mind you, this depends on circumstances. I continued to use a rig-axe when stacking rafters. On top of the building there is nothing but blue sky to deflect my framing hatchet. And on a job site there is emergency care available.

    But in the woods? In an emergency kit? A full axe is fine in a truck kit, or your bug-out cabin. For a backpack kit? A big knife or small machete. For a smaller kit, a hunting knife and a saw. A kit for someone unfamiliar with hand tools? A hunting knife and a saw.

    Your mileage may vary.
  2. wildmike


    Nov 17, 2007
    Glad you came out okay.

    I have seen one man split his foot in half chopping kindling with a full size axe.

    I isn't the fault of the hatchet or the axe. It's the operator in nearly every case.

    Watching yourself and paying attention to safety is the key.
  3. HandAxeProMan


    Apr 9, 2011
    I agree wildmike. I have used knives, hatchets, and axes in varying environments and in different jobs. I have been a professional butcher and worked with explosives as a profession in the military. I still have all my fingers, toes, and major body parts. Remaining alert and putting safety first is the key to remaining healthy when using potentially dangerous or deadly things.

  4. Bigfattyt


    Jun 23, 2007
    I have been splitting wood my whole life.

    I have seen a lot of near misses, and hits too. We always had several chain saws running, and I have seen a man lay his hand open on a chain saw. We were at a minimum an hour from the nearest pavement. Up on the mountain.

    I have had my share of close calls with axes, and knives big and small. I have had my fair share of stitches too.

    My worst one, was a small pocket fixed blade I made my self. Severed a nerve in my thumb. 6 years later it is still numb. I can still use my right hand, but have a hard time releasing the mags on my guns!

    It was a small bobble with the knife. Not chopping, or slicing anything at the time either. Just going to set the knife down on a table.

    It can happen any time, anywhere.
  5. ljcsov


    Mar 2, 2012
    Speaking of safety, what is the safest way to buck a log? Standing on it? It between and behind your legs?
  6. thebrain


    Dec 12, 2007
    I too have had many close calls and my share of cuts using knives and hatchets .I also find a knife or machete safer for me as I often can stop them in mid swing without much effort ,on the other hand I have had many close friends have near misses using my knives and machetes as they don`t have the forearm strenght I have (everyday use of a hammer at work). I see what you mean about worry or a glancing swing with a hatchet scary stuff.
  7. Raymond1000


    Oct 8, 2006
    Our woodlot was second growth. I seldom dealt with logs big enough to stand on and buck. I stood with the log in front of me, feet apart and far from the swing zone. I chopped so a miss would hit the ground. Better to dull the axe’s edge than to lengthen my toe or shorten my leg.

    At the house, bucking with an axe wasted too much wood. I put logs onto a sawbuck. We had one of those overgrown hand saws. About five feet long with a removable handle on the far end. For thinner logs I used an old wood framed buck saw.

    If I was in a hurry I’d break out the chain saw. I seldom used the chain saw for felling. Nothing degrades an afternoon in the woods like their noise and stink.
  8. markv


    Sep 8, 2004
    nice overview
    working up timber for the stove.

    all good

    thanks for posting

  9. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    I'm with you there, man. [​IMG]
  10. ljcsov


    Mar 2, 2012
    Thanks for the bucking advice!
  11. cooperhill


    Nov 14, 2011
    I suppose you can get more momentum standing on top of a log but I never felt safe. I'd rather concentrate on my swing then keeping my balance. I stand in front of the log and dip down when I swing. This video is a good demonstration of some safe techniques.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2012
  12. Raymond1000


    Oct 8, 2006
    This. :thumbup:
  13. Grease


    May 10, 2012
    That right there is precisely why I want a kukri with a big thick tang. Gives you the weight on the end like an axe, but keeps it balanced for control.
  14. neeman


    Apr 5, 2007
    "The safety must be what you provide.”

    Well said
  15. Raymond1000


    Oct 8, 2006
    You may wonder exactly what I mean by a trail knife. I take my clue from B. F. Mason’s Woodsmanship, first published in 1945. It describes logger’s tools of the day, and how they were used. On the subject of BRUSHING, Mason says, “The camper’s preference in brush cutters is the trail knife—an oversized hunting knife with a ten inch blade, carried in a sheath on the belt. This is really a combination of knife and hand-ax, capable of cutting brush, felling saplings up to several inches in diameter, and splitting small firewood.”

    Modern examples would include the Cold Steel Trail Master, the Becker 9, the ESEE Junglas, and the Busse Battle Mistress. When I retired my hatchet I replaced it with a Marbles Trailmaker. Sometimes I used a short heavy Ontario machete. A long machete has no place in limbing felled trees. Again, that’s too dangerous.

    Why do I use a rig-axe when stacking rafters? Mostly I don’t. But sometimes it works out that the top corner of the joist end —already in place—sticks above the top line of the rafter. That’s when I trade framing hammer for rig-axe. Snug the rafter’s bird’s mouth to the top plate. Toenail it to the plate. Nail it to the joist. A couple wacks with the rig-axe blade cuts the proud corner down to size. That’s faster and less fuss than trimming the joist with a saw. And it’s an environment which is free of encroaching branches.
  16. blackoak


    Sep 6, 2010
    If it wasn't for chainsaws, most of the population would be living in a hole in the ground or a cave and wiping their butts with their hand.:eek:
  17. DayGlo_Koolaid


    Nov 21, 2011
    You wipe your butt with a chainsaw....?
  18. G-pig


    Jul 5, 2011
    Ever heard of a crosscut saw? Boy, lfe would be rough if we all used those things. Just think, it would no longer have the illusion of effeciency to heat your 4,000 Sq ft home w/ 40 foot ceiling with 15 cords of wood, and you might have to wipe your ass with 4 sheets of TP instead of 40.

    trust me, when the day comes where people ditch the modern quick and easy tools, people will be intellectually advanced (hate that word) enough to figure how to wipe without clear cutting. and that is coming from someone who is very pro tree cutting in general, I just hate to see it all flushed away (pun very intended =D)
  19. blackoak


    Sep 6, 2010
    No, but I do make a living with them. I use Charmin for that deed when available, if not John Wayne paper.
    Williamrage likes this.

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