Archive | June, 2016


“Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

Vince Lombardi Jr.

I heard this quote from a very talented local carver. This crystallized my ponderings on perfection and why I had disliked it so viscerally when applied to craft. If you believe the last thing you made is perfect, then that’s it. Your work is done and there is nowhere further to go. The flip side though is that it can be hard not to see fault in everything you do and get overwhelmed by it; often in the past I have driven home thoroughly disheartened by a tiny aspect of a tool that to my eye ruined it completely. And the next morning struggled to find this terrible flaw.

I like this quote, find it reassuring, thank you Grant.

Last post showed the axe I forged on a course, I was really pleased with it; however when I came to try it out I felt that the handle was too long, using it at full length made it feel a bit floaty and imprecise, as I suggested at the time it is a bit light for its size and a longer handle didn’t really cure this. So I used it to  carve another, by the time I had finished the new handle I largely come to grips with the old one, but this one feels right immediately, not after 10 minutes use so it is a step forward.

I have also included a picture of my hammer handle one week in; I took it to Barns where I was running an axe making course, really impressive set of axes came out this time, hopefully I will get some images of them to share soon. I had a fair go with it then and then and did a short run of  axes back at my workshop; managed to drop a red-hot head on the handle and burn a notch in right at the weakest point, the handle isn’t really right on this either; it feels great when I hold it at full length and I get the impression that vibrations are not transmitted up a thinner handle. However at times I really like to choke up on a hammer and when I do this I am gripping the a section that is too narrow for my hand and this can cause real problems. I’ll probably keep the handle for another hammer and make a new one. You can see why I love ash though, it starts off looking very bland but very quickly the porus grain fills and it takes on a whole new character, there is a difficult teenage period when the ash grain is neither clean or fully filled and just looks dirty but with hands like mine it doesn’t take that long.


Axe and hammer a week later


And the new heads, a few subtle tweaks and variations in the designs, a more boldly incised pattern and new, hopefully superior steel, it forges nicely and as far all the readings tell  me the heat treat has worked well, but I won’t know for certain until I put a handle on one and see how the edge holds up in use. But which one? always in the past when I make a batch there is one that to my eye stands above the others, this batch I am still undecided, really I want to try them all.


First three

Axes and Adzes, Again.

I had a great day last week with Richard and Jules Heath, they came to forge axes. It has been a while since I have taught axe making in my workshop, concentrating on larger groups at the Green wood guild in London, and a new adze course at Westonbirt, see my courses page for details. This time they were aiming to make a head each in a day, this seemed easy enough so I decided to forge an axe alongside them. On a course I will typically start off a head to give everyone an idea of what we are doing but rarely finish them off; and if I do try they often end up going wrong as I am actually concentrating on my students 6 axes rather than my own.

This time though I decided to make a much more extreme version of my carving axes. The blank was around 2 oz heavier but the techniques for forming the eye, lug and throat of the axe were identical. My blank was on the right.


Next we marked out where the eye will be slit; this is done cold. I have been in two minds about this for a long time, it is much more accurate to mark out cold but I do think that it is shame that the first forceful blows on the steel of the day are not done under heat. However accuracy is so important at this stage that it overides my aesthetic concerns.

marking out

Finally into the forge.

first heat

And slitting the eye, Jules was concerned that his tennis elbow would preclude his ability to make an axe, but as you can see from the picture both of his hands are taken up, I am striking with the sledge but Jules is definately in control of the preceedings.

eye slitting

When it came to forging out the my axe I tended to use the powerhammer to speed things along. I am drawing out the lugs on the eye.

cheating on the powerhammer

Back to the sledge and drawing out the blade on Richard’s axe.

flareing the blade

At this stage we run out of pictures and jump to their finished axes, I carried on completed forging on mine whilst they were doing the heat treat and some of the grinding.

Here we have Richards head.

Richards axe

And Jules’.

jules aze

I great day that I throughly enjoyed, Jules and Richard are well known green wood workers and I always find that these skills transfer well to forge work. It was really liberating making an axe alongside them, I decided to have a play and see how far I could draw out the edge. The past year has been focused soley on production and I enjoyed making this so much that the next day I went on to make a couple of rounding hammers, I had used tools like this to finely control the flow of the steel to get the maximum edge length from a relatively small piece of steel; it ended up a fraction over 7.5″ and  1 1/2 lb ( 675g)

When I came to make the handle I fitted one of my temporay handles using a long wedge and carved the handle for the axe head with the axe head, wordplays like that in action please me immensely. On a more practical level whilst it would have been quicker roughing out with a drawknife (or bandsaw and linisher if I was really willing to sell my soul.)  it was really useful to try out the axe and see what I liked about it and what needed changing, the handle I had put on turned out to be too curved so I altered my design to account for this, also the head felt a bit light considering how much potential edge could be used to hew with so I put a longer handle to allow it to feel more powerful if need be. I only made the head as an exercise to see how much edge I could tease out of the blank but ended up really liking it however I still feel that anything over 5 1/2″ inches on a carving axe is overkill.

handle underway


However there are certain features that I like about this axe that will subtley show themselves in future, less extreme runs that I produce. The handles on the hammers I made very thin, I wanted to see if this would help reduce the shock back up my arm when working harder grades of steel, will be interesting to see how they hold up; they certainly won’t look this white for long. I doubt I will ever put them into the mix of my teaching hammers as they would easly break with a misshit. Also I tend to purposely make teaching tooling with a bit less care than this; it is not that I want my students to use inferior tools (and most of the differences I am talking about are asethetic not functional) , just that I know that the tools are going to get a fair beating and I find it very hard to let go of a tool that I have lavished alot of attention over. It would not be fair for me to be wincing every time a student slightly mishits a tool and marks it so I make sets up that are a bit more robust and rustic than these.

axe finished

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