Archive | Tools

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.

blanks

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

Axes, adzes and reamers

It feels like most days I receive emails asking when I will start making axes again, finally I have some news. Firstly though a quick update, two months ago I crushed my thumb in some machinary and it has been very slow to heal, I am still having to bind it up with duct tape at work and it has slowed me down considerably. It was quickly apparant that production work would be too taxing so have been concentrating on making, then testing new tooling and refining a few designs, some new, some old. I have also finished off an order for Lie-Nielsen, tools for another course that Peter Follansbee is teaching. This has meant that my website has run dry and wait lists are very long but I am back into production now and stock should filter through to the site in a couple of days.

Some of my tooling has been aimed at refining the way I forge axes, originally the idea was that I could make them quicker, but as soon as I tried them out it became apparent that I can now forge more accurately and cleaner than ever before, I could rush through and do them faster but I have decided not to take this route, the end result is that axes aren’t actually coming out any quicker but they are the best I have ever made, I am also testing better steels so the edge holding is going be enhanced. I decided to reinforce the point that these aren’t bashed out at speed by putting some subtle decoration on them. So far I have made a couple with handles and masks and another pair as heads only. The finished ones are quite extreme, rather closed eyes necessitated very curvy handles, I got a bit carried away on the paler one and ended up putting more of an adze shaped knob on, but it feels good in use. The wedges have been left long but I would expect to trim then down after a few weeks use.  The next pair of heads were more conventional and will be fine on straighter handles. It was great to be forging axes again, and a joy not to have my eye on the clock all the time which often happens with pure production runs.

pairoaxes

 

loadsaaxes

 

One thing I have found with axes is that they are pretty forgiving when it comes to handles, after a few minutes you can get used to quite different handle geometries. It should be said though that I go to a lot of trouble to make sure all my own axes swing the same, this way I can swap straight from one to another without any break-in period needed.

Adzes however are very different, get the handle to edge geometry just a few degrees out and they really won’t work well. This was brought home to me a while back when I steepened an edge that kept rolling, when I got back to the bowl I was working on it was immediately apparent that the edge now held, but the geometry was wrong.

Paul Hayden runs chair making courses at Westonbirt and over the years I have known him he has bemoaned the fact that it has become more dificult then impossible to get an adze out of the box that is suitable for hollowing chair seats. His brief was quite specific and I came up with a design that seems to tick all his boxes, except to my eye the aesthetic, but that should progress in later versions. These carve beautifully on a  fairly short, straight handle, used two handed. Very different to the bowl adzes I am used to, the inside bevel though is not ideal, as it is not so easy to sharpen. Next versions will explore if an external bevel can carve as smoothly.

Finally I have made the tooling for these reamers for Barn, they seem to work well but when I go down to London to for an Axe course this weekend we will spend some time testing and refining grinds.

adzesnreamers

Then, as I said a short run of spoon carving tools to go to the States, handle making underway.

woodworkin

And the finised batch, with the two pattern handle tools in the foreground

allfinished

My next priority is to get fully back into production to stock this site; however as time presents itstelf I will be doing some limited runs of axes and later adzes, these will be done on my terms, so no special orders will be taken. This current batch is already spoken for and when I have decided how I will be sellling later batches and finalised specs I will update again here. So, progress of sorts!

 

Aspiration vs Perspiration

This post is about the motivation behind my toolmaking. First and foremost there is the need to provide a living for my family and however idealistic I may sound later on there are economic realities that can’t be provided for by the feelgood factor of working with your hands. However, if money was my sole concern then I probably would be an accountant not a craftsman.

When making a tool the aim is to make the best that I can, no concern about time taken or price, it can take years to get a tool to a point that I am really happy with it yet still some tools stall at this point as it becomes obvious that they are going to be too expensive regardless of how good they are; I won’t reduce quality to come in at a certain price point.

In Maine this year I used a wonderful shave horse that Lie Nielsen had made, asking when these would be in production I was told a familiar story, they were too expensive to make, still with the way Green woodworking is taking off in the States it wouldn’t be a great to surprise to see it back in production in the future.

As to processes, my first love is to forge steel. It is important for me to do this rather than grind it or have it lazer cut. In the past I have been selling blades only and will continue to offer these but recently have been completely finishing more of my tools. My preferred method with handles is to cut them green, although some finishing needs to be done when the wood is dry.  As an example I will take you through a knife I took on as a commission a few months back, contrasting it with my preferred methods of making carving knives

This knife was full tang and not really suited to forging so I drew out the outline on a piece of steel and cut out the shape.

 

IMG_7893

I drilled some holes to take to balance the knife a bit better, as this is not something I do very often I ended up not being very happy with the hole placement near the front of the handle, so filled them with weld, unhappy with the welds another bar was marked out and cut, the blade pictured will probably end up as scrap.

IMG_7894

The scales ( wood either side of the full tang ) needed to be bone dry, a pair were cut from Yew and a pair from Spalted box.  I was unsure if the box would work but it was my preferred option, they were cut oversize, then dried, finally they were flattened on a sander to make a good fit on the tang.

IMG_7892

The blade was heat treaded and ground, the box scales survived drying with only minor warping and cracking the latter fixed with super glue.  Everything glued up using some cool mosaic pins that I dug up.

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Finally it was sanded and oiled, it came out well I think, but there are lots of makers that can do this sort of work and for me was very time consuming, largely due to my inexperience in using these methods of construction. The price I charged for it compared to the lost production time meant that this knife actually cost me £1200- which made it abundantly clear that I can no longer take on one off commissions!

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This is the way I prefer to work- steel is cut roughly to shape

IMG_7895

It is then forged to size, in batches- this I find tricky to get right, if the batch is too large I will damage my elbow as I like to forge hard and fast and the steel I use is very tough, too small a batch is not efficient 20 in this size is about right I feel. You can see how effective forging is: the blades are bigger than the blank ( well obviously they can’t be but you get the idea) compare this to all the wasted steel on the stock removal knife.

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Then handles, green ash, cut to length, split with a froe and in this case roughed with an axe. IMG_7900

Final shaping is done on a shave horse although some cleaning up was done with a knife.

IMG_7901

 

I like 12 sided handles as octagonal tends to feel too sharp to most people meaning that the corners need to be sanded down. The contrast between forged steel and crisp shiny bevels play well against carved handles, I have also been experimenting with different woods and staining as the aesthetic is important to me; a tool that lifts the spirits inspires you to do better work.

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It is also deeply satisfying to use and develop my own tools to do the woodwork with. I could use my powerful linisher to rough out and finish handles at a good speed, but it would be noisy, unpleasant work requiring ear, eye and lung protection. The way orders are stacking up it seems likely that I will be either outsourcing my handles or directly employing someone to make them. I want them to be made this way, if a job is being created it should be one I would want to do myself. It would be disingenuous of me to embrace and promote the dust free ideals of unplugged Green Woodworking and then employ someone to rip out all my handles on a linisher.

A few provisos about the video-  The quality is poor as our camera is ancient. No power was needed so I set up at home, which made a pleasant change. My starting point was split wedges of ash. In this instance all shaping was done on the shave horse, as the ash was  pretty dry I could crack off large sections early on when shaping with the drawknife, it is pleasing working this way as it tells me exactly which way the grain is running. In the second sequence my new drawknife, code named PMPY,  allows me to cut the facets and deal with any unruly grain without having to flip the blank continually. It actually works slightly better with slower deliberate strokes,  but being videoed made me nervous and I worked it backwards and forwards a lot quicker than normally. You can hear how tough trimming the end grain was with a knife, if it is green it is quicker to do it like this, but when it is this dry it would have been better to clamp it vertically in the shave horse and use a drawknife. My much admired shavehorse was made for me by Lee Stoffer although some features were used from Peter Galberts designs, I love it, but a bit more fine tuning will improve my posture and comfort.

 

This post has been much longer than expected; I touched on batch size but will next time talk more about jigs and quantity production, hopefully soon!

 

 

Summer Plans

 

 

This Spring I decided to have a quieter summer, a chance to spend more time with my Family, so no bookings were taken for any of my usual Summer shows, and it felt good to know I wouldn’t be spending the next few months on the road.  Then an email from the States arrived inviting me to Maine to teach a course and put on an axe making demonstration at Lie Nielsen Toolworks. I went over with my daughter Jenn for the first two weeks in July. I would have put a blog post up about this but when we got home we promptly lost the memory card with all our photos on. We realised that a lot of  what I had done had been duplicated, I forged an axe with Roy Underhill and images of that popped up all over the internet, but there were a lot of images that I thought would never been seen again so I was so pleased when the card finally turned up a few days ago.

Two Georges

I spent most of my time working in this shop when I was at Lie Nielsen- these two guys, referred to by everyone as the Georges were great, George Stevens on the right and Old  (!) George on the left. This was the prototyping workshop, not production and was filled with wonderful old machines, lots of cast iron, hand cranks and exposed pulleys and gears. They were extremely welcoming and helpful, I was concerned as to how they would respond to me turning up and making lots of noise and mess in their workshop. Old George helped me with some cutting and welding and at first was a bit bemused by my seeming inability to measure anything – ‘ I need 10, or 12 at about…. this long ( wave of my hands)’ but after a week took in in his stride.

 

PG

 

Another slightly stilted photo of me, this time with Peter Galbert, behind us is the smoking detritus of a Lobster bake, lobsters and clams steamed in seaweed over charcoal. A fabulous evening at the open house put on by Tom Lie Nielsen, more about that in another post. It was so informative meeting Peter, we talked tools and bevel angles and immediately clicked; it was great to speak to someone with the same mindset as to how tools work. When I finally got back into my workshop I applied some of the theory that he had described in the use of his Travisher to a Drawknifelike design I have been toying with for the last two years, I had to re-vist my A- Level physics and draw out forces diagrams but all was clear and a couple of bends with the Oxy Propane torch and the tool was transformed. And yet it flies directly in the face of what we discussed about Drawknife theory in Maine! I got a copy of his book Chairmaker’s Notebook and I highly recommend it, doubt I will ever make a chair, but now want to.

 

A couple of weeks after we returned I had another email from Deneb at  Lie Nielsen. They needed, at pretty short notice, tooling for courses that Peter Follansbee and Jogge Sundqvist were teaching. These orders will take a lot of time, but it seemed churlish to refuse, I have met Jogge a few times and know that he uses my tools, and Peter has been very vocal in his praise for my work and was keen to have my gouges, twca cams and adzes for his bowl carving course, all these tools are handled. I make all my handles from green wood and it has been nice to spend some time in my workshop with clean hands.

GWW

 

I have a good stock pile of straight green ash and although it would be quicker to buy in copy lathe turned handles that is not the way I want to work. It also gives me a chance to use my tools in a production setting which tells me a lot about edge holding and handle design and comfort. By chance I had lent most of my tools to a friend and the only axe I had was the one pictured, it was kept really for historical reasons as my designs have moved on from this early example, but I was really pleased to get re acquainted with it.  I would normally let them dry naturally before a final fit and finish, but time is extremely short and currently the micro wave is working at hard as I type this; every two minutes the machine pings and my youngest shouts out ‘Dad! Dinners ready!’ in a few weeks she might tire of this joke, but currently it is still fresh.

 

Dinners Ready

 

In light of this and other commitments I have- A course at Barns, a run of three shows in September and a Family holiday squeezed in I have taken the decision to shut my online shop for a while, it is no secret that I have difficulty keeping up with stock at the best of times but having a completely empty shop or turning up to shows with no stock to sell makes no sense at all.  I have, I suppose technically left it open so you can view what is on it but have reduced the stock levels to zero, I did also put all the prices to zero to make it obvious that no purchase could be made but the site then said ‘ This item is free!’ so I reset everything to £999 as a further deterrent to people trying to make a purchase.  On a positive note not having the shop open has brought home to us just how much time is spent packing and answering emails. Hopefully I plan on using this time to put up some more blog posts:  My trip to the States, some thoughts on my current working practices and ethics, and plans for the future, including axes and adzes.

New Stock of Carving tools

New old stock

With the last outdoor show of the season done and stock on my site built up  I was able to make some tentative runs on the tools shown above , nothing really new but a few little tweaks and some older designs that customers have been consistently asking to be put back in production, hopefully I will be able to keep up, although I expect the run up to Christmas to be testing.

I spent some time today photographing these carving tools for adding to the website, something I find a real chore. They have just gone up on the site, it really has been a hectic summer, I even uncovered a small cache of skew chisels made in May that were never uploaded.

Planning on forging axes and adzes this coming week, a couple of larger ones for me to try out on some Poplar that looks like it could make superb bowls, then a concerted effort to make inroads into my axe and adze order list.

Poplar

Chisels and Gouges

About 18 months ago I read a great article in Woodcarving Magazine, Michael Painter was discussing the design of tracery chisels, they looked interesting and I learnt a lot about their design . Using the principles he described I came up with my swan necked bowl gouges. They are a tool I am especially proud of as they are so different to the bowl gouges that other makers offer. One of the reasons I called them Swan necked is that I find these tools graceful and current alternatives are known as doglegs, which, well, aren’t.

I met Michael at a show earlier in the year and started describing the bowl gouges I had made; he firmly corrected me saying they were chisels not gouges  ( my view is that if I made the tool I can call it what I want, but thought it better to bite my tongue. )   he looked skeptical but I produced said tool and he was quite impressed, showing me the original tracery chisel that I had seen in the article he wrote. I took some measurements and we also discussed making some fishtail chisels. I enjoy trying something new and this was the result.

fishtail and tracery 1

The day I finished this set I had a phone call from a customer that had bought a bowl gouge from me asking  if I could make fishtail chisels, he sent an old one down that he had snapped the corners off- not all old tools were made from from perfectly tempered steel obviously.

When it arrived the next day it was interesting to compare  it to my new tracery chisel and the greenwood swan neck.

bowl gouge origins 2

They may look very different but the techniques to make them were identical,  shape and scale varied but it showed me how closely related the different branches of carving actually are.

I have been wanting to make a one handed version of my gouges, the same wide blade and sweep but more compact neck and handle. Here is the first attempt, it still needs more testing and tweaking but first impressions are good. But the part that really makes me happy is that I get it name it the Cygnet.

gouge

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