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Tool Talk Discussion Forum

Re: sharp ax

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Stan in Oly, WA

07-16-2013 23:28:16
174.31.204.126



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I don't know anything about using an ax as a razor, or a skinning knife, but in terms of just using it as an ax how much difference does it actually make whether it's as sharp as it's possible to get it, or less than perfectly sharp? I really don't know. I know that it makes a huge difference to use the sharpest possible chisels, block planes (when I used to use one of those), razor knife, kitchen knife, etc. But does it make so much difference to sharpen an ax using a seven step process and finishing up with a leather strop, as opposed to, say, just a careful session at a bench grinder and a final polish at a belt sander with 320 grit? Would I notice a distinct difference in performance if I was using it to chop wood or tree roots, but not using it to shave?

Stan

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TimV

07-17-2013 06:32:30
142.105.255.121



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 Re: sharp ax in reply to Stan in Oly, WA, 07-16-2013 23:28:16  
Stan: yes, you would notice a considerable difference--an axe that has been properly sharpened will need much less effort to do the same amount of work, it will re-sharpen easier, and it will be less susceptible to damage. Also, when you say "chop wood or tree roots", please note that those are typically two distinct uses for an axe. Traditionally, a double-bit axe has the two sides sharpened in two distinct fashions--one side "keen", or shaving-sharp, and the other side "stunt", or with a blunter bevel and not to the same level of sharpness. The keen side is used for felling trees or chopping clear wood, and the stunt side is used for chopping roots, limbing, occasionally splitting kindling, and other tasks where it's more susceptible to damage. Most axes today come with very poor edges, incorrectly formed bevels, second-rate steel, and in general are just not very good tools. Of course, in today's world, most work that was once done with an axe is now done with power tools, and even then the average person in an average day has little use for an axe, unlike the days when wood was the primary fuel and building material, and so the knowledge and appreciation of that knowledge has slowly dwindled. Trust me, if you have a good axe and a poor axe and spend an hour using each of them, it will become immediately apparent what the extra time spent doing the sharpening will gain you--there's no comparison between a good axe properly sharpened and a poor one poorly done, and even a poor axe can be considerably improved by properly shaping the bevel and edge to reflect the type of work you plan on doing with it.

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Harold Hubbard

07-17-2013 15:59:37
198.228.201.169



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 Re: sharp ax in reply to TimV, 07-17-2013 06:32:30  
Not mentioned is that, sooner or later a dull axe will glance off the wood instead of biting in, and probably bite your leg.

Frustration at the dull axe will make this more likely to happen.



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Stan in Oly, WA

07-17-2013 08:58:38
174.31.204.126



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 Re: sharp ax in reply to TimV, 07-17-2013 06:32:30  
Tim,

Thanks for your interesting and informative response. When you say "if you have a good axe and a poor axe and spend an hour using each of them", I guess that gets to the heart of the matter. I'm not sure I've ever spent a whole hour using an axe, and if I have, it's been more than 40 years ago. I have several axes which I'm beginning to realize fall into the category of tools which I like and respect, but actually have little or no use for. Others I own which also fall in that category include a peavey, a brush hook, several draw knives, hand planes, braces and bits, and probably a dozen or more others which I can't think of right now. All I can say is that I'll be pretty well set up for hand tools if we ever go back to pre-industrial conditions.

Thanks,

Stan

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TimV

07-17-2013 11:41:48
142.105.255.121



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 Re: sharp ax in reply to Stan in Oly, WA, 07-17-2013 08:58:38  
Agreed and understood--that's why I mentioned it. I, on the other hand, tend to use hand tools, including most of the ones you mention, quite frequently, as in many cases I prefer them to the modern equivalent. It's often quicker to grab a hand tool for a short job than round up a power tool, find gas/oil/extension cords/etc., set everything up and then take it apart and put it away afterward. Examples include a hatchet with a homemade handle and sheath that stays behind the seat of the truck and gets used frequently to brush out the rural roads and trails I travel and a bit brace with a countersinking tip that stays permanently in it and hangs on my shop wall for quick one-or-two-hole jobs. To each their own, but I find considerable enjoyment in using and maintaining older tools, and in keeping the knowledge of their use and care alive.

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Stan in Oly, WA

07-18-2013 11:31:09
174.31.223.215



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 Re: sharp ax in reply to TimV, 07-17-2013 11:41:48  
Tim,

I thought I was old school for still using power tools with an extension cord.

I still use non-power hand tools, too, just maybe not to the extent you do. I commonly use handsaws, coping saws, keyhole saws, miter saws, etc. rather than the equivalent power tool---particularly for a small job. I've probably used a small, sharp bow saw for hundreds of jobs where another person would probably use (misguidedly, in my estimation) a chain saw. It's easy to take up a tree or ladder with me, can almost always be used with one hand, starts every time, doesn't kick back, and it's wonderfully quiet. I still nail things together when that's faster than using a nailer, and sometimes when it isn't. However, I feel that the knowledge of how to use those kinds of tools is going to die with us.

Stan

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Mike (WA)

07-17-2013 10:34:01
69.10.199.42



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 Re: sharp ax in reply to Stan in Oly, WA, 07-17-2013 08:58:38  
If you're trying to split wood, a sharp ax is the last thing you want- needs to be blunt enough not to stick in the wood. That's about all most folks use an ax for these days (even limbing is better done with a chain saw). Splitting maul is better suited to bigger and tougher splitting, but I'd still rather have a dull ax for easy-splitting wood- not so much weight to swing around.

Even better is my neighbor's wood splitter. . .

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