I’ve been using quite a few different types of hatchets / axes lately, and many of them feel decent enough in my hand, but one of the older handles is top notch for me. The range of handles are from a number of makers that even the casual user would likely recognize, but the one that stands out for me, is a hickory one in my old Plumb hatchet. Other than the handle on my older Sears hatchet, which is fairly round in cross-section and unfortunately feels like it would be in a lower quality hammer, the rest have some aspect of similarity. These all have a cross-section that is somewhat oval (a bit flattened) or perhaps even leaning towards teardrop in shape, which I find much better than a round cross-section, at least for a hatchet/axe.
The handle in my old Plumb hatchet is much more “delicate” in grip girth, but it has been up for the task. I’ve used this hatchet for a number of years, and it was my grandfather’s before it made it to me, and it’s still rocking the original handle. Pretty impressive for a slim little handle!
When I find something that both feels great and works well, I take as many notes as possible, to help determine what it is that lends to the overall excellence. If applicable, I’ll replicate the design to see how it behaves, and how much time it requires to make by hand. This new version can end up as a replacement for the original, if needed, as long as it feels good in the hand. You never know when you might swing and unintentionally damage a handle, no matter how long its previously lasted.
I made a simple pattern for this handle, using a previously used Priority box from the Postal Service, as the box was of decent size.
I measured the dimensions of the existing handle, and found an off-cut in my bin that was close enough to call a match. I honestly didn’t know what type of wood I’d chosen (not 100% sure even now), as the majority of the piece had a dark colored and very rough cut exterior. I used a pencil to trace my pattern onto my blank, and quickly cut it out on my bandsaw. This was the only piece of powered equipment I used to make this handle. After cutting the blank close to my pattern lines, as well as then diving in at the pommel, and cutting a very light taper to create some swell at the end, it was obvious the grain was not nearly as straight-grained as the original hickory version.
From this point forward, I used a draw knife, my flat and curved versions of my Lie-Nielsen spoke shaves, a carving knife I made last year, along with a couple of chisels and scrapers (one was a purpose-made card scraper, but even though the other was a bit makeshift, it worked wonderfully for very light cleanup).
I find I have a tendency to work much more cautiously when performing the first of a given process, and with finding the blank lacked pure straight grain, I made sure I didn’t bite off too much with the drawknife. Even using the drawknife with the bevel down, as I did on this handle, you could dive into the grain, splitting away so much wood that you’d ruin the planned shape. On this handle, I also wasn’t sure whether I might end up going with an octagon faceting rather than the continuous curve of the original, but as I gradually approached the final dimensions, I decided I’d stick to a good likeliness of the original.
After using the scrapers, I applied a coat of Watco’s Danish Oil in the natural color, which provides a small level of protection as well as enhancing the wood grain. I also decided to sit the handle outside on the hood of my car, during the midday sun, to see if it would get a sun tan. Some woods are known to change in color, with direct sun light exposure, but I’m not sure whether this unknown species really changed all that much, if any. I took before and after photos, and it wasn’t completely obvious to my eyes.
I hope this might spur some of you to try making a handle or two for yourselves, and you might just find you can tweak them so they fit your hand better than anything you’ve ever purchased.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks for stopping to check out this posting!
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I drove up to Homestead Heritage (608 Dry Creek Rd., 76705) in Waco, TX today, as it was the first day of the Lie-Nielsen Handtool event. As usual, Lie-Nielsen have two of their workbenches onsite, as well as their tool line, ready to hold, feel and see how they behave on wood, as well as a great staff ready to help customers with all facets of their visit.
One specific new item was on my radar, the new honing guide, which is built to the high-standards of Lie-Nielsen. I know almost everyone has used one of the ubiquitous inexpensive side-clamping honing guides before, and they can work just fine; especially after spending the time “tuning” them up. No tune up needed on the finely machined Lie-Nielsen version, which is completely obvious as soon as you pick it up, and the tight tolerances said to me “I’m a high-end tool”! The honing guide is made from stainless steel, brass and bronze, so rusting is not an issue.
The honing guide comes with the standard set of jaws installed, but Lie-Nielsen also offers other jaw sets, to handle specific portions of their tool line. The other jaw sets available are the Mortise Chisel jaw pair; Chisel jaw pair; Long jaw pair; 30-degree Skewed Jaw Pair, Right; 30-degree Skewed Jaw Pair, Left; 18-degree Skewed Jaw Pair, Right; and 18-degree Skewed Jaw Pair, Left. Remember this honing guide and jaws are made to handle Lie-Nielsen irons/chisels, so don’t expect them to work with every make of tool that needs sharpening, just so that is clear.
Guest demonstrators at the event are Dowd’s Vintage & Antique Tools, Texas Heritage Woodworks, and The Society of American Period Furniture Makers.
Saturday, December 5, the event is open from 10a.m. to 5p.m.
Homestead Heritage has also extended it’s annual Homestead Fair through Saturday, December 5, 2015, and it opens at 9a.m.
There is a lot to see and experience at one location. Go check them out.
Thank you for stopping by, and as always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
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