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 don’t know about you, but I’ve always struggled a bit getting a spoon/bowl knife “really” sharp. You know, wicked sharp, where it wants to cut the wood from across the room? I’ve taught loads of people to sharpen chisels, plane blades,…, but these were all tools with a cutting edge along a straight surface. As you well know, the spoon/bowl knives have their cutting edge along a curve, which is what makes them more difficult to bring to the highest level of sharpness.
A while ago I recalled how I’d made two accessories that fit a small, tight-radiused gouge, and helped me hone it effectively. So why not use a similar process for these curved knives?
I found a scrap of Pine (I like using a softwood, but you can use what you have available) that I cut into two blanks that were about 4″ long and 1 1/2″ – 2″ wide. This allowed some extra material so I could hold it safely, while I was honing the knife. On the first, I used my spoon knife (made by John Switzer @BlackBearForge on IG) to remove some wood along a portion of one face, until I had a recess that matched the curve of my knife. This was just a shallow recess, just so no one works hard trying to fit the whole of the curved blade down into it. On the second pine blank’s end, I pressed a section of the curved knife’s blade into the end-grain, and then removed wood until I reached the cut line (curved).
As you can imagine, both blanks were made to these shapes so I could apply some honing compound, and then hone the blade against them. Having the blanks/jigs matching the shape of the knife creates a wider contact area, rather than just a point, which for me helps stabilize the knife and “jig”. When I’d used a flat piece of wood (with some honing compound on it) to work the outside of the spoon knife, I could tell I wasn’t as consistent.
You can use whatever honing compound you’d like, or if you are needing to sharpen, rather than hone, you can apply a section of PSA sandpaper to the “jigs” internal / external curves. I like to use the Tormek honing paste on the “jigs”, that my Tormek T-7 came with years ago, as it seems to cut most metal quickly as well as bring to a very polished surface. You can pick up a tube at Highland Woodworking (a link to their website is over on the right side of my page, and full disclosure, I do get compensated if you purchase through that link) or a number of other retailers.
Here is a quick video I made to show how I am using the “jigs” I discuss above, but if you cannot view this, the direct link for Youtube is here (or you can copy and paste this info: https://youtu.be/qOlaTIEUAVM ).
I hope this makes it easier for each of you to make your spoon knife as wickedly sharp as possible.
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