First page of the Craftsman archive.

Improve a nice old Hatchet

Posted by is9582 on January 1, 2016 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , ,

I have a few different hatchets from over the years, but the one I’m most partial to (now) is one that belonged to my grandfather, and was made by Plumb for the Boy Scouts of America. I don’t know the exact date this was made, but it looks to be in the 1930-1940 range. The handle is hickory (at least I’m pretty sure it is) and it is shaped so it almost looks delicate, but for those that aren’t familiar, hickory is very strong and has good resiliency.

 

Photo of the Plumb hatchet before any grinding.

Photo of the Plumb hatchet before any grinding.

 

This is so completely different than the first hatchet I ever had, which was the type where a block of metal was run through a press that stamped the hatchet out, leaving the head and handle, with the latter dipped into some rubber for a grip.

I hadn’t picked up the old Plumb hatchet in a while, and when I gripped the handle, I was immediately in heaven. It fits the hand like it was made for it, and feels great when in use. I also have a Sears Craftsman hatchet (ca 1985) that I bought after we got our house, that was just for small de-limbing and such. I took hold of the Craftsman’s handle, after just holding the Plumb, and talk about worlds of difference. The Craftsman’s was a bulky and thick handle (can’t tell what species) and even though it had a few subtle curves, was really almost completely straight and un-sexy.

 

The Plumb hatchet above the Craftsman hatchet, to compare handle shapes and heads.

The Plumb hatchet above the Craftsman hatchet, to compare handle shapes and heads.

 

Another interesting sidebar is relating to the heads of these two hatchets. If you tap the head of the Craftsman, it has a very bright and ringing “cling” sort of sound. The head of the Plumb hatchet is much more substantial and only sounds a faint high-pitched ring when hit. The crazy ringing of the Craftsman isn’t a huge deal, but it does tend to get a little annoying as it announces every time it hits, including when contacting the wood you are chopping. This is of course just a personal thing, but I am less likely to grab the Craftsman, for a number of reasons that are likely becoming obvious.

I’d noticed the cutting edge of the Plumb was pretty dull, and it was sharpened last at a crazy high angle. Even though this is a striking instrument, it seemed the angle was too steep to be effective. It was obvious to me that there was more metal to remove, than I’d want to attempt with a file, so I gladly took it to my Baldor 8″ grinder. I initially reground the bevel on both sides, matching the existing angle, just so I could confirm my suspicion about it’s bevel angle. I have an old stump in my shop and tested to see how the newly-ground Plum behaved by lightly striking the stump’s rim. It left a dent, but wasn’t very impressive. I wanted to re-grind the bevel, so it would work more as it was intended, but I didn’t want to ruin this family piece.

 

You can see the shining area at the very edge, which was the size of the original bevel.

You can see the shining area at the very edge, which was the size of the original bevel.

 

The Craftsman had a very similar bevel angle, from the factory, so I figured I’d make a test run on it first, just in case I was off base with my ideas. In a couple of minutes, I’d adjusted the bevel on the Craftsman hatchet, and it was amazing just how much difference this made in it’s performance on the stump. With this confirmation, I grabbed the Plumb.

I still had the rest at my grinder set for matching the existing bevel, so with the grinder turned off, I adjusted it to what looked reasonable to my eyes. I forgot to mention earlier that I handle sharpening of the hatchets in some ways just like I do with plane irons and chisels. If I don’t know the existing bevel angle, I always apply some black Sharpie to cover the bevel, so I can know where I am making contact. I applied the Sharpie from the cutting edge, back to where I planned the final bevel to end. When testing to see if the rest is set for the angle needed, I place the tool on the rest, and manually turn the second grinding wheel in the opposite direction it normally runs, and let the tool just kiss the wheel. I noticed the rest was still off, but decided to let my hand-eye coordination see what we could do. Since the original angle was so steep, I knew I had to remove a fair amount of metal (more so on the Plumb, as the Craftsman is thinner towards the cutting edge), and with my hand in contact with the tool rest, basically free-handed a very light pass. When I checked the progress, I saw the grinding wheel was hitting where I’d envisioned, so I made a couple more free-hand passes. I checked the progress between each pass, just to make sure whether I needed to remove more or not. I did exactly the same thing on the other side of the Plumb’s head, and then worked to blend it towards the cutting edge. On my final pass, on each side, I made a light pass that just reached the edge, all the way across the head. A wire edge (or burr) is created on the opposite side, as the edge is reached on the first side. I used the wire edge as my indicator as to whether I’d completely reached the cutting edge, on the second side. I have a nice  light near my grinding setup, and with the tool in the correct orientation, it was extremely easy to see the wire edge or lack thereof.

 

This is after completing the grinding to increase the bevel length, and cut so much better.

This is after completing the grinding to increase the bevel length, and cut so much better.

 

I applied some WD-40 and wiped it onto the whole head. (Be extra careful to move from the thick part of the bevel directly out towards the sharp edge, as side to side will easily bite you.)

I applied some WD-40 and wiped it onto the whole head. (Be extra careful to move from the thick part of the bevel directly out towards the sharp edge, as side to side will easily bite you.)

 

I tested the Plumb’s cutting abilities, in the same way I’d done with the Craftsman earlier, and it was nothing less than amazing! Still, I was a little concerned about the wire edge breaking off, during some chopping, so I wrapped a smallish piece of oak with some 800-grit sandpaper (just what I had close at hand, so not important it is this grit, but I wouldn’t go for anything less than 220-320). I was careful to keep my thumb and fingers, from the hand holding the wood/sandpaper, behind the cutting edge of the hatchet. I also made sure to pay attention to the angle, so I wouldn’t accidentally round over the cutting edge, and after working both bevels for a minute or two, there were no signs of any wire edge.

I find it interesting how it seems that my regular sharpening of my plane irons and chisels, really seems to carry over to everything I sharpen. I’ve gone through earlier periods when I sharpened the irons and chisels freehanded, but didn’t get consistent enough to work solely in that manner. I use one type of honing guide or another, for at least 99% of my sharpening now, but I believe the finger/hand pressure is still developing while using a guide. This hand control seems to carry across to other work, whether it is using and controlling a hand plane, or this free-handed sharpening of a hatchet. So, I say, keep using whatever works for you, and if you prefer to use a guide during honing/sharpening, you are still honing your skills.

Thank you for stopping by and checking out this article. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments, as I welcome them.

Lee Laird

 

Sharpening tip – Grinding

Posted by is9582 on May 17, 2012 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , , ,

I recently damaged an edge of one of my go-to chisels. It hit something hard enough to cause a small chip.  Even though I always check all of my wood for foreign objects, there can still be the odd piece of rock or the like, that doesn’t show up when using metal detectors.

With the chip, I knew my bench grinder would be the quickest solution, as I likely spend too much time trying to work it out at my water stones. I have a decent sized Craftsman bench grinder that is setup for quick handling of my turning tools, but it takes just a minute to shift it over to handle other edged tools. My grinder is an 8″ with adjustable speed, from 1725 to 3450. I’ve had it for a fairly long time, and were I to buy again, I wouldn’t worry about getting the adjustable speed feature. As long as you use a light touch, and wheels that are friable, you’ll likely not damage the temper of your tools. I personally like the new Norton 3X wheels.

Since the chip was fairly small, I set the angle of the rest so the wheel makes contact in the middle of the chisel/iron. I work with very light touch and don’t try to rush the process. Just remember, if there is a mantra for grinding, it would be “take your time”. I keep contact with the tool with a finger, up close to the working area, so i can feel if I’m starting to overheat the steel.

One tip I want to make sure to share has to do with how I know I’m ready to move on to the next stage of the process. I work the chisel’s bevel until I am just a hair’s width from the tip, so I don’t introduce heavy grooves from the wheel, at the tip. If the damage to the chisel/iron is significant, and not just a minor chip, I change my plans a bit. For these, I change the rest so it is 90 degrees to the wheel. Again, I use a very light slow touch, but with this technique I am ultimately blunting the chisel. I remove as little from the front edge, as possible, to get past the chip. After this is complete, I change the angle of the rest to match my intended bevel angle. As always, I will just take it slow and easy, gradually working up towards the very edge of the chisel. When a hair’s width away, I again stop this process, and move to my sharpening stones.

Some ask why I don’t take it all the way to the very edge, and I think that’s a fair question. The wheels I use, and many use, are usually between a 46 grit and a 120 grit. When you are working the whole bevel, and are closing in on the tip of the tool, it takes some time on the grinder. With this, the more time on the grinder represents the chance for more heat build up. The tip being so thin, just can’t stand much heat at all, before potentially starting to lose the temper in the steel. This is the the biggest concern, when working towards the wanted shape, say, after blunting past a chip. If the issue bringing me to the grinder, didn’t require blunting, I’d be more concerned with the size of that grit. If I grind all the way to the edge, I’ll have a lot of extra work on my water stones, to remove the grooves from the wheel’s grit. If I stop just before reaching the edge, I can quickly use my water stones to work the tip area, which is all that cuts anyways. It is all personal preference, and if you’ve already found a different technique that works, I wouldn’t change. For those who are either on the fence, having trouble, or just interested to try something new. give this a try and see if it helps your sharpening process, like it did mine.

Feel free to leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.