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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In my previous article on the Floating Shelves from The Container Store, my focus was primarily from a woodworker/furniture maker type of view. During a couple of conversations I had about the article yesterday, I thought it would be useful to provide some additional information relating to the actual install/attachment choices to the wall, and how this dovetails into design choices.
When you read my previous article on this topic, you likely notice I chose 26″ as the length for my shelves. Now this could have been completely arbitrary, but it wasn’t and I’ll share with you what helped me to decide on this length.
As a bit of background, this type of shelf has the most strength when it is attached directly (or indirectly) to the studs in the wall. Just so I don’t leave anyone behind, the studs are usually 2″ x 4″ boards (actually sized 1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″, and the narrow side is what usually is against the drywall) spaced somewhat evenly throughout a wall, that provide support for the materials above it (like the roof and framing for the roof), as well as what the drywall (or other wall materials) can attach to. Different house builders may space the studs differently, throughout the wall, and a common range is between 12″ on center to 24″ on center. (This means 12″ from the center of one stud to the center of the next stud, or the same for the 24″ version, but just twice as far apart). Some may be wondering how they can tell what they have inside their walls, since its completely covered already. Thats a good question! The easiest way, and what I use, is a battery-operated tool called a stud finder. Shocking, I know. These tools have come down in price quite a bit over the last 20 or so years, and you can find them in many stores. Some of the new versions also have modes you can choose that alert if there is an electric wire in the near vicinity as well as a mode for deep scanning, just in case a thicker drywall was used or there is more material between the stud and the tool. The stud finder basically sends out a signal and checks to see if it bounces back, which it will do if a stud us under the tool.
There are times that the stud finders can provide erroneous information, so here is what I do, before I start any drilling. I scan the wall in the area I’m planning to install my shelves, with my stud finder, and make light pencil marks relating to the two edges of any stud I find. Most stud finders either beep or have a light that displays when it first discovers a stud. This is the first edge so make a little pencil mark. Continue the scan and you should see the indicator light/beep go out or stop, which is the other side of the stud. Make another light pencil mark. After repeating this across the area for my shelves, I can decide what length shelf will both look good and will stay within the guidelines of the shelf-hardware manufacturer. I like to add an inch to each end of the shelf, over the stud dimensions, so with my 24″ on center studs, my shelf is 26″ long. You may like to have a couple of inches added onto each end, rather than just one, like I did.
Now, I take a thin awl (looks somewhat like an ice pick) or a very thin nail, and push it into the wall (or you can drill a very small hole, using one of your smallest bits) between the two marks that indicate a stud. Remove the awl or nail. I take a paperclip, unwind it so it is somewhat straight, and push it into the hole I just made, to see if I am hitting the stud, which is not always the case. Recently, I tested one hole and the paperclip hit nothing but air. It somehow just barely missed the stud. If you do miss, check your marks again, and test again towards the center of your marks, which should be successful. This just helps provide feedback, so you have a solid shelf. The shelf mounting hardware comes with screws as well as wall anchors (a conical piece of plastic, that is pushed into a previously drilled hole in sheetrock, providing very light weight support when there is no stud involved), but the weight the shelf can handle is diminished fairly dramatically if you don’t mount the screws into the studs.
When I have the solid feedback from my paperclip, I can prepare to drill the pilot hole(s) in the studs. Look for a drill bit that is the same size as the shank of the included screw, which will create the proper sized hole, while leaving enough wood for the screw to bite into. Before marking the second stud’s hole, put a level across the wall from the first hole, and mark your second hole when the bubble shows its level. This is the best way to end up with a level shelf. Now you have the second stud marked, repeat the process and you’re almost home.
The attachment screws included require a phillips screwdriver to install them. As a note, if you start to install one of these screws, and you reach a point prior to full depth where it is too hard to turn, remove the screw and think about re-drilling with the next larger drill bit (some bit sets advance by 1/64″, which will likely make the screw drive properly, but other sets move up by 1/8″ or so which is too coarse and may leave the screw too loose) and then re-installing the screw. If you find the screw is too loose, after re-drilling, you can glue a small wooden toothpick into the hole. Wait until it is dry, then see if you can drive the screw in and have a snug fit. If this fails, you can either buy some wooden dowel material to completely fill the previously drilled hole, or you can patch the first set of holes and try again in a nearby region. The size of the washers that comes with this kit, give you almost an inch of coverage out to each side, so you could effectively let the washer hide the first hole if you can safely drill in that range to the first hole.
When you have your holes drilled, with the screws and hardware attached to the wall, it is very simple to finish the install. I place one back bracket and front bracket onto the shelf, and slip the attachment piece down onto its mate that is screwed to the wall. I move on to the other side and repeat that same process. If you try to apply both back brackets, and then both front brackets, you’ll need at least one more hand than most of us have. Seriously, it probably can be done, but I’ve found working on one side of the hardware at a time works much easier for me.
After both sides are attached, you can shift the shelf around while pulling on the wire cables, so you can orient the shelf so it is parallel to the ground (or even so the front is slightly higher than the back, which can prevent items from falling off the shelf). At this point you are finished with the install and you can do one of two things. Start placing your cool nick-nacks on your awesome shelf, or call someone to show off just how great you are at installing a floating shelf!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this project and might check out some of my other articles, both here and at Highland Woodworking. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
A few months ago my wife and I stopped to check out some things at The Container Store, and while there, saw something that looked very useful. I know, I know, that could easily categorize just about anything in that store. Well, the specific item we saw was a kit that attaches a shelf to […]
A couple of nights ago I went out to my shop to update the “clamping” jaw of my dovetail vise. I previously had a 2″ x 2″ piece of Maple running the length of the vise (centered in the vertical plane), as the clamping jaw, and to hold well seemed to require too much force, […]