spoon wood, hatchet work & safety

a few things tonight; none really furniture related. There’s some clearing of timber at the museum for a new pathway, and we were able to convince those involved to keep much of the timber out of the chipper. So I got a pile of birch branches the other day; and some holly today. spoons galore…

saved from the chipper


I don’t have a lot of time right now for spoon work; but I roughed out one each of holly and birch. I consider them practice for Jogge’s class in two weeks.  Here’s a hunk of the birch. First I hew away the bark along the proposed split, then I used a wedge and sledge hammer to break it open. It’s a nice crook, which makes a good spoon, but hard to hold for splitting. Fortunately I had just quartered an oak, and two sections of that provided enough resistance to the splitting until the thing opened. This was lunchtime today, then later tonight I hewed the shape…but no picture of that part yet.

bark trimmed


splitting the blank


This work, and hewing the canted rear posts for a wainscot chair I was working on today had me using several hatchets. I always think about safety when using a hatchet – I was taught good techniques about posture and safety when using these tools, and it has always stayed with me.

Recently Adam Cherubini wrote about tablesaws and safety – he was trying to lead a campaign to erdicate tablesaws from amatuer shops. An admirable goal; but pissing in the wind I figure. http://blogs.popularwoodworking.com/blog3/CommentView,guid,eb24a328-21fc-489f-9683-c3f8b9161496.aspx#commentstart  (wow – 33 comments there when I went to get that URL just now…Adam struck a nerve it seems. )

I don’t hate or love tablesaws; I don’t spend any time thinking about them one way or another. But, I do think about injuries whenever I pick up  a hatchet. I also think that if as many people used hatchets and axes as use tablesaws, the emergency rooms would see just as many or more grisly woodworking injuries. If I understand things correctly, you can go buy a tablesaw, come home & set it up, and start cutting. Maybe read the manual, maybe not. It’s easy for us handtoolies to get high & mighty (I have done it many times…) but the same story holds true for us – you can, if you have enough money, go buy a great hewing axe or hatchet, and come home & start cutting and drive the damn thing right into your leg.  Or take off Jerry Garcia’s finger with one..

So, for what it’s worth:

I’m right handed, so my right leg is dropped back a good ways; keeping it out of the path of an errant hatchet swing. Also speading my feet apart gives me a little more stability. Use your whole body in this sort of work.

I hold the workpiece either in the midst of the chopping block, or even on the further side of center…again, a misdirected blow will hopefully hit the block, not bounce out of the workpiece into my leg.

short strokes & sharp hatchet are the way to go.

In my shop, the hatchet is either in my hand, or hanging on the wall. the stump is right behind my bench, and the hatchet hangs right behind that…leaving it lying around can cause it to get bumped/knocked about. A falling hatchet is scary.

hewing stance


The only other thing I have to mention tonight is this link to Nicola Wood’s blog about the Kesurokai project happening now in Japan. I was quite honored to be invited to attend this thing – as it turns out I couldn’t go, but I am very much enjoying seeing  what’s happening with this crew…if you have some time, go ahead and read the posts on her blog. Experience of a lifetime, I’d say.


11 thoughts on “spoon wood, hatchet work & safety

  1. Thanks for the hatchet tips. This is the most concerning tool in my work (no power tools) so for a while I have been looking for advice on its use. Much appreciated. Every time I pick up the tool I think “my main goal is to not hurt myself with this-cutting the wood is secondary.” The stance advice is very helpful. Cheers.

  2. Jennie Says: Hatchet safety is inportant. I add two points. Before using, tap the end of the handle down on the chopping block. You will hear and feel if the handle is loose. Never use a hatchet if someone is even close to the plane of swing. Sorry to sound so imperious but do it!

  3. Thanks for the post and advise. I bought a cool goose wing hatchett in France a while back and am anxious to learn to use it without adding any scars to my collection.

  4. MS Safety approves…and is just finishing up a painting entitled, Spoon Carvers Tea…which promonantly features Gransfors Bruks’ Sloyd Axe which Wille designed. Simply the sweetest swing around.

  5. Hello,
    unfortunate as it may be, bringing your new axe home and going right to work with it is the only true option because as far as I know hewing classes are few and far between these days.


    • I wish all traces of mine removed from this site because in some manner they have been passed on to a third party and this was never my wish or intention.
      I find it highly irresponsible of the maker of this site, Peter Follensbee, to allow this breach of confidence. Maybe you should inquire into the true costs, or exactly what your giving up in exchange for your complimentary blogging service.

      A bit miffed,
      Don Wagstaff

  6. Kia ora,
    I was wondering if there is a reason to split from the crown end of the wood. My firewood experience would point starting the split at the root end where the grain is straight and less likely to be cross-fibred.
    Good points about the safety, any blow with an axe or tool of that ilk should just be using the weight of the tool from the moment of impact until it comes to rest although maybe in Peter’s case it is different when shaving but then there must be more control anyway. I was taught to drop my hand when splitting with an axe so that the axe travels vertically through the wood into the block not in an arc. In an arc the axe or hatchet can miss the block and end up in your leg or foot. I worked in National Parks for a long time and saw many trampers (hikers) bury the axe in the ground next to or just in front of their foot.

  7. Very interesting article. I have thought about getting a hatchet in the future, but honestly have not thought much about how to use one in a safe manor. My table saw, which I recently sold since my shop is really too small for it, was a tool where safety was taken very seriously (I am an amateur wood worker who likes keeping his fingers). I have a DVD class on table saw safety. You have provided a good reminder that every tool used for cutting needs respect and safety should always be a priority.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s