the week that was – two 3-day classes of spoons & hewn bowls at Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School. No daytime temps under 90 degrees F., mostly higher. The students hewed like demons, but were glad to stop at the end of the day… thanks to all the students & friends who came out & did such great work. Pictures with captions now:
It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about which tools I use for spoon carving. I’ve received some questions lately about axes/hatchets, so I’ll start there. First off, this ain’t joinery, these are double-bevel hatchets. The single-bevel hatchets I use for making flat stuff. these can do that, but they excel at hewing shapes, which the single-bevel can’t do – in my hands anyway.
First off – new to me – a Svante Djarv “Little Viking” hatchet I got through Country Workshops – http://countryworkshops.org/Axes.html (2 of these axes are from there, so you could just go read Drew Langsner’s descriptions…)
I like this hatchet a lot, so far. I especially like using a hatchet with curved cutting edge, and this one has a nice pronounced curve. I think it helps emphasize the slicing action of hewing. Might all be in my head, but it’s what I’m used to, and therefore what I look for. Drew’s table says 28 oz., and 5 3/8″ cutting edge. I wish the handle was a little thicker at its back edge, and at some point, I plan on re-handling this and some others. But I’m getting used to the handle that comes on it –
Here’s the next one when it was new – Hans Karlsson’s Sloyd Axe. I’ve used this one a lot, and recommend it to students & others who are looking for a great all-around hewing hatchet for spoon & bowl work. I’ve had it for 2 1/2 years, and it’s held up great. Lighter than the SD hatchet above, thinner “bit” results in shorter bevels. Many are drawn to the light weight, a heavier hatchet is sometimes tiring for people not used to them…
My thoughts about the handle are the same; I tend to like to make my own. And have intended to for this one, but here I am now 2 1/2 years later, still using this one with its original handle. I think it’s too thick right below the head – I took it to Alaska & the handle shrunk with the low humidity. Now’s my chance…
If I were on a budget (which I should be at the rate I buy hatchets) this next one is the one – made for & somewhat by – Robin Wood. Robin designed this hatchet with the idea of getting something for spoon carvers who aren’t necessarily going to spend the $200+ for a hatchet. It fills the bill nicely. Right now, it translates, with shipping, to about $80. http://www.robin-wood.co.uk/shop/the-robin-wood-axe/ (notice I didn’t talk about the prices of the other ones, but both of the above are over $200) – small, light, curved cutting edge. You could carve spoons with this hatchet all your life and never need another. But most woodworkers I know have more tools than they need…
The one I have used the most over the past many years is an old one by Hans Karlsson, no longer offered at Drew’s place…I like its long head – just a bit longer between the poll and the cutting edge than the modern HK one. But it might just be that I’m used to it, having used it so long. Right now, I am using the SD Viking one for bowl=hewing.
I don’t own a Gransfors Bruks carving hatchet. I have used them some, they’re nice. I like the weight of them. Drew’s page on hatchets has a good description (“hewing axe refinements”) of the bevel shapes and how he suggests correcting the GB hatchet. In all, I have 5 spoon hatchets right now, so am not hurting for another…but someday I’ll add a GB just for good measure.
I’ve had some more questions from readers about axes recently, so time to delve into this subject again. There’s lots of tools you can use; some better, some less-so. But don’t despair – the magic is not in the tools, it comes with practice. You can learn to hew with a crap hatchet, if you can make it sharp.
First off, for joiner’s work, my mainstay – I have shown several times that I like a hatchet that is large, heavy, single-bevel, and curved cutting edge. This one weighs 3 lbs 7 oz. and is about 7 ¾” along its cutting edge. Hard to find. Really hard.
Take note of the relationship of the eye to the cutting edge – for hewing flat stuff, this is the best scenario. Others will work; but this is the best.
What do I use it for? Taking rough split stock and preparing it for planing;
The Kent pattern (below) is one of the most common old ones you will find in both the US and the UK. Elsewhere, there are other similar tools. Nice thing about the Kent design is it’s symmetrical, so lefties can remove the handle, make a new one & insert it from the other side of the head.
Before anyone tells me that Gransfors Bruks makes a carving axe available as leftie or rightie – let me save you some trouble. They offer some of their hatchets right-handed or left-handed; but the eyes on these tools are centered on the head, not shifted over to one side. Their tools’ bevels might be asymmetrical; but these aren’t single-bevel tools with a properly placed eye. I have used one of the Gransfors Bruks Broad Axes – it’s a nice tool, but a double-bevel.
And for some reason, their axes and hatchets have convex bevels; for hewing, I like a flat bevel. That’s the principal complaint about the GB carving hatchet…Drew Langsner writes on the Country Workshops axe page how to fix a GB carving axe’s bevels; (file them flat) too bad they don’t just make it right
I also have a large Wetterlings axe, it’s nice. (called at LN the “broad axe, short handle”) A bit heavier than the GB broad axes; but good at removing a lot of stock… Lie-Nielsen sells a line of their axes in the US; we use some for spoon work when I’m up there. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/nodes/4085/wetterlings-axes
Some have shown me the Oxhead hatchet, from Austria. It’s a bit clunky; it will work. I would hacksaw off the nail puller/claw. It could be better; but for the money, it’s not terrible.
For the spoon work, my favorite is a Hans Karlsson hatchet I got from Country Workshops years ago. They have a new one now, I have one of these too, and it’s excellent.
I just ordered 2 new hatchets for spoon work; one from Drew and one from Robin Wood. I’ll let you know when they get here. Some readers have reported success at the German ebay site for old hatchets. A gamble if you’re shipping to another country, but they go for reasonable prices. I like to see old tools before I buy them, but that’s getting harder to do. So I wouldn’t want to pay a lot for a hatchet that way…
I know I’m lucky to have the hewing hatchets I do…I got mine from Alexander, and the legend is that Drew Langsner and Jennie (then-John) Alexander got them as partial payment for demos/lectures at Woodcraft back in 1979/80. I found this while down at Bob Van Dyke’s place this week:
– a 1971 Woodcraft Catalog, that listed the limited quantity axe heads they were then offering. Says the first 100 orders will be filled, but 9 years later, they still had leftovers? $12 must have been too steep a price…
Reggie Shaw, a left-handed blog reader, (he doesn’t read left-handed blogs…but is left-handed…oh, forget it)
sent a note that this right-handed J R Fuchs hatchet is for auction on ebay. I already have 2, and don’t have the money to get in a bidding war…but someone will get the best hatchet going. Lose that godawful red paint, and it looks ready to go.
While it’s true you can make either work, the single-bevel hatchet is ideally suited for hewing stock prior to planing it. Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises (1683) wrote:
“its use is to Hew the Irregularities off such pieces of Stuff which maybe sooner Hewn than Sawn. When the Edge is downwards, and the Handle towards you, the right side of its Edge must be Ground to a Bevil…”
Here’s my everyday hewing hatchet.
I was a bit vague last time about its configuration, and Robin Wood chimed in, helping to clarify some stuff. The back of the hatchet I often have called the “flat back” but it ain’t that at all. So I shot some views illustrating how it’s shaped. Think of it as a very large, very shallow, in-cannel gouge. Here is a straightedge held along cutting edge on the “back” i.e. the side w no bevel:
The benefit of this shape is readily apparent when you try to use one that is NOT shaped like this. Then the tool digs into the wood, and here it scoops the chips out. I next put the straightedge perpendicular to the cutting edge, to show relief in that direction as well. Some of this is the shape of the tool, some is exacerbated by honing:
I have another hatchet, same maker, JFR Fuchs, Cannstat, Germany, c. early 1930s. This one has a cranked eye, to keep your knuckles safe when hewing. This leans the handle away from the plane of action, without having to make a bent handle. I use this one particularly when hewing wide panels. Here the back of the hatchet is sitting flat on the board, and the handle is lifted off:
The shape of the back of the head is about the same as the previous.
BUT – you ain’t gonna find one of these hatchets in the wild. I doubt it anyway. Nobody gets rid of them. Mostly. When I recently discussed these tools with Drew Langsner, he said “probably the best hatchets ever made” or words to that effect. A strong & un-provable statement, but it gets the point across that these are mighty fine tools.
One type of hatchet you will find readily in the UK and US is the so-called Kent pattern hatchets. (A hairy-handed gent, who ran amok in Kent…) This one weighs about 3 1/2 lbs, about the same as the Fuchs…
Nice thing about these hatchets – you can find them. They aren’t expensive. They can work. and they are reversible for lefties. Knock the handle out, and put one in from the other end. Often the cutting edge is straight. I prefer a curve to the cutting edge. So do others, I didn’t do the alteration on this one.
Here’s an earlier post about some of the same tools:
I bought a new hatchet a few weeks ago….this lightweight model from Hans Karlsson. In the US, Hans’ tools come from Country Workshops, the school where I am sometimes student, sometimes instructor. see www.countryworkshops.org
I used it some just to test it out. I bought it as a spoon-and-bowl-carving axe. It’s quite nice for that. Karlsson’s tools are extremely well-made. Drew Langsner tells me it weighs 24 1/2 oz, and is 15″ long overall. Blade length is about 4 1/2″.
A few more shots of it:
The handle on this one is ash, some are listed in the Country Workshops’ site as birch. Hardwood either way I guess. This one has a tooled surface, along the idea of some of the Wetterlings and Gransfors Bruks axes. It’s not a hand-made handle of course…but not smooth. Here’s the text Drew wrote about it for the Country Workshops brochure
“The axe (head with handle) was designed by Wille Sundqvist. Overall length is about 14-inches. Bevels are symmetrical and flat; there no need to touch up the inner bevel. The balance is excellent and it has a lively feel during use.”
Note that the bevels on this axe are flat, unlike the Gransfors Bruks axes, which have slightly convex bevels. This axe really is ready to go when you unwrap it.
The hatchet is listed at $172.25 in the Country Workshops brochure…write to Drew if you need one. It’s a fine tool…
Now – going back to the most-common axe question I get – where does one get a single-bevel hatchet like the one I use in joinery work? Answser – I don’t know. Many tell me GB makes one, but I have only seen their single-bevel axe listed as a heavy, (about 7 lbs.) tool. As far as I know, their hatchets for hewing are double-bevels. Oxhead makes one, I have never tried it. I am dis-inlcined.
BUT – you can hew flat surfaces with a double-bevel axe/hatchet. The single-bevel tool is better, but the double-bevel will work. Here’s a video Chris Schwarz shot of me showing a few options, a large Wetterlings I got from Lie-Nielsen, another older Hans Karlsson, my standard German one, and a modified one by Alexander. (along with plodding old-timey music!)
UPDATE – Ha! Shows you what I know. Highland Hardware lists a Gransfors Bruks broad axe, righty & lefty, that weigh 3lbs, cutting edge 7″ – very similar to what my favorite axe is. The GB axe is over $300. So you have to mean it… here’s the #s from Highland Gransfors Bruks # 4823. Model 1900