Monday, January 5, 2015

A Good Axe for Carving?

Left to right, Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, GB Swedish Carving Axe, and Husqvarna Hatchet
Well, I was thinking about how to go about providing axe info for this upcoming presentation on woodenware. I own and use two axes for carving work and borrowed a third from a friend, but I don't feel like I've used enough different axes to say what's great.

That said, I have the Wildlife Hatchet and the Swedish Carving Axe from Gransfors Bruks, made in Sweden. I like and use both of these regularly as do many people. I bought them based on the recommendation of others and their reputation. Also, they come sharp, which many axes do not, which lowered the knowledge threshold necessary to get started.  I've not been disappointed. They have high quality steel and are well made as you'd expect but they're also on the more expensive end of the spectrum. I have re-profiled the edges a bit as I learned more, more on that later. 

For info on carving axes I'll refer you to this article, "Which is the best axe for carving, bushcraft, general use?" from Robin Wood in the UK. Most of the axes he discusses are available in the US as well.
Bit profiles, Same order as above.
Ok now that you're up to date its time to talk about that re-profiling. Mostly that involved flatting the bevel on the side of the axe that is against the workpiece. For right handed folks this is the left side when holding the Axe for use. The original convex shape is usable but the flat bevel provides much more control. I used my Wildlife Hatchet as it came for quite some time before I worked up the courage to change it to a flat profile. Lets just say it's quite a difference.

Pretty much the gist of flattening the bevel, as I understand and experience it,  is that it keeps the belly of the typical convex axe grind from interfering with the work and allows cutting with the face of the axe closer to the workpiece. This allows for different angles of cutting and the ability to cut a concavity on the work more easily. I think the axe also feels sharper since the angle of the edge is reduced along with the amount the axe starts to wedge, as opposed to cut, the work.

Here's an article that guided me in the flattening process. Scroll down to the section heading "Hewing Axe Refinements." You also notice a number of other fine axes here that we're not discussing but are good for this work.

As you can see above, the bits of these axes thin out substantially after the eye and come to a fairly acute edge. This is necessary for carving, or to some extent for an axe to cut at all. If the edge is too blunt a large amount of metal will have to be ground away to make it work properly, this can take quite some time.

One thing to keep in mind, and I think it's mentioned in one of the linked articles, is that it's probably best to err on the lighter side for the first axe. My first was the Wildlife Hatchet above, that comes in a bit over a pound. For comparison the other two are nearly two pounds. The difference in use is substantial, especially if you're starting out and haven't used an axe for extended periods. One pound is more than sufficient for spoon work and will tire you less. One recommendation I read somewhere is to choose a weight that you can use for 30 min without fatigue and I second this recommendation.

I think the axe work is one of the most fun parts of carving spoons and you'll be addicted to the axe once you use one, I know I am. 

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