An Ax to Grind - A practical Ax Manual.pdf

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United States
Department of
A Practical
Ax Manual
Forest Service
Technology &
2300 Recreation
July 1999
An Ax to
United States
Department of
An Ax to
A Practical
Ax Manual
Forest Service
Technology &
2300 Recreation
July 1999
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A bout the Author
Bernie Weisgerber is a historic preservation specialist
for the USDA Forest Service. He has been in charge of
the Northern Region’s Historic Preservation Team,
headquartered in Missoula, MT, since 1991. He
worked for the National Park Service’s Historic
Preservation Training Center before coming to
work for the Forest Service.
Bernie and his crew of skilled craftsmen
restore historic Federal buildings, often at
remote sites, using traditional technologies
and materials. The team’s projects often provide training opportunities for
other Federal employees and the general public, as part of the Forest
Service’s Passport in Time and Heritage Expeditions programs. Weisgerber
has twice been a guest craftsman on National Public Broadcasting’s This
Old House television series.
My Favorite Ax
Passport in Time and Heritage
Expeditions are part of the USDA
Forest Service’s Heritage Program
that allows the public to explore the
past on their national forests.
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An Ax to
A Practical
Ax Manual
Bernie Weisgerber
Brian Vachowski
Project Leader
USDA Forest Service
Technology and Development Program
Missoula, MT
8E82A42—Ax Manual/Video for Heritage
Site Restoration
July 1999
The Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, has developed this information for the guidance of its employees, its
contractors, and its cooperating Federal and State agencies, and is not responsible for the interpretation or use of this information by
anyone except its own employees. The use of trade, firm, or corporation names in this publication is for the information and convenience
of the reader, and does not constitute an endorsement by the Department of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be
suitable. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of
race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited
bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille,
large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at (202) 720–2600 (voice and TDD). To file a complaint of discrimination,
write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C. 20250-
9410, or call (202) 720–5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.
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T able o f Contents
Acknowledgments___________________________________________________________________ v
Brief History of the Ax _____________________________________________________________ 1
Evolution of the Ax in America _____________________________________________________________ 1
Ax Types, Patterns, and Uses ______________________________________________________________ 4
American Felling Ax ________________________________________________________________________ 7
Double-Bit Ax ______________________________________________________________________________ 8
Broad Ax ___________________________________________________________________________________ 9
Other Axes and Hatchets __________________________________________________________________ 10
Adzes _____________________________________________________________________________________ 13
Decline of the American Ax _______________________________________________________________ 14
Getting the Hang of It _____________________________________________________________17
Basics of Handle Selection ________________________________________________________________ 19
Hanging Procedure _______________________________________________________________________ 21
Sharpening _______________________________________________________________________________ 27
Using Axes _________________________________________________________________________33
A Most Versatile Tool _____________________________________________________________________ 33
Using an Ax Safely ________________________________________________________________________ 33
Chopping Technique ______________________________________________________________________ 35
Felling Trees ______________________________________________________________________________ 38
Limbing __________________________________________________________________________________ 41
Cutting Pinned-Down Saplings ____________________________________________________________ 42
Bucking __________________________________________________________________________________ 42
Splitting __________________________________________________________________________________ 44
Hewing ___________________________________________________________________________________ 45
Buying an Ax_______________________________________________________________________51
New and Used Axes _______________________________________________________________________ 51
Manufacturers ____________________________________________________________________________ 51
Distributors ______________________________________________________________________________ 53
Organizations _____________________________________________________________________________ 55
Selected References _______________________________________________________________57
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A cknow le dgments
Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual has benefited from a lot of
assistance. I would like to thank the following Missoula Technology and
Development Center staff and other Forest Service employees for their
major contributions.
John Alley (Northern Region) Printing
Bob Beckley Photography
Michelle Beneitone Text processing
Ted J. Cote Design and layout
Gary Hoshide Review
Jim Kautz Photography
Bert Lindler Editing
David Michael (Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest) Review
Brian Vachowski
Project Leader,
research, writing,
Gloria Weisgerber (Northern Region)
Mark Wiggins
Jerry Taylor Wolf
Research, editing
I would also invite you to look at the companion video program, An Ax
to Grind . Parts 1 and 2 of the program are each 30 minutes long. Copies
are available from MTDC at the address on the inside of the back cover.
Many of the photographs are of axes from Bernie Weisgerber’s personal
collection. Many of the illustrations were drawn by Frederic H. Kock for
Bernard S. Mason’s book, Woodsmanship (1954). The illustrations are
used here by permission of Mrs. Frederic H. Kock.
F rom the time this manuscript began as a series of audio tapes, An
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