The axe is a tool I venerate, they are able to perform a myriad of tasks in the woodworking shop, around the yard and in the forest. When I lived in the city it was a tool relegated to the shop, definitely something you could not just carry around openly. Now that we live in the country it is a tool within arms reach and one that I seldom go without on my excursions. Each of my axes has a tale associated with it.
On walks in the woods I typically carry my 2lb Norlund Forest Axe.
When we lived in Kimberley, BC Hanna and Liam found this axe head in the dirt while playing with there friends in a vacant lot. It was dull and rusty but with a little grinding, polishing and a new hickory handle it has become the axe I now use most often. An appealing tomahawk style blade forged in the 70’s with a comfortable 27″ handle. It’s design is ideal for slashing through brush on trails, and has just the right length to use as a walking support on steep climbs. It’s shape makes it an excellent grapple to pull with or hang onto trees. This axe is also my choice for limbing trees that I cut for firewood or lumber.
Around the mill I most often use my small Plumb broad axe. I grew up using this tool in conjunction with a draw knife when peeling posts, rails and timbers. In the late 60’s my father purchased this axe, I believe at a Farm auction. At that time he worked in the woods as a Feller and as a side job he also peeled railroad ties for CN Rail. The axe did not have a proper handle on it so he replaced it with one provided by CNR. The handle still has the faint CNR logo imprinted on it. When my father passed away I inherited this little axe which I cherish every time I use it. It has the perfect weight for chopping small limbs and digging into areas where the draw-knife can’t reach. It’s shape also makes it a perfect tool for roughing out tenons and other joinery when I’m timber-framing or as a finishing tool on hand hewn timbers.
I purchased this axe in the late 80’s after finishing my courses in Timber-Framing and Lofting. This axe became very useful on many projects over the years including my first house and homestead. One of the least memorable occasions for this axe was when Tracey decided to use it. We were living in a tiny house in Edmonton and Tracey had a keen interest in various home crafts one of which included making Mosaic Stepping Stones. She would purchase second hand glass and stoneware plates and smash them into pieces for the mosaic patterns on her Stepping Stones. I came home from work one afternoon and found the leather sheath on my axe shredded to bits. I pulled it off the axe and found the cutting edge also fractured and gouged out. She hadn’t been able to find a hammer so grabbing the axe and not thinking she mistakenly used the wrong end to smash her plates with it. I diligently honed the frayed steel back into a fine cutting edge The leather sheath remained tattered for several years until I finally met a fine leather artisan in Kimberley who was able to make a new one. He even repaired the old sheath so now I have a backup which I don’t foresee as ever needing ….. fingers crossed.
There are several other axes in my tool collection including a wonderful Fiskars splitting axe which I purchased earlier this year. It made light work of splitting the 5 cords of wood in storage for the coming winter. I also have another wonderful 2 lb tomahawk style axe head that requires a handle. Maybe a shorter handle on this one to use around the chopping block for kindling and other hatchet type tasks. My toolbox also has a carpenters hatchet which I seldom use. Stored away in the attic are a couple of Mountaineering and Climbing axes. One of the mountaineering axes was my companion to many of the highest peaks in the Rockies and it has traveled to the top of all the major Volcanoes on the North American West Coast ….. but that’s another story.
This has been one of the busiest Springs we’ve ever had. There’s been no time to update our blog so here is a quick photo compilation of some of the happenings that have transpired over the past couple months.
In early spring I began cleaning up and clearing a bit more space for our garden area and septic field.
The garden is doing well, we have all the usual vegetables and I decided to put in a big bed of Sugar Beets this year. It was a staple crop on our farm when I was young, sugar beet syrup was made with them and used as a sweetener much like honey.
Since building the saw and drying sheds many people have asked if I build these to sell. I’ve always turned down requests up until about a month ago when Tracey’s uncle inquired about one followed by a neighbor requesting one. I caved and committed myself to building these two.
These are just a few of the things that we’ve done. We still regularly make batches of soap, pick wild herbs and tend to the numerous other daily chores and commitments. I’m now allotting specific portions of each day to work on building our house.
Spring has passed into Summer. There never seems to be enough time in a day to get everything done. The school year is over, Where has the time gone?
A Homestead and Homesteading today is quite different from its practice during the pioneer days. We still have the abilities to live self-sufficiently on a small piece of land however many of the techniques and tools to establish a homestead have changed. My childhood was spent on a Homestead however we did not consider ourselves Homesteaders …. it was our way of life based on my parents upbringing and experience. My parents grew up in Europe through the second World War, a time of great despair and transition. After the war the last remnants of a once predominant Agrarian society were in the final stages of decline. Traditional farming methods and a self-sufficient livelihood were being replaced with mechanization and corporate structuring. My parents clung to their traditional roots and this is the primary reason they decided to immigrate to Canada, so they could enjoy the freedom to live as they choose.
I was very fortunate to come of age in a farming environment even though as a child one may not perceive it as fortunate. The endless daily chores, the seclusion and did I mention the chores. Our farm could not be considered typical for it’s time, it was more a throw back to farming practices prevalent at the turn of the century and prior. Everything we did was done by hand, to the extreme. In the early stages we mowed all our fields (approximately 8 acres) by hand using only a scythe and rake. I recall one fine summer day when my father took me into the woods carrying his bow saw and small hatchet. I curiously watched him as he selected several young poplar saplings, cut them down and peeled the bark off using the hatchet. He next cut a couple of the thinner poles into short even lengths and sharpened one end of each into a point with the hatchet. We gathered the cut pieces, took them home to the little workshop my father had upstairs. He cut a piece about 32″ long from one of the poles and placed it into the vice. Next he placed 14 evenly spaced marks on the piece in the vise and with a brace and bit carefully drilled holes through at each mark. Then he took the sharpened pegs he had cut in the woods and sized them so they would fit into the holes. Once all the pegs were positioned he wedged them in place. He drilled a larger perpendicular hole through the center of the pegged piece and sized the end of a long pole to fit into this hole. He wedged the pole into place and a wooden rake was born. He presented me with this creation and said ” This is yours, it will help to flip and rake together our field of hay” We then proceeded to the field and he taught me how to flip the hay and once it was dry I was taught how to gather it together and then pile it, carefully “combing” each large pile (hocke) so it would shed rain.
This is just one of the many lessons I learned on our farm and a fond memory I keep close to my heart. My next story will be how I was taught to Pull and not Push.