Mosaic

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.

forest-axe-1When 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. small-broadIn 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.

The patriarch in my axe collection is the Gränsfors Bruk Broad-axe forged by Lennart Petterson.broad-axe

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.

Update …. since April

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.

clearingA large amount of hardwood for firewood came from this clearing. I was also able to get several nice softwood timbers for lumber towards the construction of our house.

stumpsA field of stumps was created

stumps-1

Once we had removed all the material from our clearings we brought in an excavator and the stumps were removed and piled up. stumps-gone

Now we can begin landscaping and start planting and creating gardens. Tracey is extremely excited to start cleaning up and build gardens. stumps-gone-1

While all this was going on I also enlarged our garden plot at home, more than doubling its previous size. garden

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. garden1

We’ve harvested lots of mint and radishes so far, the spinach and borage is also ready now. mint

On June 3rd twelve new members were added to our family. chickens

At that time they were a bunch of tiny fuzzy peepers, they are now feathery active little runners and flyers in their small mobile run. chicken-run

They love the bugs and tender clover leaves and other greens in their mobile enclosure. juveniles

The mill has been very busy since April. I’ve cut up all the logs that were accessible from our property, creating 2 big piles of timber. mill

During the winter many large trees were blown down. I was fortunate to be able to salvage a huge maple tree from our neighbors property, which I cut up into large planks and dimensional stock. maple

The 2″ x 12″ planks will become stair treads for our house, the other material will be for cabinetry. 300

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. shed

This 4′ x 8′ shed is for a temporary electrical service. shed-2

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. lupins

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?

 

 

Transformation

It’s been far to cold to mill lumber over the past couple weeks, however it’s perfect weather for working in the woods. I’ve taken this opportunity to clear an area of forest which will become the Disposal Field for our on-sight Sewage System.

clearing

After several days of slogging through 3 to 4 feet of snow just over half an acre has been transformed into an open space producing several cords of firewood and over 60 good sized logs which I will be mill into timbers for the house. Once the Disposal Field is in place we will develop an orchard within the remaining portions of this site.

clearing3

The next project is to clean out some of the fallen and dead debris in the forest surrounding the building site and expanding the garden area on the east side of the house. With a forecast for warm weather on the weekend skidding logs out will also be a priority, to get them to the mill.

cutting

Homestead Apprentice Wanted

 A homestead or farm presents many skill requirements and numerous young people are willing to learn these important skills. Acquiring  apprentices is an important means to assure the continuation of small farms and farming, as well as teaching youth the essential skills of basic survival. I have had the opportunity to share the many facets of my woodworking skills with several apprentices over the years but have never considered passing on the extent of my other learning in natural subsistence and sustainable survival skills. I have decided to seek out prospective applicants for a program formatted towards essential farming/homesteading skills. The mission of this endeavor is to enhance our relationship with the rural Cape Breton landscape by applying and teaching the essential skills of sustainable living and small-scale farming, thus invigorating a more functional collaborative community. Over the next few weeks I will draft an application including a detailed outline for this program.

homestead

Focus for this program will include Organic Gardening, Sustainable Forestry, Traditional Arts and Cottage Crafts, Renewable Energy, Alternative building, Herbology just to mention a few. Stay Tuned for further details!

Outside our window

We were teased with a bit of snow and temperatures barely over freezing for the past week.  A steady fire has been burning for at least 3 weeks now in the wood stove, keeping the chill out and making for cozy evenings.

4The first row in the wood pile has a definite chew out of it and over the next few months one row after the other will slowly disappear. A blanket of bark and splinters will be left behind covered with the hundreds of cobwebs that the spiders spun between the wood over the past summer.

2Several days ago I began construction on a small drying shed for the lumber I am cutting. It’s not a very big enclosure but will be helpful to store the sawn lumber out of the weather. I’m using marginal material for this shed, lumber which has some defects yet is structurally stable enough to use for this purpose.

1The siding is random width edge boards and creates an appealing wall that has adequate spacing for ventilation to help dry the lumber.

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The cold damp weather halted construction for several days however today the skies cleared and brought with it very warm temperatures. I was able to finish boarding in the walls and the roof.

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I was also able to cut up a cord of firewood from the slab pile. This will be going to the neighbors up on the mountain. Nothing at the mill goes to waste, I bag the sawdust to use for bedding animals and for mulching beds in the garden.

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With more fine weather in the forecast I may be able to catch up with the many errands still to be done before the real snow starts flying.

 

 

 

Saw Shed

 

Yesterday and Today, among other tasks and errands, I’ve taken some time to build a small shed for the sawmill which will arrive soon. So far this little structure has been made with scrap rough lumber except for the floor which is left over 2 x 6 material  and plywood from previous work.

saw-shedAll the framing is either simple lap joints or mortise and tenons. I’ve used bolts and lag screws in place of wooden dowels. I’ve also applied a protective oil to the entire structure since we may be getting some wet weather in the next few days.

joints

If the weather does hold through the weekend I may be able to close in this shed and start setting up the platform assembly for the Mill.

saw-shed-1

Once the the Saw arrives the job of milling the logs into dimensional lumber and beams will begin. These logs and many more from our property will all go into building our house. I can’t wait to cut into the first log.