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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Cramped Creativity

I’ve been asked to build custom shelving on many occasions both past and present. This week I was finally able to create a functional piece in the “Dungeon” (aka … the basement work space). Working late hours in every inch of the 96 square feet of workspace, and at many times knee deep in wood shavings from hand planing, I was able to transform some rough pine boards into an appealing little shelf unit.  shelf2

Working in this closet sized space brings to mind the days when I had a much larger workspace and several apprentices. Prior to hiring any apprentice I would ask them one key question. What is the most important tool in the shop? It was a confusing question for every one of them. They would reply with answers like … the bandsaw, the jointer or the tablesaw, etc, etc… all of which are wrong of course. I’d make it simpler for them by telling them it was not a power tool. Who can spot the most important tool in the woodworking shop in the picture below?  If you need a hint I’ll post it in my next entry.



Everything in the garden is coming up nicely with the warm damp weather. The humidity and heat over the past few days has made working outside a bit unbearable, especially since it’s necessary to wear long sleeves and pants along with a hoody in most cases to keep the bugs from eating you alive.


We finally received our certificate to “poop” on the mountain this week.  A document that states we can construct and install an onsite sewage disposal system as specified by the Province of Nova Scotia’s Environment Act. Eleven pieces of photocopied paper that cost $1500 and are based on a site evaluation that  took less than 10 minutes. 11 pieces of paper that have delayed all construction and progress at the building site. Now I can finally complete and submit our building plan for the Building Permit.


The reclaimed windows are installed in the shop and I’ve made proper storm doors for the entrance. The doors have a navy blue water base dye applied and were then sealed with a penetrating natural oil varnish. The trim is going up this week once I finish sealing all the frames.


Now we hope the weather will  cooperate as progress on the house commences.

Boat Anchor? ( maybe not yet! )

Last week I went on a road trip with Liam into Halifax. I’d discovered an old Steton Jointer/Planer for sale at a price to good to pass up. This is a 2 in one machine sporting a huge 15″ jointing table with an 8″ x 15″ capacity planer underneath.


 To access the planer the jointer tables swing back and out of the way. It’s a brute of a machine and weighs well over 1200 lbs.


It was easy to load onto the trailer with a forklift, but once I got it home I didn’t have that luxury available. I took the whole unit apart piece by piece. This also gave me the opportunity to inspect everything and to see what needs replacing or repairing, which is usually inevitable with a machine of this age. There are several issues, some broken castings and worn out parts but with a bit of ingenuity and alterations this will become a central piece of equipment for the many tasks at hand in finishing our house. After that it can become a boat anchor.


Thoughts “Turning to Stone”

The sap has started running in the Maples and the other hardwoods. Buds on most trees are starting to swell, showing promising signs that Spring is approaching.


At the building site bare patches of soil are starting to peek through however most of the site is still under two to three feet of hard crusty snow. The two piles of  crushed stone and gravel have consolidated with a large snowdrift over the Winter and are just vaguely perceptible. Even with the grips of Winter still evident my thoughts and efforts have turned to “Stone”.  As soon as the snow disappears I will begin the next phase of construction, the stonework for the house. The lower half of the house will be built with stones taken directly from the site. There will not be enough rock on site to complete the project so the remainder will be trucked in from a local quarry.


Stone is a prominent feature in many old barns and homes here and was used extensively for foundations and basement walls. In later years when concrete became readily available it fell to the wayside as a primary building material.  In some cases only loose stones were piled up and interlocked, called the Dry Stone method, and in other instances a lime mortar was used to create very stable walls, many surviving 100 plus years of sustained use and still holding strong.




Topping Out

The last of the heavy framing is done for the shed/workshop, with the ridge and rafters firmly in place. I’ve made it a tradition throughout my career to fasten an evergreen bough to the ridge of my buildings once the rafters are all in place. “Topping Out” is a signal that the uppermost members of the structure are in place, all heavy framing is complete and most important the bough is a token of appreciation to the forest which provided the materials that went into creating the frame.

It has been the wettest September on record, greatly hampering the progress with construction. With fair weather yesterday and today I made quick work of placing the ridge beam and rafters. I pre-cut all the blocking that fastens the rafters to the ridge and top plate.  Several hundred trips up and down the ladder and the rafters are up.

I’ve never been an advocate for “toe-nailing” any framing members when building a house. Toe-nailing is minimal at best, yet it is extensively used in modern construction. I always devise a method to properly nail any framing member in place, thus the blocking for the rafters.

This not only holds the pieces in place it also straightens out any twist it may have. With precisely cut blocks layout is extremely easy and once I fastened the final rafter in place I had less than a 1/16″ deviation in my final measurement. I know it’s not a cabinet I’m building but I aim to be within a sixteenth of an inch with all my rough construction.

It would have been nice to sheet the building in before roof assembly, however with pending rain I really want to get the roof in place. The rafters were notched so the sheeting will still slide into place properly sealing the walls top plates.


A large square looking box is emerging in the woods. The walls are up and ready to be sheeted in. With the walls in place it is beginning to feel more like a building than just a dance floor.Rather than use 2 x 4 blocking diagonally between the studs, I “let in” 1×4’s at the corners for braces. This method is quick and extremely stable. It also reduces the amount of thermal bridging in the walls if I ever want to insulate them.

It looks like we may be getting a bit of rainy weather over the next few days so the pace may slow down a bit here at the building site. Good time to catch up with all the furniture orders.