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An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual

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Brief History of the Ax

I've always had a passion for axes. I received my first ax--a toy--when I was 8 years old, and my first real ax not long afterwards. Since that time, for over 45 years, I've used and collected all kinds of axes and adzes in my professional work restoring historic buildings and structures.

We cannot explore everything there is to know about axes in this publication. What I would like to share with you is a brief background on the development of axes, the hanging and sharpening of axes, how to use an ax, and detailed information on certain ax patterns. I've tried to place the discussion within the context of working with axes today and from a historical perspective of their use within the USDA Forest Service.

In An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual, you'll find:

  • A brief look at the history of the ax, especially its evolution in America
  • Types and patterns of axes and adzes, showcasing some examples from my personal collection and some from old catalogs
  • How to hang and sharpen an ax, two essential skills for anyone using an ax
  • Various examples of using axes, incorporating historical material
  • Where to buy a good ax
  • Some other good references about axes that you may find useful.

This manual is intended to be a companion to my video program, An Ax to Grind (99-01-MTDC). The video (Figure 1) was produced by the Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC). Copies are available from the center. I hope you'll take a look at it.

Photo showing the video of An Ax to Grind.

Figure 1--The video program, An Ax to Grind
(99-01-MTDC), is a companion to this manual.
The video is available from Missoula Technology
and Development Center.

Evolution of the Ax in America

Having an ax to grind: Getting even for a perceived wrongdoing. Barking your knuckles: Scraping your knuckles on the side of a log while hewing it. Can't get the hang of it: Can't get it right, originally referring to the way an ax handle was mounted to the ax head.

Although we still make references to axes in our daily speech, most Americans have a limited knowledge about them (Figure 2), including how to use and properly maintain them. But the ax, in one form or another, has been around for over 10,000 years--even longer if you consider some of the crude stone tools used as axes by early man.

Photo of a man hewing with a broad ax.

Figure 2--Barking your knuckles comes with
the territory when you choose to hew with a broad ax.

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