Tools of the Trade - Axes  

Posted by Gabel in

Axes are the subject of this installment of tools of the trade -- where I choose one tool or family of tools that we use in our timber framing work and talk a little about it. I am excited to write about this in particular, as I have a real soft spot for axes (as you can see).

Axes come in all shapes and sizes, from small 1 1/2 pound hatchets to large broadaxes with a 14" edge. While we don't use every one of the axes pictured, we do use many of them regularly in our work of building and restoring traditional timber frames. While we also use a few modern tools (I'll talk about them in a later blog), the foundation of our craftsmanship is our skill with the tools that were traditionally used to make timber frames. These traditional tools still work just as well today as they did when Master Hugh Herland built Westminster Hall, provided the carpenter has the training and skill to efficiently and accurately put them to use.

As for axes, we reach for some of these when we're cutting timber frames to rough out joinery such as housings, reductions, or tenons. You can remove a lot of wood in a hurry with a sharp axe if you know what you're doing. Hand axes and hatchets are often used for various trimming tasks, such as pointing pegs. We use some of the larger axes when we're working on a job that calls for hand hewn timbers. For that process, a felling axe is used to score the logs (removing the bulk of the waste wood) and then a broad axe is used to "take it to the line", smoothing the timber and creating the distinctive pattern of a (correctly) hand-hewn timber. That texture cannot be duplicated by modern techniques - if you want it to look right, you have to do it the right way.

In the photo, clockwise from top left, is an American Jersey pattern felling axe, goosewing broad axe from Austria, 12" American broad axe, Gransfors Bruks broad axe, Gransfors carving axe, Gransfors mortise axe, American broad hatchet, small American broad hatchet, competition throwing axe, bearded axe based on ancient Scandinavian pattern, Gransfors forest axe, American Hudson Bay axe, American half wedge felling axe.

These are some of our favorite tools to use here at Holder Brothers Timber Frames. Stay tuned for more Tools of the Timber Framing Trade ....

This entry was posted at Tuesday, November 11, 2008 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Whit/ blog. Hey, I got a question. What is the best way to sharpen a dull axe or dull cutters (ie. Cutters used for pruning trees)?

November 15, 2008 at 2:05 PM

For a dull axe, I like to use a file. Just get a 10" flat bastard file at the hardware store. It is good to clamp the axe head before beginning. Holding the file perpendicular to the edge, file firmly away from yourself. This is called cross-filing and is a good way to remove a lot of metal quickly. Try to file in the arc of the edge.
You will need to file both sides of the bevel, and when you are done, you should have a 30 degree bevel. That should pop a woodchip pretty well.
Cutters for pruning I don't know. If they have a sawtooth blade, they are probably done. But if you mean shears, they can be sharpened on a diamond stone, such as a DMT stone.

November 21, 2008 at 12:26 PM

For sharpening my axes I use a simple grinding stone. I wish I had a big wheel though! I like mine super sharp (I use them for throwing, not building) so I don't want to hip the blade with a file.

June 14, 2011 at 10:22 AM

New to timberframing, noticed on youtube that some timber framers use a broad axe to rough out the initial hewing, then come back with a goosewing and clean it to almost a planed surface, is this the best way? Are goose wings the best for making that great finish or will a normal American Broad Axe be just as good or better?

June 24, 2012 at 6:01 PM

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