The Woodsman and His Hatchet

Woodcrafters build kitchen and night fires and as a result, must learn to select, use and care for the axes and saws required to buck and split wood into the lengths and thickness to burn properly.  Of all of the traditional camping tools, the ax is the most valuable and sadly, the tool with which modern man is least familiar (I’ll cover saw use in the future).  Countless turn-of-the-Century experts said if they were limited to just one tool it would be the ax over all others.  Luckily there are a number of new(ish) and vintage books to get you up to speed on this subject.  Best of all, a number of superb ax pamphlets, manuals, and books are available free online!  Here are the best of the best:

A great selection of ax books

American Axes(1972), Henry J. Kauffman, Masthof Press & Bookstore, Morgantown, PA.  A history of American axe patterns and manufacturers.  It was the ax that built American settlements in the Colonies and the frontier.  In fact, the “American” pattern ax, designed and perfected in the Colonies, was recognized overseas as being the finest ax ever produced.   Kaufman traces the evolution of the ax in North America, from the relatively inefficient early European types to the supberb American pattern felling axes that reached their peak of perfection in the last half of the nineteeth century.

An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual, United States Dept. of Agriculture, U.S.F.S. Technology & Development Program, 2300 Recreation, Manual 9923-2823P-MTDC (1999), Bernie Weisgerber.  Weisgerber is America’s recognized ax expert.   This is one of the best works on ax use and luckily, a free online copy can be downloaded at this URL: http://scoutmaster.typepad.com/axegrind.pdf.

Axe Manual of Peter McLaren, America’s Champion Chopper, (1929), Peter McLaren, An 85 page, 7″ x 4.5″ pamphlet, published by Fayette R. Plumb Inc., Philadelphia, PA.  Australian competitive chopper Peter McLaren was recruited by Fayette Plumb ax company in the 1920’s to promote their products.  This wonderful little pamphlet was published by Plumb ax to do just that.  In his day, McLaren was a popular attraction for exhibiting his chopping prowess.  In this manual, he shares in knowledge and secrets of chopping success.  Very informative but very rare.  My copy is in like-new condiiton.  Lucky for you, a free online version is available here: http://scoutmaster.typepad.com/AxeManual/mclarenmanual.pdf (the PDF opens on its side so you’ll have to right click on the first page and select “rotate clockwise” to read it like a book).

The Ax Book: The Lore and Science of the Woodcutter(2005), Dudley Cook.  Originally published in 1981 as “Keeping Warm with an Ax”, Alan C. Hood, & Company, Inc., Chambersburg, PA.  Little is known about Dudley Cook other than he was a lifelong woodcutter.  The Ax Book is a very detailed, profusely illustrated, nearly encyclopedic book on axemanship.

Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills & Wilderness Survival (1998), Mors Kochanski, Lone Pine Publishing, Auburn, WA and Edmonton, AB, Canada and the DVD – Blades: Sharpening and Safe Use, Producer: Mors Kochanski & Karamat Wilderness Ways,Box 483, Wildwood, Alberta, Canada, T0E 2M0

Mors Kochanski: Bushcraft book and DVD – Blades: Sharpening and Safe Use

Kochanski is a respected wilderness survival educator and Physical Education faculty member at the University of Alberta, Canada.  Rather than offer a broad view of the survival subject, Kochanski’s excellent book deals with the six major survival “crafts” ~ firecraft; axecraft; knifecraft; sawcraft; bindcraft (cordage); and sheltercraft, in astonishing detail.  The author doesn’t spend time on subjects other these topics, which admittedly, are crucial skills to learn in order to be a competent outdoors person.  Bush Craft is an essential survival book because it covers subjects that are generally only briefly discussed, and are rarely explained well enough to entirely master.  His video Blades: Sharpening and Safe Usewas personally produced in association with Karamat Wilderness Ways survival school.  Though not a particularly polished effort, the video provides superb edged tool information.

The Woodsman And His Hatchet, (1996), Bud Cheff Sr., Stoneydale Press Publishing Co., Stevensville, MT.  Eighty-one year old Bud Cheff Sr., a hunting guide in Montana, wrote this common sense guide to wilderness survival.  Short and to-the-point, The Woodsman And His Hatchet is a refreshing take on this subject.  Cheff discusses first the importance of the ax (hatchet) and knife to survival in addition to subjects such as fire making, shelter building, navigation, outdoor dangers, survival food procurement, shooting game and packing meat.

Woodsmanship (1954), Bernard S. Mason, The Barnes Sports Library, A.S. Barnes and Co., New York, NY.  Though not as detailed regarding axes as The Ax Book, Woodsmanship is an excellent book that covers all of the tools and techniques of the woodcutter.  It describes tools and skills that have virtually disappeared from public consciousness over the past fifty years.  In a single page more or less, Mason describes the art of bucking, splitting, hewing, moving logs, and felling trees with the axe and saw.  He describes in detail, the tools of the woodsman ~ the peavey, the cant-hook, the pulphook, pike poles, beetles, wedges, gluts, adzes, and come-alongs.  Sadly, copies of Woodsmanship in any condition are now exceedingly rare (I got my very fine copy from New Zealand) but happily, a free online copy can be downloaded at this URL:  http://www.bushcraftuk.com/downloads/pdf/woodsmanship.pdf.

These books and the DVD are great resources for learning about the ax.  I know you’ll find them as interesting and valuable as I have.

Good reading!

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One Response to “The Woodsman and His Hatchet”

  1. Gayle Says:

    It’s really a copol and helpful piece of information. I’m happy that you shared this helpful information with us.

    Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

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