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axe talk

Most people are crap with axes, including myself until I undertook a diligent study of the art. It takes time and patience to learn. You need a sharp axe. Most of all you need to know that less often equals more when it comes to the use of an axe. First splitting. This is the only use of an axe that is widely practised these days. A saw is sensibly used to reduce a tree trunk into logs and then an axe is used to split that into usable chunks. A fat bodied spitting axe works best but almost any axe will do even a blunt one. But you need a sharp axe to chop trees down or to chop logs into two like a real lumberjack. Sharpen your axe with a metal file until all the dings are gone and the blade can shave wood like a knife. Remember, most of the work is done by the axe not your shoulders. Indigenous people leave a lot of wood chopping to women and if you watch them at work you can learn a lot. Almost lazily they raise their machete or axe and then let it fall using its own weight only slightly accelerated. You can chop for hours like this. With a long felling axe only lift it high enough to still feel in control (this will get higher as you get better) and just let it fall- when it moves past you add your own force to the downward momentum but don’t strain yourself. Chop at a manageable rhythm. To aim for a spot just look at it and the axe will follow a bit like teeing off in golf. Here is the big axe secret: when people chop logs in two they start by cutting a small ‘V’ and then they realise to make it deeper they have to expand it wider and wider, so a lot of their chopping effort goes into widening the hole not deepening it- which is wasted effort. To cut a log a foot in diameter you need to make a cut a foot wide to start with by making one axe chop on one side and another at a slight angle a foot away. Then lever the axe sideways and split out the intervening wood – or sometimes it just flies out as a big chunk. By magic, instead of shaving away constantly at both sides, you just took out a whole hunk of word. Just keep repeating this double action as you go down through the log and each chop will naturally get closer and closer to the other. Getting into a steady rhythm and you will beat any muscled Tyro who thinks it’s all about chopping like a mad axe murderer.

To take down a tree with an axe use the same principles but sideways on. First however chop out a section in the back of the tree lower down than you intend to cut at the front. This lower cut will be the direction the tree should fall in assuming it’s not leaning. It only needs to be about quarter of the way through the tree. Then go around to the front and if the tree is 2 feet wide start chopping out sections about 18 inches apart. Split out each chunk as before. When the tree starts to move you can give it a push in the right direction. Remember to shout timber!!!

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