Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to Make a Leather Axe Sheath

Previously I posted about some basic leather working gear which would allow you to complete a few projects. You can find the post on the low cost kit here, and on the intermediate kit here. For this particular project I will be using the items in the intermediate kit, but it can also be done with just the low cost kit.

The first step when making a leather axe sheath is to create the template. This is probably the hardest part of the process. Take a piece of paper, place the axe head on it, and start designing the sheath. Keep in mind the sheath has to be large enough to allow for stitching around the axe head, while still giving it room to move in and out. For this particular kind of sheath, I also use an insert where the two sides of the sheath meet. This creates a stop for the blade, so it does not cut through the stitching. You will have to make a template for that insert as well.


When you cut out your template, fold it over the axe head and see if it fits, leaving enough room for stitching. Keep in mind that leather is thicker than the paper. When you fold it over the axe head, some of the length will be eaten up in that fold (much more so than with the thinner paper). You will have to compensate for that by leaving the paper template a little longer on the end opposite where the you are making the fold.


Now trace out the prepared templates on to a piece of leather and cut them out using a pair of scissors.


Now using some leather glue, fold over the sides of the sheath into place, put the insert along the edges in between the fold, and glue the assembly. A set of small clamps makes this step a lot easier.


After an hour the glue should by dry, and you should have the general outline of the sheath. Test it on the axe head and make sure it fits before you do any further work with it.


If it fits, take your stitch groover, and make a groove along the edge of the sheath where you just glued the two pieces along with the insert. Make sure the groove aligns about the middle of the insert (if your insert is a quarter of an inch wide, make the groove an eight of an inch from the edge of the sheath).


Then take your overstitch wheel and mark the stitch holes within the groove that you just made.


Now take your awl and make the holes that you just outlined. The holes should be of good size so you can easily pass a thick needle through them.


Now take a length of artificial sinew (or any other cordage you line) and thread a needle through each end.


Thread the cordage through a hole at one of the ends of the sheath, until the center of the cordage is in the hole. Now, pass one of the needles through the next hole, and pass the other needle in that same hole from the other side.


Continue the process until you have completed the stitching. When you reach the last hole, just double back once, and cut off the excess cordage.


All that is left now is to add the strap that will hold the sheath. Cut out a length of leather to the desired width.


Use a hole punch to make a hole in the locations where the strap will be attached.


Attach one of the strap ends with a tack.


On the other side of the sheath, place the bottom part of the snap.


Now put the sheath on the axe, and measure out the length of the strap.


Make a hole at the desired location and attach the top part of the snap.


Your sheath is now complete. Coat it with some oil for protection.


I’m sure there are better ways to make a sheath, but this is how I make mine. It is a fairly easy process. The hardest part is making the template. The same sheath can be made with the low cost leather working kit simply by using tacks instead of stitching. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Grinding/Re-profiling an Axe ... Continued

Earlier you saw a video I made about grinding, or re-profiling an axe. Without getting bogged down in the terminology, I just showed how to thin out an axe bit to the desired thickness using a file. You can see the video here.

I have received several questions, asking about more details, so I decided to make this post so I can better diagram the process.

The first question of course is, “how thick should the bit of an axe be?” The answer will depend on what you want to do with the axe, and on which part of the bit you are talking about. Here I will try to give the answer along with the direction for each step of the re-profiling process. 

Step 1

Let us start with an axe which has had very little work done to the bit. Let us also assume that it is fairly thick at the bit. Clam down the axe head, and get a sharp file. I like to use an 8 inch, 200mm, single cut file, but that is a matter of personal preference. I know people who use cross cut files and files of varying lengths.


For the first step, we will work on the part of the bit that is located between 1/16 from the cutting edge and 1 inch back from the cutting edge. This is the first section of the bit that we will have to thin out. For now, we will not be touching the cutting edge at all. This part of the bit will effect the penetration and splitting ability of the axe. If you want an axe that will penetrate deeply into wood, then you want this section to be as thin as possible, so it provides the least resistance when entering the wood. On the other hand, if you want a splitting axe, you want this section thick, so it can push apart the fibers. For the same reason, a thicker convex here may help you with softer, more flexible wood, because it will help pop out the chips when chopping. 

For my general purpose axes, I like to have this part of the bit be at about a 20 degree angle. That means that when filing each cheek, I will be filing at a 10 degree angle from the horizontal.

Step 1

Position the file at a 10 degree angle from the horizontal, and begin filing, maintaining the same angle along the whole bit.


While maintaining the same angle, you want to create a uniform thickness along the whole bit (minor variations aside).


On an axe that has cheeks which have been convexed from heel to toe, this will require you to remove more metal from the middle of the head than the edges, as the head is thicker in the center than the sides.


Continue this process until you reach about 1/16 from the cutting edge.


Step 2

Now it is time to start working on the cutting edge itself (the part between the cutting edge and 1/16 back from the edge).

This part of the convex can also have a different and separate thickness. A thinner convex here will allow for better penetration, and glance less off the wood when approaching it at a steep angle. This makes a thinned out convex on this section good for carving as well as chopping. A thicker convex here will make the edge more durable, and require less sharpening, along with making it less prone to damage.

For this step, you may want to start with a 30 degree overall angle on the bit. I like it a little thinner, but that is a decision you can make for yourself after using the axe. The final step will thin out the bit a little further anyway.

Step 2

Position the file at a 15 degree angle from the horizontal (in the picture the file is on its side for demonstration purposes only), and begin filing the area between the cutting edge and the already filed down back section of the bit. Again, maintain a uniform thickness along the bit.


Step 3

All that is left to do now it to smooth out the transitions between the different filing angles, and turn the surface into one continuous convex.

Step 3

This process will remove more metal, further thinning out the convex. During this process you can make adjustments to the final shape of the convex by removing more or less metal from the transition point between the two filing angles. At the end the final convex will be at about 24 or 25 degrees overall.


All that is left to do now is to flip the axe head over and repeat the process on the other side. Something that may help with establishing the desired angle is to get an axe whole grind you already like, and try to approximate it. You can usually do that by feel, just by pouching the two bits. After some practice, you will be able to see whether or not you like the grind just by holding it between your fingers. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Old vs. New Axe Comparison-Convexed Cheek Design...Continued

Last week I posted a video which compared two axes, one with convexed cheeks, and the other with flat cheeks. You can see it here. The test focused on seeing if one axe stuck in the wood more than the other. The results of the test seemed to show that both axes performed in a very similar way. It was suggested that perhaps the differences would be more apparent if the test was performed in green of soft wood. To that end, I located a small patch of pine, and repeated the test.

Here you can see the results after 25 swings with each axe. Both the True Temper Worlds Finest (convexed cheeks) and the Council Tool Boy’s Axe (flat cheeks) took exactly 45 seconds to complete the test. The results seem identical as well.


Here you can see a close up of the True Temper.


And here is a close up of the Council Tool.


I repeated the test with another pine. This time I did 50 swings with each axe. The True Temper took 1 minute 24 seconds to complete the 50 swings, while the Council Tool took 1 minute 31 seconds to complete the test.


Here you can see a close up of the True Temper.


And here is a close up of the Council Tool.


The results again seem to be very similar. In the last test it did take me 7 seconds longer to complete the 50 swings with the Council Tool axe. I am not sure if that difference is statistically significant, but either way, those are the results. As always, make your own conclusions.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The GoLite Shangri-La 5-A Change in Perspective

As you guys know, for quite some time now, I have been using a tarp and bivi shelter setup. Specifically, I’ve been using a US MSS bivi as my main shelter, combined with a DD 10x10 tarp for added shelter, and so that I have a good work space in case it rains during the day.

One downside to this system has been that during winter, or other times of high wind and cold, I have no protective barrier during the day. At night everything is fine once I get into my bivi and sleeping bag, but during the day, a tarp (if pitched to allow a good amount of room underneath) does little to stop the cold wind.

I have been reluctant to use a tent because I hate feeling enclosed in a bubble. I don’t want to limit the things I can do inside the shelter, such as cooking or carving, if I have to spend the day sheltered there.

I decided to try a compromise-a floor less tent. There are several good design currently on the market, including the Titanium Goat 6.5 and the Kifaru 4 Man Tipi. I loved the idea of the design, but didn’t like particular things about each shelter. I did a few comparisons, and decided that for a much lower price, I can get many of the same advantages with the now out of production, but still available GoLite Shangri-La 5. More specifically, I decided to go with the Shangri-La Flysheet. The tent also has in internal “nest” comprised of a floor and mosquito netting, but that is not what I was looking for.


Here is how the three tents stack up: 

  GoLite Shangri-La Flysheet Titanium Goat 6.5 Kifaru 4 Man Tipi
Weight 2 lb 14 oz 4 lb 2 oz 5 lb 5oz
Cost $350.00 $650.00 $850.00
Height 6.1 ft 6.5 ft 6.5 ft
Floor Area 90 sq. ft. 102 sq. ft. 103 sq. ft.
Material 15 Denier Ripstop Nylon 1.3 oz Silicone Coated Nylon Coated Paraglider Fabric
Stove Vent/Boot No Yes Yes

As you can see from the numbers, for very similar dimensions, the Shangi-La offers a much cheaper and lighter weight alternative.

The design of the three shelters seems almost identical. The materials seems very similar, and the designs appear to be about the same.


One notable difference is that the Titanium Goat 6.5 and the Kifaru 4 Man Tipi have a stove vent. That is an small area in the wall of the tent there the material has been cut out and replaced with a fire/heat resistant boot. That way a stove pipe can be threaded to the outside of the tent. The Shangri-La does not come with this option, but you can actually purchase the boot from Titanium Goat and install it on the Shangri-La.

So, I decided to same myself a lot of weight and money, and go with the GoLite Shangri-La 5. One important this to note is that out of the 2 lb 14 oz of the tent, the stakes and center poll weigh 1 lb 1 oz. That means that if you make your own poll and stakes in the field from wood, the pack weight of the shelter would be 1 lb 13 oz. I can’t say I’m upset about that.

The Shangri-La 5 is a good size shelter. It is advertised as being able to fit 5 people, but that is very, very optimistic. It is not huge, but two people and four dogs should easily fit in there for the night.


The shelter is large enough and vented well enough so that you can use a stove inside. I would not try to build a fire inside because a spark may jump and melt a hole through your wall. The fabric is coated with fire resistant compounds, but I would not risk it.


The amount of ventilation can be adjusted by lifting and lowering the sides of the shelter with the adjustable straps.


There are also additional loops on the walls, that you can attach to stakes with string for added stability in very bad weather.


Even with all of its components, the shelter packs down to a fairly small size.


Since I just got the shelter, this will not be a full review. I just wanted to keep you guys updated on the changes I am making to my shelter system. I will still be keeping my bivi, but it is my hope that this shelter will provide better wind protection while still allowing me to cook and do other projects while inside the shelter.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Council Tool to Release the Velvicut Hudson Bay Axe

As you guys know, Council Tool has been working on a premium line of axes that they call Velvicut. They have already released on of the models, the 4 pound Dayton axe. The newest model to be released in the Velvicut version of their Hudson Bay axe.


This axe is intended to compete directly with the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe, and will be sold at about the same price, $130.00. The axe is forged from 5160 steel, and tempered to a hardness of HRC50-54. The handle has been shortened to about 23 inches, and is finished with a coating of linseed oil. The head is hung using a wooden wedge and a metal cross wedge.

Significantly, the poll of the Velvicut Hudson Bay axe has been extended when compared to the original model, providing much better balance. Looking at the above picture, it appears that they have added the ridge inside the eye, used by True Temper in the past, for added handle hold. The axe also comes with a leather sheath. Council Tool is currently taking orders for the axe, and they are expected to go on sale in late August.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Canada Hiking Club, 1930s

This image was taken by Thomas B. Moffat in the 1930s, and depicts members of the Canada Hiking Club.


The image can be found in the Glenbow Museum in western Canada.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Old vs. New Axe Comparison-Convexed Cheek Design

If you look at axes from half a century ago or even further back, and axes that are currently being produced, one of the differences that you will notice is that most axes these days have flat cheeks. What I mean specifically, is that if you look at the cheek of the axe from heel to toe (or the bottom corner to the top of the axe) the cheeks are flat. This is noticeably different from axes produced in the earlier part of the 20th century, where you would see a convex, or curve from heel to toe.

There has been some debate as to whether the convexed cheek design makes for a more effective axe. In particular, the theory goes that it will prevent sticking in the wood, and as such improve performance. I have never seen anything other than theoretical speculation on the issue, so I decided to do a test and see what results I got.

For the test I obtained two axe with identical head weights, but where one had convexed cheeks while the other had flat cheeks.

For the axe with convexed cheeks I used a True Temper Kelly Works Worlds Finest. To represent a modern axe design with flat cheeks, I chose a Council Tool Boy’s axe. Both axes have a head weight of 2.04 lb. I re-hung both axes on identical Council Tool Boy’s axe handles.

For the test I both counted the number of swings I took, and the amount of time it took me to complete that number of swings. The wood I was bucking was white oak (to the best of my guess). The results may be different for different types of wood.

Here are some pictures of the end result.

First test. The Council Tool axe is on the left. The True Temper axe is on the right. What you see is the result of about 50 swings with each axe. It took 1 min 30 sec to complete 50 swings with the True Temper axe and 1 min 20 sec with the Council Tool axe. I was more tired with the Council Tool axe, so I was probably pushing harder with it, explaining the faster time.


A close up of the True Temper:


A close up of the Council Tool :


Second test. This time the True Temper is on the left and the Council Tool axe on the right. What you see are 45 swings with each axe. It took about 1 min 20 sec with each axe to complete the swings.


A close up of the True Temper:


A close up of the Council Tool:


The results were a bit of a surprise to me. I did not notice any significant difference between the two axes. There also wasn’t any noticeable difference in the time it took to complete the same number of swings with each axe, or the debt of the cuts.

Of course, these are just my impressions. You can look at the video and judge for yourself.