Helves

How's your axe? If the head has been creeping up (about to fly off the handle), you may just need to drive the wedges a bit more — or it may be time for a new helve. If enough meat of the hickory helve remains, you can drive the helve farther through the head to freshen the wedged end. You might need to shave away some of the shoulder below the head, paying close attention to the hang of the axe. The bit of the axe should be in line with the helve and slightly "closed"—tilted toward the tail end of the helve to keep the bit at right angles to the arc of the swing.

New helve or old, drive it through the axe head using inertia as your anvil. Hold the axe in one hand with the head hanging down and smack the butt end of the helve with a mallet. Inertial mass will keep the heavy axe head still as the helve drives in.

If you are driving an existing helve deeper into a head, you can remove or reset the old wedges by carefully sawing away any protruding handle. This may expose enough of a wedge so that you can tap it from side to side and work it free, or drive it deeper. If you need a larger iron wedge, a smith can easily make one or you can likely find one at a good hardware store.

You also have to remove the iron wedge if you need to replace the central wooden wedge. The wooden wedge must be hard enough to resist crushing, but not so hard that it won't conform and grip in the slot sawn in the end of the helve. Glue on the wedge helps it grip, and the steel wedge driven in diagonally across it locks it in place. A softer wooden wedge may take the steel wedge with less chance of splitting, but I still use hickory, split from the same billet used to make the helve.

Just as the wood splits in one direction and not in the other, it also swells and shrinks unevenly. Like age on a man, water makes wood softer, heavier, and fatter—but not taller. Tightly fit an axe head with a handle made out of unseasoned wood and check it six months later. It will still measure the same length but will knock around in the axe head like the clapper in a bell. Ideally, then, you'll keep a small stack of hickory, ash, locust, or maple billets seasoning in your loft—drying for years before you need them for handles and helves.

Once dry, wood remains hygroscopic, taking in or releasing water in balance with its environment. Henry David Thoreau may have stuck the head of his borrowed axe in Walden Pond to swell and tighten the helve—but don't you do it. Soaking a hickory axe helve in water swells the wood, making it absolutely tight in the head — for a while. The water expands the wood so much that it is crushed against the unyielding walls of the axe eye. Upon drying, however, the fibers shrink back smaller than before, and Thoreau's axe head goes flying off— Oops! Sorry, Mrs. Emerson.

left: Buck the log with two intersecting cuts.
Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

There are a lot of things that either needs to be repaired, or put together when youre a homeowner. If youre a new homeowner, and have just gotten out of apartment style living, you might want to take this list with you to the hardware store. From remolding jobs to putting together furniture you can use these 5 power tools to get your stuff together. Dont forget too that youll need a few extra tools for other jobs around the house.

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