September 13, 2008

Where Did the Axes Go?

When my father died five years ago, I inherited all of his tools, many of which I kept.

They included a double-bitted ax (ex-Forest Service, from the red paint on the handle) and a True Temper hatchet, perhaps 1960s vintage -- I remember the camping trip when both of them last were used.

The hatchet's leather sheath was falling apart, so I went looking for a new one. I tried in four states and, briefly, Vancouver, B.C. I found nothing good.

I tried some of the mail-order logging and forestry-supply outfits, and came away with new sheaths for the double-bitted ax and for the pulaski that came with it, but nothing for the hatchet.

Finally I found a sheath in the Campmor catalog that worked.

Somehow, in the years since I had to pass a basic axmanship test at Boy Scout camp, axes of all sizes seem to have become obsolete.

Half the ax-stuff in the forestry catalogs is aimed at the competitors in various logging derbies -- they are the only people nowadays who can stand on a spring board up off the ground and whack away with the ol' double-bit.

Before those tools arrived, I owned a chainsaw and two bucksaws, but the only ax I had was a single-bit model, and I used it only for splitting kindling.

Recreationally, I suppose axes and hatchets are relics of the "wood and canvas" era of camping.

Recently I have been studying the history of the Allied interventions in the Russian Civil War, 1918-1919, particularly the experiences of the "Polar Bears," American soldiers involved near Archangel.

These men of the 339th Infantry were mostly from Michigan. One historian describes their building of log blockhouses, etc., and casually mentioned that many were country boys and "handy with an axe."

That was then, apparently. Do we not need them anymore?


Anonymous said...

Do we not need them anymore? YES! I almost always carry my Gransfors Bruks mini hatchet when backpacking. It's very handy for pounding in tent pegs, splitting wet wood to get to the dry inside, heck I can even clean a trout with mine because I keep it shaving sharp. It only weighs 12 oz. A very valuable tool, even for a weight conscious backpacker like me.

Peculiar said...

When I started river guiding, Idaho used to require us to bring an ax on every trip. Since our lunch rocket box was our only container whose dimensions would accomodate it, we referred to it as "the lunch ax." We never, ever used it (we burn driftwood up there, which is abundant and conveniently sized). I think it was a requirement geared towards horsepackers but applied to all outfitters.

I do occasionally see deadfall across Forest Service trails cut with an ax instead of sawed. Old timers, I reckon.

Camera Trap Codger said...

Yes, we need them. A belt axe was indispensable in the north woods, and the perfect tool to teach eye-to-hand coordination. I bought my largest axe in Mexico in 1965, a Collins with a beautifully flared blade, which I still use. My favorite is a hand axe made by a blacksmith in Nepal, and I always take it camping. What I'm missing though is an Indian trade hatchet, but I can't afford one.

Yewtree said...

Mmmm, tools. You can't beat a good tool. I often go in tool shops just to drool. Am I weird?