Birdshot and backlashes

by Bob Cary

Old time guides and woodsmen seldom carried either a bow saw or a folding saw in the woods. Those came with more modern day campers. The old timers carried an axe. They did everything with the axe in addition to cutting and splitting firewood. They cut tent poles and pegs, built campsite tables, chairs, gin poles and wood andirons to hold pots, all with the axe.<BR><BR>Some of those old guys were very fast. When they waded into a wood job, the chips flew. And not only did they know how to swing an axe, but they were experts at sharpening. Some of them could even throw an axe, like a belt knife, and stick it in the trunk of a tree a dozen paces or more distant.<BR><BR>When ordinary folk began taking to the camp trails, it became quickly apparent that the axe was more than a good many of them could or should handle. There were a lot of injuries from axe blades in the hands of amateur choppers. Saws, particularly the folding type, were light, handy and invariably less dangerous.<BR><BR>Still, skilled axe men prefer a good axe to a saw and take great of pride in their skill and knowledge. One popular model used extensively around this area is known as the “Hudson Bay Axe.” It’s very light, about the size of an ordinary axe, but handles firewood chores quite well. The head weighs less than two pounds and is not built for hammering or for use with another axe as a splitting wedge, although one sees this use at times. And broken axe heads at times. The Hudson Bay axe, complete with a a leather sheath, slides nicely inside a No. 3 Duluth pack with just a couple inches of handle protruding.<BR><BR>The hatchet, popularized at times as a boy’s camping tool, is really not worth much. It is light, weighing about a pound, but it is too short to do any serious chopping. Used mostly for splitting kindling, it is dangerous in that respect because the tendency is to balance a chunk of wood with one hand and chop with the other. With a longer handled axe, the wood chunk to be split can be set against another chunk and the splitting done two-handed.<BR><BR> In the history of our country, axes were some of the most useful tools. Real axes, used for chopping trees, have handles from 31 to 35 inches and a head of slightly over three pounds. Some loggers used double bitted axes, in essence providing themselves with two blades at the same time. These blades were often sharpened differently to perform different jobs with one tool.<BR><BR>Log cabin builders in the old days used broad axes for many jobs. The blade’s lower corner extended back for a couple of inches from the wooden loser part of the axe eye and was designed to protect the carpenter’s fingers when the tool was gripped up near the head.<BR><BR>Another type, still in common use, is the splitting axe, forerunner of the popular power splitter. A splitting axe is different than a maul. The splitting maul has a thick, heavy head and can be used to drive a wedge in a particularly thick billet of wood. Splitting axes are good for splitting but will break if used to drive steel wedges.<BR><BR>For most of us who grew up in the country, part of our education was learning how to handle an axe, usually with older folk as teachers. However, there are now a lot more younger folk who want to use an axe in the woods than there are elderly tutors. Luckily, there are some good books with axemanship explained and illustrated <BR><BR>Some we have used are: “Camper’s Bible” by Bill Riviere, “American Axe” by Henry Kaufman, the camping books by Cliff Jacobson, The “Boy Scout Handbook” and the nifty little publication called “The Axe Book” printed by Gransfors Bruks, the Swedish axe manufacturer.<BR><BR>One reason I like the last one is because it’s free at any dealer handling the Swedish axes.