Friday, July 29, 2011

An Old Wood Burning Stove

I ran across this picture in an old issue of Fox Fire. I wanted to share it with you because it reminded me of the stove we had at my grandfather’s place. In fact, it looks almost identical. I guess designs don’t change all that much even across continents. 


For those who have never seen one of these stoves, the wood goes into one of the small doors on the left. The bottom one is for the ashes to collect. The cooking is done in the two compartments on the right just like in a modern stove. The wood also heats up the top of the stove, and the top “burners” can usually be opened to reveal the flame.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Basic Axe Use Part 4: Carving

This is the last part of the series on basic axe use. I decided to finish it with a couple of ideas about carving with an axe. Many people ignore this ability of the tool, but it can drastically decrease the time it takes to complete a carving project. Since this is a basics video, I’ve only used it to show some of the possible things you can do with an axe. There are many other carving techniques that will come into use for the more advanced axe handler.

Part 4 of 4:

Some things that were not mentioned in the video:

1. In order to be able to carve with an axe as you would with a knife, your axe has to be just as sharp as your knife.

2. If you are carving and the wood on which you are working starts splitting, turn it around and try it from the other direction. Often the grain alignment will work to your advantage.

3. Carving, planing, and general wood working is more easily done with the handle still on the axe. It has become fashionable in recent times to use a tomahawk from which the handle can be removed and the head alone used for carving. That significantly limits the carving ability of the axe.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Basic Axe Use Part 3: Splitting

This is part 3 of the series on basic axe use. Here I cover some simple splitting techniques for when you are working with pieces of wood which have been cut with an axe.

Part 3 of 4:

Some things that were not mentioned in the video:

1. Just like I have said before, the type of wood with which you are working will greatly change how easily you will be able to do the job. It is not always a hard vs. soft wood distinction. Some woods just split much more easily than other.

2. Try to work with pieces without knots, as they will be easier to split.

3. Remember that while the ground is a solid surface, it actually has quite a bit of give/springiness, which will absorb a lot of the energy of an impact. Make sure to place the piece of wood you are splitting on a solid log.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Basic Axe Use Part 2: Limbing and Bucking

This is the second part of the Basic Axe Use videos. Here I discuss bucking a tree, which uses a technique very similar to what you saw in the felling video.

Part 2 of 4:

Some points that were not mentioned in the video:

1. While in this video I spoke about how different types of trees have very different properties when it comes to chopping and splitting, that is also true about the distinction between green wood and dry wood. Green wood is much easier to chop through than dry wood. Dry hardwood will usually be the most time consuming to go through, although it tends to be the best fire wood.

2. You may have seen professionals and axemen in the professional circuits using a bucking technique where they stand on top of the log and then chop between their legs. While that is an efficient technique, it is also very dangerous. As such, I do not recommend it unless you are an expert. There is more than one guy nicknamed “stumpy” in the competition circuits.

3. These days bucking is rarely done with an axe. The crosscut saw has taken over that job because it can do it faster, and wastes less wood. That being said, the axe can be an effective tool for the job. As you saw, it took me two (2) minutes to chop through a six (6) inch log of dry oak.

4. As you can see at the end of the video, one of my swings does not bite into the wood, but actually glances off. Always think ahead, and plan on where the axe will end up if you miss. A sharp axe with a thin bit will reduce such glancing.

5. Notice that when the log moves during bucking, I reposition my whole body before I continue swinging the axe. That way I keep my swing exactly the same. Do not try to adjust the distance between you and the wood by bending your arms, as it will ruin your technique. Adjust either by relocating your body, or moving your hips to adjust the positioning of the axe.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Basic Axe Use Part 1: Chopping

So, I finally got the next set of videos done. I know a bunch of you guys emailed me asking for a video on how to use an axe. This series is intended to show some basic techniques, or at least show them to the best of my abilities.

Part 1 of 4:

Unfortunately, some of the footage I had did not come out well, so I had to leave it out of the video. Some things you may want to consider that are not specifically addressed in the video:

1. As you can notice, the bottom section of the V notch is almost horizontal. To make it an ideal V, both the top and bottom cuts on the V would be at a 45 degree angle. Unfortunately, it is very hard to make an upward facing cut on the bottom section of the notch. It can be done with a hatchet or smaller axe, but becomes more difficult with larger axes. The cut actually does have a slight bevel facing up towards the center. This makes it easier for the axe to cut the wood fibers.

2. Don’t think that you need to do the exact same things for every tree this size. Different types of wood perform differently. With a softer wood, or a tree that is not dry, you may very well be able to get through a tree this size without having to make a back cut.

3. As you have noticed, I don’t use any eye protection. I never have, and I do not like to carry any into the woods. However, if you want to be on the safe side, bring a pair of safety glasses. There is nothing wrong with being safe.

The full set of videos is now up on YouTube, but I will post them here over the next few days. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

DIY Alcohol Stove-The Open Jet Soda Can Stove

Some time ago I showed how to make a DIY version of the commercially available Brasslite Turbo II-D alcohol stove. You can see that post here. Today I want to show you a DIY version of another commercially available alcohol stove, the Trangia. This design has been around for a very long time, but in case you don’t know about it, here it is:

Start with two regular soda cans.


Cut them down so that one is about 3/4 to 1 inch high, and the other can is a little bit shorter. Here we are only using the bottoms of the two cans.


Take the shorter can, and cut out the center. Make sure that you leave the lip that goes down intact. Simply cut out the smooth concave section from the bottom of the can. This can be done by just running over it repeatedly with a sharp knife. The aluminum is thin, and will eventually cut. Also, drill 1/16 inch holes around the central opening, spaced about 1/4 inch apart.


Now take the remains of one of the cans from which you cut out the original two section, and from the side, cut out a piece that is about 3/8 taller than the tall can cutout you made earlier.


Make slits in the ends, and fold the piece of metal into a cylinder.


It has to be just large enough so that it fits in the tall soda can cutout, and aligns exactly in the groove at the bottom of the can.


Now, take the shorter can, in which we made the holes earlier, and fit it inside the taller can. Make sure the inner cylinder lines up with the grooves of the top and bottom can (the reason why we left the lip on the shorter/upper can). This is the hardest part of this project. Some people like to use a lubricated full can as a die to stretch out the bottom can cutout, but either way, it requires some playing around. The final result should be this.


Put some alcohol it is and light it. At first the flame will be low just like on the Trangia.


In a few seconds the stove will heat up and bloom.


The stove weighs 0.4oz, and burns 12 minutes on 1 ounce of alcohol. It will boil two cups of water in about 9 to 10 minutes. By adjusting the holes on top, you can get stoves with different burn times.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Alone in the Wilderness Part II

Most of you are probably familiar with the movie Alone in the Wilderness. It has been around for a long time and has been on television quite a few times.

It depicts the life of Dick Proenneke, who is 1967 decided to go into the Alaska back country and live there in a log cabin he built himself. The footage in the movie is shot by Dick himself. If you have not seen it yet, it is well worth your time.

Well, now a second part has been released, featuring footage that was not included in the first movie. It picks up about a year after he moves to Alaska, and actually gives a more compete glimpse into how he managed to live in such isolation. Here is a clip from the movie:

You can find all the movies made by or about Dick Proenneke here, including this new movie. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

23rd New York Infantry c. 1861

This is a civil war era photograph, depicting members of the 23rd New York Infantry in camp. The photograph dates from between 1861 and 1865.


Note the axe on the ground in front of the soldiers. It appears to be a Dayton pattern boy’s axe with a curved handle. So far all the poll axes I have seen from the Civil War have had well made curved handles. This leads me to believe that by this time the curved handle was predominant.

It is often said that the curved handle came into use around the 1850. Either it made very significant gains in the market over the ten year period before the Civil War, or the introduction was more gradual and started earlier. Of course this is all speculation.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Barco Kelly Woodslasher Michigan Double Bit Axe Review

I have been looking for a good cruiser size axe to review for some time now, and I finally found one that was worth the money. It is the Kelly Woodslasher, currently being produced by Barco Industries, who have owned the Kelly brands since 1987.


Barco Industries Inc.
Axe Head Weight: 2.5 lb
Axe Length: 27 inches
Axe Head Material: Unknown carbon steel
Handle Material: Hickory
Cost: $56.00

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In terms of cost this is a very well priced mid range axe. A $56.00 axe of good quality would be a bargain. Of course, if it falls short, the price is not insignificant.

Since there aren’t any particularly well known double bit axes on the market to which I can compare this one, I figured I would just take some pictures of it next to the Granfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe, just for the size comparison. Clearly the Barco axe is a bit larger, resembling a boy’s axe is size.


The handle is about 27 inches in length (even though on their website, they have is listed as a 36 inch handle by mistake). The grain on this one, just like the other Barco axes that I have seen is perfect. The handle is a good size and well shaped. It did have a light coat of varnish, which I ended up removing. The head was attached to the handle with just a wooden wedge.

The head itself is a Michigan pattern double bit. The weight is listed as 2.5 lb, but it might be a just a bit lighter judging by the feel of it. For those of you who appreciate and collect old (pre 1950s) axes, this one will certainly be a very pleasant surprise. It is a very old school head design. Just like those older axes, the cheeks are convexed from heel to toe, a feature no longer seen on most axes. The head also comes completely unfinished. There is a center line put on each bit, but they have not been ground in any way.


That being said, the bits are not too thick, and can be brought to the desired thickness with a file. Overall, the head shape is excellent. Working on this axe is the same as if though you had found a new old stock Kelly Flint Edge. Of course, if you are looking for an axe that you can just take out of the box and use, this one will not be for you. Just like with those old axes, it is unfinished, and requires some degree of knowledge to bring it into working shape.

Overall, this is one of the best buys I have made in a long time. It was well worth the $56.00. When I pulled it out of the box, it was as if though I had managed to win a bidding war on ebay for a vintage axe in perfect condition. That being said, be aware that just like those vintage axes, it comes unfinished form the factory. If you are not comfortable with grinding your own axe, I would pass up on this one. You can buy the axe directly form Barco here

Friday, July 15, 2011

An Introduction to Axes Part 3: Variations and Features of the Felling Axe

This is the third part of the Introduction to Axes series. Here I go over some other features of the felling axe such as different sizes and design options.

Part 3 of 3

You saw this axe in the first part of the series. It is the True Temper Kelly Perfect Dayton patter axe. It has a head weight of 3.5lb and a handle length of 35 inches. The handle is original.


This is a boy’s axe. This particular one is a Collins Homestead Dayton pattern. It has a head of a little bit over 2lb and a handle of about 27 inches. The handle is the original one. Axes are still made under the Collins name, but the quality these days is very different from the axe you see in the video.


The 3/4 axe is a Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe. It has a head that weight 1.75lb and the handle is 25 inches long. These axes are currently in production and are made in Sweden.


The small axe is one that I put together. You can see more details about how I did it here. It has a 1.5lb head and a 20 inch handle.


The hatches is made by Husqvarna. This particular model is no longer in production. The head weighs 1.25lb and the handle is a little under 12 inches long.


The Full size double bit axe is a True Temper Kelly Perfect Western Pattern axe. The head weighs 3.5lb and the handle is 35 inches long. The handle is original. Double bit axes came into use in North America around the 1850s.


The cruiser axe is a Barco Cruiser Axe. It has a head weight of 2.5lb and a handle of about 27 inches. These axes are currently in production.


The straight handle axe is a Dunlap Michigan Pattern axe. It has a head weight of 4lb and a 36 inch handle. The handle is either original or an early replacement.


The modern axe without the convexed bevels is a Gransfors Bruks American Felling Axe. It has a head weight of 3.25lb and a 35 inch handle. They are currently in production.


The Michigan pattern axe that you saw compared to the True Temper Dayton, is made by PowrKraft. The head weighs 3.5lb and the handle is 35 inches long. The handle is original.


The Rockaway pattern axe is made by Plumb. It has a head weight of 3.5lb and a 35 inch handle. The handle is original.


As you saw, the phantom bevels were used by a number of manufacturers. Not all high end lines however had phantom bevels. Usually each manufacturer had several models without. Here is a double bit Michigan patter axe made by Plumb without phantom bevels. It was not shown in the video. It has a 3.5lb head and a 32 inch handle.


This is the last part of the series. I hope it has been of some use as an introduction to what you may find on the market today, both used and new.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Some Pictures From Last Weekend

Last weekend I decided to take a break from shooting content for the blog, and just spent some time in the woods with my girlfriend and the dogs.


The little one came along as well.


The blueberries are out in good numbers. In this area there are blueberry and huckleberry bushes as far as you can see.


The mushrooms also seemed to be out. I have no idea what they are, and I don’t even try to guess.





We climbed to the highest point in the area and called it a day.


We picked the opposite direction on the compass, and two hours later we were back at the car.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An Introduction to Axes Part 2: History of the American Felling Axe

This is the second part of my Introduction to Axes video. Here I briefly cover some of the history of the axe after it arrived to North American.

Part 2 of 3

16th or 17th century axe, most likely an early reproduction. It is very typical of those early axes and is representative of the European styles which first arrived to North America. The handle is just a shaped branch.


A tomahawk. This one is currently being made by Cold Steel under the name Frontier Hawk (modified). It is a fairly accurate reproduction of the trade axes introduced to the American. 


Late 1600s or early 1700s axe. It shows a rudimentary poll. Although axes were not produced with handles, the one on this axe is an authentic one, and was on the axe when it was forgotten in a barn a long time ago. It is made out of a shaped branch.


This is what has come to be known as the America axe. It came about around the 1750s in North America. Examples almost identical to this one can be seen through the mid and possibly late 1800s. The handle is made by me. It is an attempt to reproduce a handle featured on such an axe in Henry C. Mercer’s book Ancient Carpenters’ Tools. Curved handles like this one came into use around the 1850s as far as I’ve seen.


Plumb Rockaway pattern axe. Judging by the attachment method of the handle, it is pre 1950s. The handle is original. Note: the Rockaway pattern is distinguished from the Jersey pattern by the shape of the wings. They are very similar as the name reflects the location Rockaway, New Jersey.


It is important to remember that we have very little information about these early axes. Much of the early developments in axe technology are shrouded by the passage of time. There are some things for which we do have information, such as approximately when we start seeing certain types of axes, but when it comes to details, most of it is speculation.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wood Trekker Social Media Updates

As you guys probably figured out from yesterday’s post, I now have a YouTube channel. Well, actually I’ve had it for years, but have never posted any videos. I now have a camera, so I’ll give it a shot. If you guys know me from any of the forums, you’ll recognize my username-rg598. You can check out my you tube channel here, or by clicking on the “Watch me on YouTube” logo on the bottom right hand side of the blog.

Also, as some of you may know, Google has launched a site, somewhat similar to Facebook, called Google+. It is still in beta, so it is by invitation only. I actually have an account there now, and if you are already on Google+ you can find me as either Wood Trekker or Ross Gilmore.

Monday, July 11, 2011

An Introduction to Axes Part 1: Types of Axes

This year for my birthday my amazing girlfriend got me a camera, so I can finally try shooting some video. This here is my first attempt:

This video is part one of a three-part series, which looks to provide some very basic information about axes and their use. The first part focuses on several different general types of axes. You can find pictures of each axe featured in the video right below it here.

Part 1 of 3:

The Broad Axe-unknown maker. The handle appears to be original.


The Carpenter’s Hatchet-made by Vaughn & Bushnell (currently in production)


The Splitting Maul-made by Collins; 6lb head (currently in production)


The Felling Axe-made by True Temper; model Kelly Perfect; Dayton pattern; 3.5lb head; 35 inch handle (original)


All three parts of the video are already on YouTube here, but I will put the other two here as well along with pictures.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Hatchets

A while back I did a guest post for Section Hiker. You can see the original here. I would like to repost it here now, so you have the complete version in both places.

Picture 1

Why Use a Hatchet

It is an unavoidable fact that hatchets and axes are heavy tools. An average hatchet will have a 1.25lb head, which tends to make the whole hatchet close to 2lb. That type of weight must be justified by a significant use value. Whether or not a hatchet will have such high degree of usefulness to you will depend on what you wish to do in the woods. If you have no intention of cutting or processing wood on your trip, then any tool designed to do that, including a hatchet would be unnecessary weight. On the other hand, if woodworking is on the menu, a hatchet can truly shine. It is a simple tool that is nearly fail safe. It can shorten the time needed for a carving project that would take an hour with a knife, down to twenty minutes. It can turn fire making into a breeze, and serve every other role in between. The worse the weather conditions get, the more its value shows itself.

How to Select a Hatchet

Assuming that you’ve decided that a hatchet might be in your future, the next step is to go buy one. Tools tend to be very personal, so the ultimate decision will depend on what suits each person best. There are however a few things to consider.

The Head

Needless to say, a good hatchet needs to cut well. This is not only a function of sharpness, but also of the grind of the bit (the area right behind the cutting edge). If the hatchet has a thick bit, it will have a hard time penetrating into wood, even if it is extremely sharp. This is a result of more metal having to be pushed through the wood. A thick bit will also cause the hatchet to glance off the tree when chopping or carving.

If you plan on using the hatchet for woodwork, I would strongly recommend one with a thin bit (about twenty degree angle). You also want the cheeks (sides of the head) to be smooth and continuous. Any rough transitions or abrasive areas will effect the hatchet’s ability to split wood efficiently. You will see hatchets and axes on the market with many head designs, but as long as the above two considerations are kept in mind, you will end up with a very functional tool.

The Handle

There are different handle options on the market, from metal to wood. I would stay away from metal handles. While they are very strong, they are also very heavy and too much of the weight is contained in the handle. Fiberglass handles are a good option, and unless they have some other material as a core, they are very strong and light.

Wood handles are also good. One thing to note with wooden handles is the grain orientation. Ideally, when you put the hatchet on a table, with the bit facing up, the grain of the wood in the handle should be vertical, lining up with the bit. This orientation makes for the strongest handle.


This is a consideration that comes into play a lot more with larger axes than hatchets, but it is something of which to be aware. A good axe will have a balance point on the handle, right next to the head. This allows for easier control when you choke up on the axe for carving. Additionally, when the axe is balanced in such a manner, the head should rest horizontally. That means that the bit is the same weight as the poll of the axe. This will reduce wobble during a swing, increasing you accuracy.


Unfortunately, there are many axes and hatchets on the market these days that are of very low quality. The biggest issue that effects most beginners is that most tend to have very thick bits. This leads people to try them, and conclude that hatchets overall are not worth the effort.

There are however some good ones out there. From the ones I have tested, I would recommend the Graintex CA1754 Single Bit Camp Axe, the Fiskars 7850 Hatchet (now replaced by the X series axes-still very similar product with similar quality), the Husqvarna Hatchet (now being made by Hultafors; it looks different, but is still of good quality), and the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet.

Of course, the lower the price, the more likely it becomes that the tool will have manufacturing defects. When cost is lowered, quality control tends to be the first casualty. All of these hatchets however are quite capable and will serve you well. These are just few examples that I have tested. I am sure there are other good models out there.

How to Use a Hatchet


This is the hardest part of this whole post because there is so much to say in such a small space. I will focus on a few things, within this very broad subject.

When first starting to use a hatchet, the main problem is that without the proper technique, you can swing it at a tree all day long, without cutting anything. Imagine that there is a tree in front of you. If you swing the axe and hit it perpendicularly from the side, at a ninety-degree angle, the edge of the axe will cut in. If you keep pulling the axe out and swinging it back in the same way, you will spend the rest of the day making cuts into the wood, without much progress.

A much more efficient way to chop wood with an axe is to start by selecting the area where you would like to cut. Then picture a wide V shape with a point ending at least in the middle of the tree trunk. Then begin to cut it from the top and the bottom.

Picture 2

When a cut is made on the top and the bottom, the material between the two ends of the V should fall off, or can be removed by a slight twist of the axe.

Picture 3

Keep doing that until you reach the point of the V. Then, start on the other side of the tree trunk.

Picture 4

The wider the V, the faster you will remove wood from the tree, and the faster your cut will go.


We have all seen people split wood with an axe. The process can be used with a hatchet as well. The familiar technique it to place the log on a tree stump and hit it squarely with the hatchet. There are three things that I would recommend with this technique. The first is to chop in the kneeling position. Because the hatchet is very short, if you miss the log while standing, the hatchet can swing into your leg. Kneeling will mean it hits the ground before it hits you. The second it to not do it directly on the ground. If the wood splits, the hatchet will go into the ground and the edge may be damaged. The third is that you should aim for the corner of the log instead of the middle. That way the log is more likely to split instead of the hatchet getting stuck.

Picture 5

Another technique that I find useful is to take a small log and hold it by one of the ends. While holding it, position the blade of the hatchet on the side of the log at the other end. While holding both the log and hatchet in the same respective positions, lift both of them together, and then bring both the log and hatchet together down on another piece of wood. You will find that the hatchet will penetrate the wood. This eliminates any need to aim with the hatchet and is particularly useful for small pieces of wood that can not be balanced on a stump.


The ability to carve with a hatchet is one of the most underutilized aspects of the tool. Once you become comfortable with it, you will find that your carving projects get completed significantly faster. That is because you can exert a lot more force with the hatchet, which allows you to remove more wood that you would be able to do with a knife. You can regulate how much force you apply with the hatchet my repositioning your grip. The more you choke up on the handle, the more control you will have and the less force you will apply.

Picture 6

Hatchet safety

Both hatchets and axes are dangerous tools. They rely on weight and momentum to do their job, and if control is lost, the results can be very serious. I have mentioned one safety precaution, i.e. staying low to the ground so in case you miss your target, the hatchet hits the ground before it hits you.

This general approach goes for most safety issues when it comes to hatchets. For each swing, plan out where the head will land if you miss, and make sure that no part of your body is there. Once the hatchet is in mid swing, it becomes very hard to make rapid adjustments. A bit of planning will go a long way towards keeping you safe.

How to Maintain Your Hatchet

Maintenance of a hatchet has some easy and some more complex parts. Once you get your hands on a well designed, sharp hatchet, maintenance is identical to that of a knife. Keep the metal parts dry so they don’t rust; if it is a wooden handle, put some oil on it from time to time to keep it from drying out; and every so often, touch up the edge with a sharpening stone. Any of the hatchets I recommended above, should be very serviceable with just a small amount of work with a sharpening stone.

Many people like to do more serious modifications to their hatchets. Changing the grind angle using a file or replacing the handle are not uncommon. These techniques require patience and effort. You can see some information on axe maintenance here. A good resource on axes is an e-book called An Ax to Grind: A Practical Ax Manual. It was put out by the USDA and covers a wide range of topics from the history of the axe, to axe maintenance. These is also a companion video which offers some tips on more sophisticated axe techniques.


This has been a very basic primer on hatchets. It is my hope that the fundamentals of hatchet selection and proper use, will make the experience of those who are just starting out with the tool just a little bit easier and more enjoyable. I trust that the more a hatchet is used, the more apparent its value will become.