Guest post by Alex Leavens, who teaches homesteading and wilderness skills. Visit his site, Old Federal Axe Co.
For the Survival Kit in your Car
An axe is a handy all-purpose tool that can be tossed into the trunk of a car, canoe, or backpack, and should be a guest on every camping trip, hunting trip, or country drive. An axe can be used to rapidly process firewood in an emergency but can also shave kindling, clear downed trees on a back road, cut through thick ice, help dig a car out of mud or snow, pound wooden stakes, and many other creative tasks.
Your Off-Grid Fuel Source
More and more people are looking for alternatives to fossil fuels. Whether you live in the city or country and if you saw your own firewood or get cordwood delivered, you’ll need a splitting maul and a hatchet. Axes can be all-purpose tools but they’re also surprisingly specialized. There are axes for splitting, chopping, and shaping wood. Having the right axe for the right job will save lots of time, money, and frustration. Tools used to split wood will be thicker near the blade as their sole job is to separate the long wood fibers, unlike a thinner, sharper chopping axe whose job is to sever the fibers and lift away waste chips.
An Axe is a Chainsaw’s Best Friend
Whether it’s for fuel for your wood stove, removing a downed tree in the yard, or just managing the back forty, the chainsaw clearly dominates the woods. But where your chainsaw goes, so should your axe. The axe can be used as a mallet to pound in plastic chainsaw wedges, limb branches too awkward and unsafe to get with a chainsaw, and your work need not stop just because your chainsaw breaks down or runs out of mix. If your chainsaw needs a break you can do some important limbing and clearing with a light and portable ¾ axe or a “cruiser axe.” (A small double-bit axe with a 28inch handle.)
The Axe is a Thinking Tool
I believe that it takes more brains and sensitivity to operate an axe than it does pure muscle. Of course there’s always a degree of elbow grease required when using any hand tool but a skilled axe-person will be able to read the wood, use good form, and let the weight of the axe do most of the work. A person who learns to use an axe with skill will develop finesse and artistry and knowledge of the axe is also linked to knowledge of wood—how different woods behave, what wood is good for tools, for firewood, or for building—an essential body of knowledge for someone interested in survival.
A Mark of Skill, Independence, and Americana
The American Felling Axe we know today is a true American innovation. The heavier poll and shorter, wider blade made it a far more efficient tool than the European axe from which it evolved.
It’s an important symbol of American spirit and independence and it’s a tool that is uniquely intertwined with classic American icons and images. Abraham Lincoln was a master with an axe, the poetry of Robert Frost is rich with images of the axe and tools of the farm, and the axe appears in the many drawings an paintings of the American artist, Eric Sloane—famous for his paintings of barns and knowledge of old tools and country ways.
The axe is also a living symbol that’s making a comeback as more and more people take to the homestead and relearn old skills. A person who wields an axe with skill and knowledge can carve out quite a comfortable existence in the woods or homestead and pass those skills down to the next generation of independent Americans.
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