Axes, Hatchets, & Machetes

My Very Own Knife Story. With Axes Instead Of Knives

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

Humans aren’t given the speed of cheetahs, the strength of bears, or the teeth of tigers. Yet we’ve still managed to muddle by, because the last hundred thousand years or so have constantly taught our hominid ancestors a simple but important rule: Have a tool!

As you may already suspect, I’m a clever little hominid and I have plenty of tools. I got to use the hell out of this one on Saturday.

Winter seems to be arriving early in the Pacific Northwest this year, and we’ve been robbed of one of our favorite seasons. Today’s early-autumn splendor included torrential rains and powerful winds, which blew down power lines all over the region.

They also blew down a 50-foot maple tree in our neighbor’s yard, narrowly missing his parked car and completely blocking the road in front. City and county road crews were swamped with similar calls, and they advised that they probably couldn’t respond until Sunday.

When I got Connor’s call for help I grabbed my axe and gloves and headed over. When I saw the ruined jungle of branches and trunk blocking 15th Street, I knew that my axe and I were going to get a hell of a workout. We may be suburbanites but we’re not helpless.

I was really glad I keep the Estwing really sharp, because it was cleaving 3″ branches in one or two swings, and biting an inch into the full thickness of the tree trunk. Wood chips and Paul Bunyan jokes were flying, and I had the whole 50-footer almost completely limbed in about 20 minutes. I had chopped the upper trunk (ten to fifteen inches thick) into a few manageable sections when the cavalry arrived in the form of the neighbor with the chain saw.

In another twenty minutes several tons of tree were sectioned and cleared out of the roadway. By the time the city road crew arrived (later the same day, as it happens) all they had to do was haul away the timber and feed the tree chipper.

Lessons learned? Lots of them, in order of importance:

  • Have a tool! Have several, and make sure some of them don’t require electricity or a 4G data connection. Cutting tools, rope and fire are the the Holy Trinity of indispensable human tools. Keep them handy, and know how to use them.
  • Don’t wait for help when things start to break down. Be the help.
  • Keep your axe sharp! My Estwing isn’t the greatest axe in the world, but after 30 minutes with a whetstone this summer it’s a lean, mean chopping machine. There were some horribly blunt camp hatchets literally bouncing off the wet green maple today, and somebody could have been hurt.
  • Don’t put your axe back in its soaked leather sheath.

That is all. Carry on.

Discussion

10 responses to ‘My Very Own Knife Story. With Axes Instead Of Knives

  1. This is really great, thanks Chris. I especially liked the “Be the help” comment. In life it can be nice to just sit down and wait for help to arrive, but there’s nothing quite like a small disaster to bring together a neighborhood.

  2. Having lived on a farm in country where it snowed and had heavy rains with dirt roads be the help is pretty much the way of life. We helped ourselves and each other. It’s the best way to live.

  3. Nice. I’ve been ‘miring the Estwing axes at the local hardware store. I’ve been using their rock hammers for years and I’ve always liked the brand. I think I’ll pickup an axe to replace my crappy hatchet (which would probably have bounced off the wet maple). Any recommendations on how to sharpen an axe? I don’t think my Sypie Sharpmaker will work.

  4. I respect the durability of those axes, but man do they vibrate like a harp after you hit your target.

    The wood handled ones sure save my wrists.

  5. Not to downplay the importance of a good axe, but this inspires me to start seriously looking at chainsaws again. We’ve got some big trees around, and they’re saying it should be a pretty heavy winter (more than the seventeen feet of snow that fell last year.)

  6. I probably should have mentioned the downside too: lots of blisters, and a left thumb that’s still all tingly and a bit numb from gripping the axe wrong once. The vibrations down the metal handle were, um, ‘vigorous’.

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