A New Broad Axe


The broadaxe I ordered from Highland Woodworking finally arrived after a short backorder, and what a beauty! My brother bought this for me as a gift, he knew that I was in the market looking for one. I thought I’d wind up getting some rusticle on ebay that belonged to an old tie hacker or the like, to have a new tool of this quality is wonderful. And quality it is, the steel holds a keen working edge, even through the knots on the pine around here (ponderosa, lodgepole).



I decided that a right hand scissor grind would be the best fit for what I want to do with it, namely hew square timbers. I know from watching Youtube videos that if you want to get serious about hewing large beams there are much broader and heavier axes out there. I played around with it for as long as my forearms would bear on some short sections of log I use as cribbing, no material to work as of yet…bummer, because there’s real pleasure and joy in hewing work, and its faster than sawing beams with my maebiki-oga. Now if I get a log with excessive butt flare I can square it down a bit and make it more reasonable to saw. Now if I only had an adze…haha.


I put the plow plane to work cutting the tongue and groove on the backing for my piece of cabinet work.


I couldn’t get a good shot of the tongue cutting blade. What I have managed to show is the poor shaving escapement. Veritas, who makes this plane, include a shaving deflector with every tongue cutting blade. So I have three of these little deflectors that fit in the depth stop on the right side of the plane and seem to be very little help, not sure what they were thinking there. But if you take a sufficiently thick shaving it does tend to jump free of the plane body and keep from tangling up.


I processed the tongue and groove on all of the pine for the cabinet back, though I’ve since made a design change and will need to re-saw a bit more.


I’m using miters on the edges of the dovetails that connect the bottom shelf to the sides, so I thought I better give the joint a practice try.


Now I have to through dovetail across the width of these white ash panels, no easy task, especially when the panel is 80″ long and you can’t clamp it vertically to saw the tails. I’ve been practicing my dovetailing technique with the board leaning diagonally on a low saw horse, we’ll see how accurate I can be in an difficult sawing position. I spent several hours making up story sticks. Idiot sticks! There’s one for the elevation and two for each of the plan views. In the photo above I’m using one to gauge the needed panel width so I can set my large kebiki gauge.


There was a bit of damage to one of the panels that I wasn’t able to remove when planing to thickness, so I decided to lay in a patch.


The low angle block plane and shooting board ensure that the edges of the patch are jointed square.


I then used a plunge mortising bit in my electric router to take out most of the waste. I’ve been making a very conscious effort with this piece to use all of my power tools to their maximum ability to save me time. It’s still taken probably sixty hours or so for me to dimension all of the material (maybe 80, I didn’t keep track), and I’m feeling the lack of a planer and jointer. Unfortunately Chris Hall’s blog “thecarpentryway” has me convinced that good machines only exist in far and away places such as Germany and Japan, and they don’t export easily. Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but I know enough about machine tools today not to want to spend my money easily for a big box store machine that will never be capable of decent accuracy and can’t handle the sizes of half of the material I need to process.


The grain match for the patch way okay, but I missed on the colour. Looks cool! Looks hopefully like I give a shit about what I’m making.


Here I have the elevation story stick clamped to one side of the panel. I transferred all of the marks and then brought a line square across with my sashigane. After clamping the story stick to the opposing side I checked that all of the marks lined up with the square, to make sure that my initial line at the bottom was truly square. When you play around with the sashigane a bit you’ll notice that how you hold it does have an effect on accuracy, and I can see why I might want a really large try square that could give more consistent registration on the edge of the board.


Trimming to my bottom line that will take the through dovetails with a low angle block plane and edge block clamped to avoid blowing out the corner.


I finished today with marking the mortises that house the shelf tenons. I’ve done another piece of cabinet work with through tenons on the shelving, but not a wedged tenon. So when it came time for me to decide on the dimensions and placement of these wedged tenons it occurred to me that they need to be wedged against the edge grain of the mortise, not the side grain. I say that because I did a search online for examples of this technique, and found plenty of examples where a wider tenon was used and wedged such that it would expand against the side grain of the panel, a sure recipe for splits. Thus we arrive at these small little tenons placed closer together. And would you guess who I found searching online using this technique? Chris Hall building a bookshelf….

9 thoughts on “A New Broad Axe”

  1. When I was sawing a dovetail for a spalted maple back (I’ll hopefully get pictures up soon), I held it like usual-on a diagonal, leaned against my low bench.
    ‘crack’ and a piece of the dovetail that I had cut first came out T_T

    When I watched more videos of tansu makers, I saw one with an angled workbench; the board was placed on it, and the angled bench let him saw the dovetails without possibly damaging the timbers!

    I think my biggest desire when I first started woodworking was a full machine and hand tool shop. Roubo bench, Lie-Nielsens, saw stops and those good old 60s saws.

    Now I just want room. I have my tools and I have learned just how many tasks can be handled by a chisel instead of a specialty tool. But the big thing now is lack of space.
    “If only, if only…”

  2. Diagonal workbench! Great idea, I’ll see what I can rig up to try the concept. I’ve noticed that I prefer quite a narrow range of angle when sawing with the board at a diagonal on the low sawhorse. If I’m working on something short and small like a drawer side or practice joinery I’ll rest the work on another larger board to give it support and change the angle. Holding little pieces of wood with your foot while sawing is challenging! I think of Odate in his tools book sawing the fence for a kebiki, just a little postcard size piece of wood, and him holding it with not much more than a toe.

    I think it was on Raney’s blog that I first read the saying, and I paraphrase, “sanding, grinding, filing, planing: these are operations, not occupations, let the machine do it for you.” Thankfully the hand tool/machine tool world is no strict dichotomy, we learn important skills from both. My dad was really a machine tool kind of guy, so I came into this stuff backwards, and sort of had a revolt against the use of machine tools. But I’m more and more conscious of the amount of time it takes me to do various tasks, especially dimensioning stock, and I am in the position of understanding why I might want a shoebox planer, or a jointer, but not needing one of necessity because of first developing the hand tool skills. There’s another saying I can think of from engineering parlance, “A difference that makes no difference is no difference”. I wrestle with this at times when deciding how to work.

    1. Love that negative statement of Bateson’s formula Gabe. It’s a good benchmark to check your own anality about the work, and the reasons why you make what you do. If it makes a difference for me I will go for it.

      Talking about machine tools, I was today in the university making 2 more brass hammer heads, I love the smell of cutting oil in your hands. The brass was cut to size with a hack saw, then the hole drilled and expanded in a column drill. I finished the hole with files. In this case the use of machines didn’t make a difference, but as soon as you put wood grain on it, it will make a gigantic difference to me how to orient the grain and all that… and then I want my small spokeshave and knife.

      1. Can you state Bateson’s formula? I wasn’t aware of the origin of what I quoted, tried to look it up but for some reason my google-fu failed me in this regard. The brass hammers you made sound great! You know, I didn’t really appreciate the aspect of grain orientation until reading a post on shinglemaker’s blog where he changed a grain direction for some bars on a window opening. Of course, grain orientation is something that Chris Hall always takes to the nth degree, I try not to feel like I’m turning into him at times, but maybe chasing his tail. It all starts with the fellow who mills the log from the tree, does it not? I have so much to learn, just not enough time in the day. I hope Valpo is as lovely as I imagine it to be!

        1. From wiki: `Bateson defined information as “a difference which makes a difference.”`

          Let me get a pic of those hammer heads and upload them together with the view of the house. Valpo is great but it does smell like pee in some places. Cheap and good food and I can actually breathe there, here in santiago I’m getting asthma or something like that.

  3. Hello Gabe,

    Congratulations on the axe. The Gränsfors 1900 series is a very good model, and that’s a thoughtful gift!

    I have a few questions for you , since I just received my first Maebiki-oga via Buyee. I have cleaned up the plate and the touched up the rather sharp teeth. They have the chip breaker facet in the top too.

    Have you done any more experimenting with vertical vs. horizontal sawing positions? Would you still go universally for the horizontal/sitting position, or are there situations where you would rather go for an upright or inclined up/down position? Thanks.

    Here’s some tips on something I know much more about – chopping:

    1. You don’t need an adze when you have a single-edge 1900. It will give a “perfect” flat face, which can be cleaned up with plane if you want.
    In contrast a double-bevelled broad axe neeeds to be tilted off-axis, and will therefore give a slightly scooped surface. This could be cleaned up with an adze.

    An adze, however, is very good for making curved timbers, hence their popularity with boat-builders.

    2. You are right that historically broad-axes were often bigger. There are two point to be made about this, however:

    a. When you need to break of huge chunks, converting really big trees into dimension lumber, then a big heavy single-bevelled broad axe makes sense. This is found e.g. in the Canadian pattern – since they produced massive sections of lumber to be transported to England for resawing. For dimesioning especially softwood, a heavy thick-edged axe makes sense (see below).

    Squaring up tree trunks would free up space and weight during the sea journey. The same was done (though with pit saws) with hard woods from the Indian colony/Burma.

    b. If you need to get a finished surface specifically in OAK, then a very long blade makes gives a good shearing action working diagonally/slicing across the surface This would be either the Central European Goosewing or compare with the Hedeby-axe (e.g. the Gränsfors Danish broadaxe). However, in spite of their size, these are rather lightweight. A sharp, thin blade slices off wafers of oak

    c: For softwoods, however, you need a wider angle on the bevel, so that the bevel facing the waste side wedges the waste away. Similarly to the need for more set in a soft-wood saw. Examples would be the Finnish axes, such as the Billnäs – or indeed the Japanese Masakari.

    d: From knowledgable sources in Sweden and Norway, I have learned that Gränsfors introduced the 1900 series not as a historically “correct” model, but as a working tool for modern log framers. Typically, for Scandinavian scribe-fit log building, the timbers are delivered cut only on two opposing sides. The round is left the two remaining faces, because the need to be scribe-fit to each other. In cheaper houses, these are machine-ground to a similar height, so that the timbers can be stacked like Lincoln logs. However, there are still customers willing to pay for a real scribe-fit interlock (with a hollow in the underside of the log fitting precisely over the log beneath it).

    For this, the 1900 is used to give a hand-hewn surface on the sawn faces. It’s lighter weight is perfect for this job. I don’t think a lot of timbers are dimensioned by hand today, outside of restoration/museum work or by private enthusiasts.

    The upside is, that the 1900 is light enough to be used for single-handed and bench use. It is not the tool of the hewers of 150 years ago, but it is a more widely useful tool for many today.

    3: You are completely right, that the axe can be used to remove the cants. If you haven’t tried this before, you will proably be surprised by the ease compared to doing this with a saw. Of course, you will make chunks instead of a plank, but it is usually very good either as firewood (I chuck a handful in every time I put on a new log in the fire place to restart some hot flames). Or you can use it in the garden.

    Since you are only trying to remove just enough to get to a full plank, ignore any of the “old-timer” ways of notching. These are good for heavy removal but much too slow for this small amount.
    Just snap a line and, using your broad-aze, cut a series of angled cuts ALL the way down to the line. With a short-handled axe like yours I find it best just rotate the log 90 degrees, and striking the surface pointing towards the sky.

    Trying to score on the side with a short axe is just plain dangerous (because you can’t stand on the log and hit beneath your feet).
    I find it easier to angle the scoring notches so that the neck of the axe points toward the top, and the blade towards the root. Similar to splitting. This works for most trees, including pines, though for spruce its the opposite (why, I don’t know)

    Afterwards, rotate the log back so that the line is vertical, and move down along the log. The scoring breaks the chips, ensuring that you are not splitting deeper into the wood in front of the axe. Always make sure to cut ALL the way through the cut before moving. Otherwise, the uncut wood at the bottom of the line will easily start acting as a wedge on the axe – pushing you little by little off-axis and ruining your work.

    Remember to work with a slicing action. When removing thicker sections of softwood, remember to give the handle a yank to the waste side after sinking the axe. This breaks off chunks. Otherwise you can spend a lot of time chopping into the same spot again and again. Softwoods seem to have an amazing ability to “fill” the gash and grip the axe so you need to break of the chunks to counter this. Hard woods like oak are harder to cut into, but they also “give up the fight”, whereas freshly felled pine can be like a sponge.
    I just managed to sink no less than 4(!) metal wedges into a medium pine without any crack showing. They were just swallowed up. Amazing.

    Finally, you can refine the surface once again going along the log. For this, you need to chop more straight up-down. Place the front hand with the thumb on the NECK of the axe (monkey-grip), not wrapped around the handle. You need to sorta-push tha axe down

    The axei s a very different tool than a plane or saw. I personally love that it’ such a dynamic tool. Once the chop has been initialized, there is very little you can do about the trajectory or the speed until it lands. That is, you don’t get any feedback about how well placed it was, until it lands. Compared to a saw, where you can adjust before going off the line, I’m excited by this need to have complete trust in my own skill and focus level.



    1. Thanks for the detailed comment Henrik, I really appreciate the advice on hewing as I have much to learn. To answer your question on horizontal vs. vertical orientation of a log for sawing with maebiki-oga, I would have to say that I definitely prefer a vertical orientation. That is mainly due to the fact that I’m faster with the saw in the cut vertically. Sawing the log horizontally seems to be most appropriate for logs over a certain weight, however heavy that I can’t move them by myself, it is at that point that the log is heavy enough not to move while sawing. One benefit of sawing horizontally is that it uses your body very symmetrically, you get to change the dominant hand position as you change sides of the log. I find that I’m also more accurate sawing horizontally, and get a better cut surface quality. In Mr. Hayashi’s book on kobiki shokunin, “Reading Trees” there are some pictures where he is sawing large diameter logs (looks to be more than a meter in diameter) with the log strictly vertical. I’ve been thinking that I could probably get faster sawing horizontally with practice, and it makes sense if you want to work in doors during the winter and have a ceiling height that won’t allow for a vertical orientation. What it needs for smaller diameter logs (less than half a meter for the pine here) is an appropriate work holding solution, something like what modern horizontal bandsaw mills use to hold a log on the carriage, that would allow you to cant off one surface of the log, rotate it to the bottom, and cut from the top to the bottom without log dogs getting in the way.

      Once again Henrik, thanks for the lengthy comment, you educated me about the context for the 1900 series broadaxe quite thoroughly! I hope your maebiki-oga serves you well, there is a great deal to be learned from its use. If you find yourself loving the work I’ll have to start a hand sawyers confederation and come over to Copenhagen one of these days! I love to hear from people using maebiki-oga, there is a serious dearth of knowledge surrounding the subject. I get so annoyed seeing people show these saws on youtube, but then to say its only to hang on a wall, never to be used. I hope you hit the sweet spot with your sharpening and let the saw sing happily in the cut!

      1. This is a lot of info, very informative!

        I’m kinda glad I didn’t get my maebiki oga, but also still sad…Partly glad because I have no time this year. I get five-three hours a night trying to stay on top of homework!

        I did find this album on Reddit, I think you might be interested in, Gabe: http://imgur.com/a/G4qjG A wind-powered saw in the Netherlands. Pretty nice.

      2. Dear Gabe,

        Thank you for your clarifications and additional thoughts. That’s why I love reading your blog (and Jason’s and Sebastian’s) – there is a lot of knowledge grounded in both thinking and real practice.

        I just picked up this years allowance – 90 logs – and have been busy debarking them, so I will get ample opportunity to learn about the maebiki (trial by fire). Like you wrote about sawing, I peel logs by mind’s eye in the evenings. Funny how the brain scrambles to new acquire a new skill.

        I had been looking for maebiki’s for a couple of years. I have been sold on Japanese saws in general, but was annoyed with the lack of sharpenable, high-quality saws in the market-place. Especially in the biggish sizes that I tend to need. Finding out about buyee – and then learning much more about saw sharpening from your collective efforts gave me the final touch of bravery – and I now have anvil and hammer for tooth setting and a beautiful couple of big old saws.

        Well, I sure didn’t mean to give you an “education” – I hope you don’t hope I feel I hijacked the post. I just felt inspired from your post and wanted to share some of the finer points I have found out. Like all of these deceptively simple tools, there is much more to the axe than meets the eye. Especially when we want to do efficient work.

        Like with saws, it can be hard to find axes sufficiently big to use instead of the machines that replaced them. But instead of offering a dumbed-down. low-quality,(and hence ineffiecient) version of an old design, I actually think that Gränsfors hit the nail on the head with these axes.

        I will look forward to reading your blog with great interest, and will probably have learned a lot about sharpening and sawing by winter’s end. And now to work out a vertical holding method….

        All best

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