Thursday, June 27, 2013

Carving Axe Part 4: Shifting The Balance

As soon as I had the new handle fitted into the axe I started chopping up every piece of scrap within reach to find out what the tool was made of and decide if I needed to change the angle of the bevels.  The tool performed well, but it didn't have the right feel.  This gets tricky to put words to, but as I swung and chopped, the axe felt sluggish in my hand.

I stopped to look at it between bursts of chopping and had a thought.

Photo by Peter Follansbee

During a spoon and bowl carving class taught by Jogge Sundvist at Country Workshops.  I got to play around with a Viking Axe made by Stefan Ronnqvist.  These axes are things of beauty and intuitive to use.  In short, they are everything you want a tool to be.  They feel light and nimble in use, but with enough mass to really go to work.

It was that nimble feeling in the hand that I was looking for and I knew exactly how to get it.

Notice in the photo above how much material there is in front of the eye of the Viking axe.  This forward mass gives the axe that wonderful balance.  As soon as you pick it up it feels ready to go to work.

So I cut the hammer head from the back of my shingle axe, and it was transformed.  I picked it up and it had that light, nimble feel.  The new forward balance of the tool gave it the feeling of being ready to do whatever I asked of it, and it backed up that feeling by delivering greater control when put to use.

I couldn't just leave the sawed off, ugly nub behind the handle so I set up my grinder and went to work.

Grinding the chamfers.

I had to use both wheels to grind the chamfers on the back so that the handle wouldn't interfere.  This could also easily be done with files, maybe more easily.

Shaping the rear profile.

If I had had even a glimmer of an idea that I was going to do this I would have done this grinding before fitting the handle.

Top view.

You can see that my axe has more mass behind and around the eye than the Viking axe.  I could tell that it was going to start looking funny if I removed much more material.

The chamfer on the back edge flows right into the octagonal handle.

This process got me thinking a lot more about the balance of an axe and what handle shapes would translate to the most intuitive use.  I'm sure I'll get another opportunity to play around with those ideas in the future.

And when you can buy one of these axe heads at a flea market for $8.00, why not play around a little?


  1. I'm curious if you painted the back part of the axe where you cut it, if so will the paint come off on any wood you use it with?

    1. No paint on the back part of the axe. The lighting in that particular photo just made it look darker. It is actually quite bright right now. I plan to blue the surface with judicious use of my little mapp gas torch, but haven't gotten around to it yet.


  2. I have a similar hatchet. I like the idea of cutting off the hammer head piece. Was wondering if you thought of removing any more of the head on the other side to remove the nail puller section and make it look a little more like a viking axe? My hand seems like it would like a little more room when I choke up towards the head when doing carving work.

    1. You read my mind. As soon as I cut the back off I looked at that nail puller and saw it extending up into a profile similar to the viking axe. I didn't cut out that area for a couple of reasons. Without the hammer head on the back I had already significantly reduced the total weight of the tool and I like a hatchet to have enough mass to do the hard work that I put it through. A lighter tool is of limited use to me. Also I really liked the balance of the tool, so I didn't want to alter that by taking more material from the front of the head. It would look GREAT though, and I would love to see pictures and hear how it goes if you give it a try. Let me know how it goes.