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Axe/Hatchet Carving

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  • Axe/Hatchet Carving

    I've heard about axe/hatchet carving but the only examples I can find are spoon carvings. What kinds of carvings have you seen or done that were carved primarily with a hatchet? I'd like to give it a try but my experience is only with knives and gouges.

  • #2
    I think I will let Brian take this one.
    Local club


    • #3
      Yes, Brian T should step in.
      If you're serious, consider the blade shape & what you intend to carve. Bowls & other containers are more easily shaped with curved adzes - these are hatchets with the cutting edge crossways to the handle. I'll stick with the knives & gouges.


      • #4
        I’m serious. I want to know what kind of carvings are possible with these tools.


        • #5
          Welcome Starbright. Where do you live? I am in the mountains at 53N x 120W.
          These crazy people ^^^ believe that I know about axe carving.
          I'm flatulanced.

          First, if all you have is a hatchet, something like a Fiskars X7, it will leave you frustrated. There's little to no finesse in chopping out the rough form of an animal or a totemic figure. The blade is 90 degrees wrong for cutting away small pieces. You will have almost no control at all over run-out splits.

          Second, take a look at the elbow adze and the D adze, used by First Nations carvers (and others!) here in the Pacific Northwest. Each is capable of some fine strokes but as detail tools, they are not.
          Kestrel has good pictures of these. I use both and really enjoy the rhythmic swinging to match my heart rate. The blade sizes are sort of related to the level of detail that you are carving.

          Third, At some point, you will have to put the axe aside for much smaller tools to carve any measure of recognizable detail.

          Fourth , you would most likely need to start with a piece of a log. Heavy. Big. Need a carving shed. Need support for the log (those things can squish you flat). I can get a 10' x 12" piece into my shop but the room is useless after that until it goes outside again.
          = =
          I encourage you to try. Buy a 6" x 6" cedar fence post. Maybe even an untreated round one. Piece of log. Do you see enough in the wood to make some simple drawing with a grease pencil to start? Sharpen your axe edge and have a slash at it. The grand experiment, you will learn a lot as you go.
          Brian T


          • #6
            Thank you Brian! I live in New York. There is plenty of room for log carving on my property. I'm going to give it a shot. Do you have any photographs of carvings done with an axe?


            • #7
              Good. I don't "carve" with an axe or a hatchet. Split shake blocks but that's about all.
              As for the adzes, I can show you a couple of "after-the-fact" results.
              First, all our western red cedar here is rotten in the core (solid on the coast).
              The neat thing is to chop out all the rot to get beautiful curved shells for masks and things.
              This piece is now a 24" Green Turtle shell. Off a 24" log. You can just see my Stubai 7/75 adze on the left. All I did was clean out all the rubbish. I had to switch to hand saws to do the rest of the rough as the dry cedar splits so easily and I was in no mood to make a glue-up repair.


              This was a 5" x 5" x 64" western red cedar post. I needed to round it off to show a procession of caterpillars. This is one of a pair, to be story poles describing the life of a butterfly.
              I made saw cuts every 8" and chopped out the pieces with either a Sitka or a D adze. I needed a smooth enough surface to draw on. I think I pulled a draw knife over this, as well.

              STORY C.JPG

              STORY H.jpg
              Brian T


              • #8
                If you do a computer search for "axe carvings," you get only photos of tools. Here is a photo of my experience with adze carving: I am starting the rough shaping if a Pacific Northwest style native mask. All of the final stage carving was done with gouges and knives. Finished mask:

                PNWadze.jpg PNW.jpg
                Last edited by pallin; 04-26-2021, 08:46 PM. Reason: Added photo of mask


                • #9
                  Hi Starbright
                  welcome to the forum!!! You wont go wrong with Pallin and Brian as mantors. Both real nice and helpful guys. Lots of knowledge available to you here. Enjoy the ride!!!! Look forward to seeing your work posted. Cheers.


                  • #10
                    Those are very nice carvings.

                    I just noticed that with the right grind, you can use a mallet with an axe, almost like a big chisel.


                    • #11
                      The blade in the elbow adze (photo above) was made from a car leaf spring. The grind gave it a little curve which helps control how the cut (split) exits the wood. Otherwise the split follows the wood grain to the other end of the piece, especially in cedar.
                      This is an important concept in carving. Most of the tools (gouges) are curved to allow for better control of wood removal. Straight edge tools are rarely used - perhaps only for final flattening of surfaces. Carving cuts are made with the pressure of hand, wrist, and forearm - sometimes assisted by taps with a mallet. The use of stop cuts to limit the wood being removed is also important.
                      Last edited by pallin; 04-29-2021, 11:19 AM.


                      • #12
                        When you think about it, an axe or hatchet works in a similar way to a stop cut followed by a waste removal cut. When felling a tree the man with an axe alternates the axe blows, angling from one side then the other. This facilitates the exit of the chips. We are more precise in woodcarving by putting stop cuts exactly where we want the wood removal to end, then shaving carefully to them. Carving a bowl or cup with a hatchet may be similar, but it would take a lot of practice to put those hatchet blows exactly where you want them - every time.


                        • #13
                          An axe or hatchet blade is just too wide. Look at enough D-adzes in museum collections and you will soon see that some are, in fact, made with 1/2 a hatchet head as the blade! That's how useful and essential First Nations considered that tool design to be. There's some regional popularity around the Salish Sea (southern style of the Pacific Northwest.)

                          From time to time, I practice with the Kestrel "Baby Sitka," doing my best to texture large cedar surfaces. I'm ambidextrous, I can swing the adze with either hand with confidence. But, you can see that my RH strikes don't look like my LH strikes.

                          Some blade smiths in the Pacific Northwest do in fact make bowl adzes. I don't want to imagine hitting myself below the waist with one of those monsters.
                          Brian T