Author Topic: Bigger is better....  (Read 2357 times)

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Offline Old Philosopher

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Bigger is better....
« on: February 10, 2013, 10:40:41 AM »
At least where axes are concerned, IMHO.

I just finished re-hafting a small axe that's been out of use for a couple years. Technically a 'boy's axe', it's a 2.5# head on a 28" handle.
 http://bladesandbushcraft.com/index.php/topic,4522.0.html

I've been using it for splitting kindling over the past few days, and it's all coming back to me now!
I usually use my full sized DB for the job. 4# head and 36" handle. Since I'm starting with 1/4 rounds of dense Larch, they have to be slabbed down before they become kindling. After beating on them for a few days with this lighter weight camp axe, I'm reminded that "light duty use" means just that!

The difference in the amount of energy it takes to process wood with the light axe vs. the heavier DB is apparent to me. The reason, I'm guessing, is that I'm not as robust as I was when I was 30 years old. Back then it didn't matter if it was an 8# splitting maul, or a hatched. Might made right.  But now it's very noticeable how much easier a bigger tool makes the job.  ;) A large splitting maul wears me out these days, but I can swing this 4# DB for hours.

What I've found over the past few days is that there is just no comparison between a lighter axe and a heavier axe, especially with the mechanical advantage of a longer handle. The longer handle gives me a wider arc, and greater velocity than a shorter handle. The heavier head imparts more kinetic energy to the wood. I'd compare it to a .22LR vs. a .30-06. It would seem like a no-brainer, but I don't know how many times in the past I carried an axe similar to this smaller one into the woods, under the impression that saving 2-3 pounds in carry weight was the smart thing to do.

So...I'm just throwing this out for discussion, because I know a lot of folks prefer shorter light weight axes, and even hatchets in the bush. Your thoughts? Anyone?


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Offline wolfy

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Re: Bigger is better....
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2013, 12:57:17 PM »
I carry the big DB Plumb in the van and truck for splitting and everything else, as a rule.  I'm most accurate and efficient with it, but the small Plumb 'boy's axe' SB goes with me exclusively, on canoe trips because it fits so well in the #3 Duluth pack.  I carry too much stuff on portages as it is, without the added weight and bulk of the big axe.  I get along real well with my hand forged 'hawk out on short whims in the woods.  I even tried one of those new Cold Steel Trailhawks*, but they feel like toys to me. :shrug:


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Offline Bax 40

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Re: Bigger is better....
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2013, 01:01:34 PM »
More weight, more handle length= less work! I am a fan of 36 inch handles and large double bit axes.

At least thats my belief and as a bonus it keeps that foot removing tool further from you while working!

Just my opinion I could be wrong.


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Offline Bearhunter

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Bigger is better....
« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2013, 02:00:19 PM »
I like 'em all ;D except I'm really not a big fan of hatchets :shrug:
I do like a  3 1/2#-4# DB on a 36" handle, but I like my full size SB's on shorter handle.
Anything from 3# to 4 1/2# SB, I like a 28-32" handle. The shorter handle gives you more control and accuracy. There IS a reason that competition choppers use 4 1/2 to 5# axe heads on 28" handles... And even then some will choke up on the haft.

Of course, I like my 'boys' axes to be on 28" handles as well as my 2 1/2# DB 'cruisers'.
Those little DB 'cruisers' can really chop for being so light weight. I think it's because of the darn near perfect length to weight ratio. Of course a full size DB on a 36" gives you about the same result, but I don't want to pack a full size axe around.

My favorite felling axe is a 3 1/2# SB Collins Legitimus Connecticut pattern on a 29" handle which is the factory original.
« Last Edit: February 10, 2013, 02:29:20 PM by Bearhunter »
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Bigger is better....
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2013, 02:14:04 PM »
Thanks for the input, BH.

I just finished splitting another tote of kindling using just the camp axe. I did make another observation in the process.

Switching up axes can have it's problems. If I had a half dozen axes to choose from, I'd probably never get really good with any of them. The first thing I notice using the lighter axe was my swing and accuracy. I don't really play well with SB axes anymore, and I ended up glancing off some of the thinner pieces that would not have been a problem with the DB. Of course the other thing is the amount of force necessary to split the wood with a lighter axe. Harder swing, less accurate.

The other thing was the length of the handle I wasn't used to. Several times I hit my work piece, split it just fine, and the axe continued through, missing the chopping block, and swinging toward my legs. Again, that's because of being used to the longer handle. If all I used for days on end was the shorter axe, I'd learn to compensate for that.

All I'm saying is that switching from a heavier axe with a longer handle to a shorter lighter axe was hazardous to my health. I really don't think I'd want to have a collection, each one with a different balance, weight and head shape.
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Offline Bearhunter

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Bigger is better....
« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2013, 03:25:34 PM »
I got to thinking about my splitting tools...
My primary splitting tool is my splitting maul. The head is 5 1/2# on a 31 1/4" haft... I use it everyday this time of year and love it.
For the 'tough stuff' I use my 8# sledge on a 34 1/4" haft along with a 5# wedge.

So maybe the reason that I like shorter handles so much is because I swing my 31 1/4" maul on a daily basis and that's what I'm use to :shrug:
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Bigger is better....
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2013, 03:41:18 PM »

So maybe the reason that I like shorter handles so much is because I swing my 31 1/4" maul on a daily basis and that's what I'm use to :shrug:
Probably truth to that! Another thing that doesn't get mentioned much is the operator. My son over shot his mark with the splitting maul. He's 6'5" tall. My other son is 6'8". He has to stand down the block to chop wood, and hates it.  :P
I'm still hovering around 6 feet tall, and get along great with a 36" haft on a tool. I think it makes a difference that's not usually considered.
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Offline Bearhunter

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Bigger is better....
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2013, 04:16:24 PM »
Dang... You've got some tall kids :eek:

I believe your right about height being a factor.
I'm only around 5' 8", so a 36" axe handle is almost as tall as I am :P
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Offline OutdoorEnvy

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Re: Bigger is better....
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2013, 04:49:00 PM »
Very interesting thread topic OP

As you mentioned in my other thread it will be interesting to see the difference between my 3.5lb 28" cruiser vs. my 3.5lb 36" fullsize DB.  I don't have to process wood on a regular basis so I'll let you folks get to the real details.  I'll share my thoughts after swinging the cruiser a bit.  But the 3.5lb Plumb DB on the 36" handle has been my favorite axe when processing a lot of wood.  It 's just easier.  You don't have to swing as hard and it just does the work like it should.
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Bigger is better....
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2013, 05:46:24 PM »
...  But the 3.5lb Plumb DB on the 36" handle has been my favorite axe when processing a lot of wood.  It 's just easier.  You don't have to swing as hard and it just does the work like it should.
Thanks!
I think we're getting into another realm here that I have maintained for a long time. That's the cross-sectional profile of a DB vs. an SB.

The DB is thinner, and if you look at it one way, almost a "hollow ground" effect. The SB, whether felling or splitting, is a wedge, like a narrow maul. It just seems to me that the DB splits wood with less effort. I've tried to analyze it, and I'm not sure why that is. The DB seems to slice into the grain, and force the fibers apart, while the SB drives them apart with a tearing motion. I know it sounds the same, 'split the grain', but it seems to work better with the thinner DB.
YMMV.
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Offline wolfy

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Re: Bigger is better....
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2013, 05:52:18 PM »
...  But the 3.5lb Plumb DB on the 36" handle has been my favorite axe when processing a lot of wood.  It 's just easier.  You don't have to swing as hard and it just does the work like it should.
Thanks!
I think we're getting into another realm here that I have maintained for a long time. That's the cross-sectional profile of a DB vs. an SB.

The DB is thinner, and if you look at it one way, almost a "hollow ground" effect. The SB, whether felling or splitting, is a wedge, like a narrow maul. It just seems to me that the DB splits wood with less effort. I've tried to analyze it, and I'm not sure why that is. The DB seems to slice into the grain, and force the fibers apart, while the SB drives them apart with a tearing motion. I know it sounds the same, 'split the grain', but it seems to work better with the thinner DB.
YMMV.

If it were bullets of the same weight, Ol' P., we could easily explain it as an example of better 'sectional density' ;)
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Bigger is better....
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2013, 06:00:45 PM »
...  But the 3.5lb Plumb DB on the 36" handle has been my favorite axe when processing a lot of wood.  It 's just easier.  You don't have to swing as hard and it just does the work like it should.
Thanks!
I think we're getting into another realm here that I have maintained for a long time. That's the cross-sectional profile of a DB vs. an SB.

The DB is thinner, and if you look at it one way, almost a "hollow ground" effect. The SB, whether felling or splitting, is a wedge, like a narrow maul. It just seems to me that the DB splits wood with less effort. I've tried to analyze it, and I'm not sure why that is. The DB seems to slice into the grain, and force the fibers apart, while the SB drives them apart with a tearing motion. I know it sounds the same, 'split the grain', but it seems to work better with the thinner DB.
YMMV.

If it were bullets of the same weight, Ol' P., we could easily explain it as an example of better 'sectional density' ;)

Exactly! I thought of comparing them to a spire point and a round nose. The spitting maul is the 'wad cutter', IMO. Hahahaha!
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Offline C3 Knives

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Re: Bigger is better....
« Reply #12 on: February 14, 2013, 08:27:34 AM »
Reading this it made me think about why I use a 5lb sledge to do my stamping. Lift it up and let the weight of the tool do most of the work. Try stamping with a ball peen hammer. You get what I'm sayin. Like you said For lighter chopping duties. Hatchets are for even lighter. little branch's and fire starting. When packing there are plenty of nights I don't start a fire at all. Cook on my stove and then hang out in the dark and listen to the woods. You don't need to carry an axe. For dedicated spitting duties there are the splitting mauls. Lot's of weight and big wedge. All pretty much what you fellas were saying.
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Bigger is better....
« Reply #13 on: February 14, 2013, 09:57:32 AM »
Everyone has their own camp routines. The tool usually reflects their needs. I carry a machete instead of a hatchet, because I think it's more versatile. But that's just my personal preference.

There is a point of diminishing returns, IMO, when it comes to splitting fire wood. It's hard to paint a word picture to describe what I mean.
I don't favor mauls, at all. They are heavy, blunt and wide. They split by sheer energy transferred to the wood, and force the fibers apart. A thinner blade, from a SB axe to an even thinner DB actually does some cutting. They require less energy to penetrate further between the wood fibers.  I've been able to pop rounds of wood with the DB that the maul just bounced off.  If the wood is gnarly enough to need a heavy maul, I'll go to a wedge and sledge first.

The other factor, of course, is the type of wood a person has available. Seasoned Larch, Cedar or clear pine is a whole different ball game than a knotty chunk of Oak, Maple or Hickory. Duh....
Yesterday, I was splitting some particularly nasty chunks of Douglas Fir from the top of a small tree.  Knots going every which way, and the fibers were particularly fond of each other. A couple of times I got through to a cross-ways knot with the DB. It was able to actually cut through the knot, whereas a maul would have required beating on it until it snapped.  It's a lot more efficient to cut, rather than break, IMO.
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