Wednesday, March 26, 2014

17th Century Hatchets

Being that at least half of my carpentry work is done in front of the public in a 17th century context, it is essential that my tools are as historically accurate as possible. The big problem with this ideology is that historical tools from this era are a little bit hard (aka damn near impossible) to come by, and when we do find them, we try to preserve and study them rather than smash them against pieces of wood.

As a work around, the blacksmiths at the museum reprofile modern axes to better impersonate these actual historical artifacts. My new hatchet started its life as a Wetterlings broad axe (that's right, us badass pilgrims use broad axes as hatchets, but I digress).

Stock Wetterlings Short Handled Broad Axe #190

The pattern that my new hatchet is based on is from Martin's Hundred and dated to around 1621. It was found in the ground along with various other tools, most likely buried there to prevent the native populations from repurposing the metal into tools and weapons.

Archeologist's sketches of a Martin's Hundred hatchet

The Wetterlings head is hack sawn away to the same profile as the Martin's hatchet, removing a lot of the weight from behind the eye and reducing the bit length by several inches.

The hacked up head...luckily this was not my job

Next I reground the bit into a nice fair curve, filed it for a convex bevel, sharpened it with whetstones, and stroped with a piece of leather charged with rouge polish. Finally I helved the hatchet with a white oak handle (remember these are English settlers in 1627, they probably don't know the wonderful qualities of Hickory as handle stock).

The finished hatchet. I like a nice healthy fauns foot for power! 

Overall this is a beefy hatchet with one hell of a bite. You can see how thin the historic hatchet is right in front of the eye, but the Wetterlings is quite thick, giving it much more mass. After four hours of trimming lath, I appropriately nicknamed this hatchet "Wrist Breaker."

Check out all that iron in front of the eye.

In order to protect the edge, and lessen the amount of sharpening I need to do, I made a nice wooden blade guard (note that this is not historically based on anything).

An ash blade guard with some hemp rope to hold it on.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Failure is not...not an Option

Those of you that have been following my blog for a while have noticed that I have had several cliff hangers that have not been addressed. I would like to blame these loose ends on relocating for my new job...but mostly it is because I am a lazy blogger. So here is my small peace offering for those that have been waiting anxiously (but not really) to find out how my basket weaving attempt ended.

Although I started well enough, things soon turned south as I went to start the sides of the basket. Before this debacle, however, I first collected some cherry shoots from my pseudo-coppice in the Alden House garden.

Two cherry faggots for the sides

The next order of business was to do some research. I found a couple of helpful articles and videos online that are worth taking a look at, even just for pure unadulterated curiosity. After picking up what I thought would be helpful tips I got back to work. I sharpened the spars, so they jam into the weavers better, and inserted 12 of them into my basket bottom.

Sharpened spars

In case you aren't familiar (like me) with basket weaving, 12 is a very poor number for spars. In order for the weavers to alternate over-under-over-under continually as you spiral around the basket you need an odd amount of spars...and through four years of mathematics and engineering I am almost positive 12 is not an odd number. Unfortunately I did not know this fact when I started this basket.

Once the spars are in, it was time to bend them to set the hard corner between the base and sides of the basket. I tried several methods to achieve this bend, and none of them worked very well. Boiling made the cherry brittle, bending without modification just fractured the stock, twisting while bending only rent the fibers asunder, so I found the best (out of the horrible solutions) was to cut a small notch through half the thickness of the shoots which helped reduce fracture. This is probably a good reason why you don't see a lot of cherry baskets.

Spars inserted and bent up the sides

Finally I started winding the weavers over-under-over-under-over-over; yup that even number of spars bit me in the ass.

Oh, and another good tip that I found AFTER botching this basket, is that you can reverse the direction of weaving when you start the sides, this reversal makes the basket stronger (don't ask me why).

As can be seen...the sides didn't shape up very well

After a couple hours of trying to weave the sides, unwind them, and try again, I finally surrendered and admitted to myself that this basket was not meant to be. Since this attempt I have done even more research, including videos, books, and blogs, and I have been looking into some basket weaving courses locally. Hopefully my next attempt will be a little more inspiring, but this is The Clueless Woodwright, not 'The Has Everything Figured Out Woodwright' (that just doesn't have the same ring).