Sunday, June 30, 2013

Kelly Perfect Jersey Axe

Finished this one today. W.C. Kelley Perfect Jersey Patterned Axe.

Coulda worked over the sharpening some more, but it was 100 degrees on its way to 109. So I called it done for now.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Little Trip to the Big Trees

Last weekend the wife and I took our boy up to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite. This grove of big trees was one of the first set aside for reservation from the timber industry. President Lincoln first reserved it and Yosemite Valley, and gave it over to the state to protect. Later on in 1906, the state turned it back over to the federal government, and with convincing from John Muir, President Roosevelt designated the grove and the valley into a much larger Yosemite National Park.
President Roosevelt visited the grove and other areas of the park with John Muir as a guide in 1903. They stayed the night in the grove, sleeping under piles of army blankets, and conversing over the campfire. Roosevelt had this to say about the experience:
"The night was clear, and in the darkening isles of the great sequoia grove, the majestic trunks, beautiful in color and symetry, rose around us like the pilars of the mightiest cathedral that ever was concieved, even by the fervor of the Middle Ages. Hermit thrushes sang beautifully in the evening."
My wife and I had never been to this grove, so we joined the throngs of fellow tourists, and entered Yosemite.
Early on in Muir's travels through the Sierra, he would write letters to friends to describe what he has witnessed. From a letter to Mrs. Ezra Carr which Muir wrote with the sap of a Sequoia:
"Do behold the King in his glory, King Sequoia! Behold! Behold! seems all I can say Some time ago I left all for Sequoia and have been and am at his feet; fasting and praying for light, for is he not the greatest light in the woods, in the world? Where are such columns of sunshine, tangible, accessible, terrestrialised? Well may I fast, not from bread, but from business, book-making, duty-going, and other trifles, and great is my reward already for tbe manly, freely sacrifice. What giant truths since coming to Gigantea, what magnificent clusters of Sequoiac becauses.
The King tree and I have sworn eternal love—sworn it without swearing, and I’ve taken the sacrament with Douglas squirrel, drunk Sequoia wine, Sequoia blood, and with its rosy purple drops I am writing this woody gospel letter.
I never before knew the virtue of Sequoia juice. Seen with sunbeams in it, its color is the most royal of all royal purples. No wonder the Indians instinctively drink it for they know not what. I wish I were so drunk and Sequoical that I could preach the green brown woods to all the juiceless world, descending from this divine wilderness like a John the Baptist, eating Douglas squirrels and wild honey or wild anything, crying, Repent, for the Kingdom of Sequoia is at hand!"
While Muir's earlier letter may have been a little over the top poetically, later in 1912 he wrote "The Yosemite". In it, he describes the giants a little more technically. Here is an excerpt:
"Between the heavy pine and silver fir zones towers the Big Tree (Sequoia gigantea), the king of all the conifers in the world, “the noblest of the noble race.”
So harmonious and finely balanced are even the mightiest of these monarchs in all their proportions that there is never anything overgrown or monstrous about them. Seeing them for the first time you are more impressed with their beauty than their size, their grandeur being in great part invisible; but sooner or later it becomes manifest to the loving eye, stealing slowly on the senses like the grandeur of Niagara or of the Yosemite Domes. When you approach them and walk around them you begin to wonder at their colossal size and try to measure them. They bulge considerably at the base, but not more than is required for beauty and safety and the only reason that this bulging seems in some cases excessive is that only a comparatively small section is seen in near views. One that I measured in the Kings River forest was twenty-five feet in diameter at the ground and ten feet in diameter 220 feet above the ground showing the fineness of the taper of the trunk as a whole. No description can give anything like an adequate idea of their singular majesty, much less of their beauty. Except the sugar pine, most of their neighbors with pointed tops seem ever trying to go higher, while the big tree, soaring above them all, seems satisfied. Its grand domed head seems to be poised about as lightly as a cloud, giving no impression of seeking to rise higher. Only when it is young does it show like other conifers a heavenward yearning, sharply aspiring with a long quick-growing top. Indeed, the whole tree for the first century or two, or until it is a hundred or one hundred and fifty feet high, is arrowhead in form, and, compared with the solemn rigidity of age, seems as sensitive to the wind as a squirrel’s tail. As it grows older, the lower branches are gradually dropped and the upper ones thinned out until comparatively few are left. These, however, are developed to a great size, divide again and again and terminate in bossy, rounded masses of leafy branch-lets, while the head becomes dome-shaped, and is the first to feel the touch of the rosy beams of the morning, the last to bid the sun good night. Perfect specimens, unhurt by running fires or lightning, are singularly regular and symmetrical in general form though not in the least conventionalized, for they show extraordinary variety in the unity and harmony of their general outline. The immensely strong, stately shafts are free of limbs for one hundred end fifty feet or so The large limbs reach out with equal boldness a every direction, showing no weather side, and no other tree has foliage so densely massed, so finely molded in outline and so perfectly subordinate to an ideal type. A particularly knotty, angular, ungovernable-looking branch, from five to seven or eight feet in diameter and perhaps a thousand years old, may occasionally be seen pushing out from the trunk as if determined to break across the bounds of the regular curve, but like all the others it dissolves in bosses of branchlets and sprays as soon as the general outline is approached. Except in picturesque old age, after being struck by lightning or broken by thousands of snow-storms, the regularity of forms is one of their most distinguishing characteristics. Another is the simple beauty of the trunk and its great thickness as compared with its height and the width of the branches, which makes them look more like finely modeled and sculptured architectural columns than the stems of trees, while the great limbs look like rafters, supporting the magnificent dome-head. But though so consummately beautiful, the big tree always seems unfamiliar, with peculiar physiognomy, awfully solemn and earnest; yet with all its strangeness it impresses us as being more at home than any of its neighbors, holding the best right to the ground as the oldest strongest inhabitant. One soon becomes acquainted with new species of pine and fir and spruce as with friendly people, shaking their outstretched branches like shaking hands and fondling their little ones, while the venerable aboriginal sequoia, ancient of other days, keeps you at a distance, looking as strange in aspect and behavior among its neighbor trees as would the mastodon among the homely bears and deers. Only the Sierra juniper is at all like it, standing rigid and unconquerable on glacier pavements for thousands of years, grim and silent, with an air of antiquity about as pronounced as that of the sequoia.

The bark of the largest trees is from one to two feet thick, rich cinnamon brown, purplish on young trees, forming magnificent masses of color with the underbrush. Toward the end of winter the trees are in bloom, while the snow is still eight or ten feet deep. The female flowers are about three-eighths of an inch long, pale green, and grow in countless thousands on the ends of sprays. The male are still more abundant, pale yellow, a fourth of an inch long and when the pollen is ripe they color the whole tree and dust the sir and the ground. The cones are bright grass-green in color, about two and a half inches long, one and a half wide, made up of thirty or forty strong, closely-packed, rhomboidal scales, with four to eight seeds at the base of each. The seeds are wonderfully small end light, being only from an eighth to a fourth of an inch long and wide, including a filmy surrounding wing, which causes them to glint and waver in falling and enables the wind to carry them considerable distances. Unless harvested by the squirrels, the cones discharge their seed and remain on the tree for many years. In fruitful seasons the trees are fairly laden. On two small branches one and a half and two inches in diameter I counted 480 cones. No other California conifer produces nearly so many seeds, except, perhaps, the other sequoia, the Redwood of the Coast Mountains. Millions are ripened annually by a single tree, and in a fruitful year the product of one of the northern groves would be enough to plant all the mountain ranges in the world.

As soon as any accident happens to the crown, such as being smashed off by lightning, the branches beneath the wound, no matter how situated, seem to be excited, like a colony of bees that have lost their queen, and become anxious to repair the damage. Limbs that have grown outward for centuries at right angles to the trunk begin to turn upward to assist in making a new crown, each speedily assuming the special form of true summits. Even in the case of mere stumps, burned half through, some mere ornamental tuft will try to go aloft and do its best as a leader in forming a new head. Groups of two or three are often found standing close together, the seeds from which they sprang having probably grown on ground cleared for their reception by the fall of a large tree of a former generation. They are called “loving couples,” “three graces,” etc. When these trees are young they are seen to stand twenty or thirty feet apart, by the time they are full-grown their trunks will touch and crowd against each other and in some cases even appear as one."

Mini Pocket Axe

Picked up this mini Norlund Hatchet from a local antique store a while back.

A note said it used to be owned by some rancher named Archer. Well that rancher had taken about an inch off the lower end of the bit!

I kinda liked that though. He also made a useable belt sheath for it. And since I've been drooling over the Gransfors Bruks Mini for a while, I thought I would pick this up for a small fraction of the cost. Luckily I was able to rehaft the original handle which is thinned out nicely. So this one comes in at 1lb 1oz with a 10 1/2" handle and with a 2 1/8" bit. A little smaller than the GB.

Horace Kephart was a fan of the mini hatchet as well. In his masterpiece "Camping and Woodcraft" he has this to say:

"Among my most valued possessions is a tiny Colclesser tomahawk, of 8-ounce head and 2 1/2 inch bit, which, with hickory handle and home-made sheath, weighs only three-quarters of a pound. I seldom go anywhere in the woods (unless in marching order with a heavier axe) without this little trick. It is all that is needed to put up a satisfactory shelter wherever there is hemlock or balsam, or bark that will peel, while for other service I use it oftener than I do my jackknife."

Saturday, June 15, 2013

On A Lighter Note

Everybody has a story. A time and place from whence they came. Mine happens to begin in the mid-1970’s in California. Before then, I generalize my immediate family as having two origins on their path to America. One is of old England, to the Virginia colonies of the 1600’s, to the great state of Texas, and finally to the Bay Area of California. The other is of old Italy. Riding a great wave of immigration by way of Ellis Island in the 19-teens, then straight out to San Francisco. My parents were second generation Bay Areans. Mother from the big city, and father across the water in Oakland. Mine being a large valley which used to be a large inland sea at the base of the Sierra’s.

This Bay Area is not of my origin, but it is the home of most of my relatives who I’ve personally known. I am drawn to it and have loved it since I can remember. There is something there from either my childhood, or something that just seems part of my very core. Be it old scents, or muted earth toned sunset lighting dreams of long ago. It is a strange force.

The region has gone through many changes in relatively recent history. From the ancient Native Americans who first inhabited these hills and wetlands. To the Spanish and then to the wave of others in gold rush times. After wave, after wave of migrations to this great bay, it constantly bekons for others to join it in it’s rush to the sea. It’s beauty and possibilities calling for more. More recently known for Kerouac and the Beatniks, to the Grateful Dead and the Hippies. To the Black Panthers and Hell’s Angels. To the Silicon Valley geniuses, and to the Hipsters with their skinny jeans and all, heh heh ;) One thing is for sure, with such a large diverse population, many very colorful cultures have emerged and melded.

Well, this weekend was the wedding of my brother and his new beautiful wife. They live downtown in the City, but the ceremony was held in Ross, north of the Golden Gate. A grand ceremony full of gardens, fountains, wind sculptures, flower necklaces, good food and wine, close friends and family, and above all - Peace and Love. Couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. Congratulations to Adam and Arielle!!

One thing I realized on the drive to Corte Madera the morning before the wedding, was that the name ‘Corte Madera’ sounded familiar for some odd reason. Then I remembered it was from one of my favorite books. ‘The Dharma Bums’ by Jack Kerouac. He had stayed on a property in Corte Madera before he headed up to work as a Forest Service lookout on Desolation Peak in the northern Cascades. I wondered if I could find that piece of property since I was gonna be in the area.

‘The Dharma Bums’ is a wonderful piece of art by Kerouac who freely flows between thoughts and discussions on Zen Buddhism, raucous drunken parties, and the freedoms of the 1950’s for a certain circle of Americans as they find their way in the world. Hitching from Santa Barbara to San Francisco to join in the beginning of the beat movement. To discussions of Buddhism in Berkeley that lead to climbing Matterhorn Peak on the northern edge of Yosemite Park. Then riding the rails to his mother’s home in North Carolina to spend some time with her and to meditate and find the meaning of everything.

Hitching back to Corte Madera where he stayed in a shack up the hill from a cabin of some friends. There he “studied” Zen and other contemplations before moving on to the fire lookout station to live alone for the summer. I learned where the property was, and on Sunday morning, drove up the steep hill and took some photos. Not wanting to trespass, nor disturb the residents of the manor since it was 9am on a Sunday morning, I just humbly took some quick photos and moved on after visiting a grove of redwoods at the base of the small valley now filled with million dollar homes and beamers. Nothing wrong with either of those, it’s just kinda contradictory of the setting in the in which one meditates on the release of all worldly possessions. Things were different back Zen I guess.


     “If the Dharma Bums ever get lay brothers in America who live normal lives with wives and children and homes, they will be like Sean Monahan.

      Sean was a young carpenter who lived in an old wooden house far up a country road from the huddled cottages of Corte Madera, drove an old jalopy, personally added a porch to the back of the house to make a nursery for later children, and had selected a wife who agreed with him in every detail about how to live the joyous life in America without much money. Sean liked to take days off from his job to just go up the hill to the shack, which belonged to the property he rented, and spend a day of meditation and study of the Buddhist sutras and just brewing himself pots of tea and taking naps…”

     “….When I arrived there at noon that day, getting off the Greyhound bus and walking up the tar road about a mile, Christine immediately had me sit down to hot soup and hot bread with butter. She was a gentle creature. ‘Sean and Japhy are both working on his job at Sausalito. They’ll be home about five.’

     ‘I’ll go up to the shack and look at it and wait up there this afternoon.’

     ‘Well, you can stay down here and play records.’

     ‘Well, I’ll get out of your way.’

     ‘You won’t be in my way, all I’m gonna do is hang out the wash and bake some bread for tonight and mend a few things.’ With a wife like that Sean, working only desultorily at carpentry, had managed to put a few thousand dollars in the bank. And like a patriarch of old Sean was generous, he always insisted on feeding you and if twelve people were in the house he’d lay out a big dinner (a simple dinner but delicious) on a board outside in the yard, and always a big jug of red wine. It was a communal arrangement, though, he was strict about that: we’d make collections for the wine, and if people came, as they all did, for a long weekend, they were expected to bring food or food money. Then at night under the trees and the stars of his yard, with everybody well fed and drinking red wine, Sean would take out his guitar and sing folksongs. Whenever I got tired of it I’d climb my hill and go to sleep.

     After eating lunch and talking awhile to Christine, I went up the hill. It climbed steeply right at the back door. Huge ponderosas and other pines, and in the property adjoining Sean’s a dreamy horse meadow with wild flowers and two beautiful bays with their sleek necks bent to the butterfat grass in the hot sun. ‘Boy, this is going to be greater than North Carolina woods!’ I thought, starting up. In the slope of grass was where Sean and Japhy had felled three huge eucalyptus trees and had already bucked them with a chain saw. Now the block was set and I could see where they had begun to split the logs with wedges and sledgehammers and doublebitted axes. The little trail up the hill went so steeply that you almost had to lean over and walk like a monkey. It followed a long cypress row that had been planted by the old man who had died on the hill a few years ago. This prevented the cold foggy winds from the ocean from blasting across the property unhindered. There were three stages to the climb: Sean’s backyard; then a fence, forming a little pure deer park where I actually saw deer one night, five of them, resting (the whole area was a game refuge); then the final fence and the top grassy hill with its sudden hollow on the right where the shack was barely visible under trees and flowery bushes. Behind the shack, a well-built affair actually of three big rooms but only one room occupied by Japhy, was plenty of good firewood and a saw horse and axes and an outdoor privy with no roof, just a hole in the ground and a board. It was like the first morning in the world in fine yard, with the sun streaming in through the dense sea of leaves, and birds and butterflies jumping around, warm, sweet, the smell of higher-hill heathers and flowers beyond the barbed-wire fence which led to the very top of the mountain and showed you a vista of all the Marin County area. I went inside the shack…..”

     “….I didn’t want to disturb anything in the house till he got home from work so I went out and lay down in the tall green grass in the sun and waited all afternoon, dreaming. But then I realized, ‘I might as well make a nice supper for Japhy’ and I went down the hill again and down the road to the store and bought beans, salt pork, various groceries and came back and lit a fire in the woodstove and boiled up a good pot of New England beans, with molasses and onions. I was amazed at the way Japhy stored his food: just on a shelf by the woodstove: two onions, an orange, a bag of wheat germ, cans of curry powder, rice, mysterious pieces of dried Chinese seaweed, a bottle of soy sauce (to make his mysterious Chinese dishes). His salt and pepper was all neatly wrapped up in little plastic wrappers bound with elastic. There wasn’t anything in the world Japhy would ever waste, or lose. Now I was introducing into his kitchen all the big substantial pork-and-beans of the world, maybe he wouldn’t like it. He also had a big chunk of Christine’s fine brown bread, and his bread knife was a dagger simply stuck into the board.

     It got dark and I waited in the yard, letting the pot of beans keep warm on the fire. I chopped some wood and added it to the pile behind the stove. The fog began to blow in from the Pacific, the trees bowed deeply and roared. From the top of the hill you could see nothing but trees, trees, a roaring sea of trees. It was paradise. As it got cold I went inside and stoked the fire, singing, and closed the windows. The windows were simply removable opaque plastic pieces that had been cleverly carpentered by Whitey Jones, Christine’s brother, they let in light but you couldn’t see anything outdoors and they cut off the cold wind. Soon it was warm in the cozy cabin. By and by I heard a “Hoo” out in the roaring sea of fog trees and it was Japhy coming back.

     I went out to greet him. He was coming across the tall final grass, weary from the day’s work, clomping along in his boots, his coat over his back. ‘Well Smith, here you are.’

     ‘I cooked up a nice pot of beans for you.’

     ‘You did?’ He was tremendously grateful. ‘Boy, what a relief to come home from work and don’t have to cook up a meal yourself. I’m starved.’ He pitched right into the beans with bread and hot coffee I made in a pan on the stove, just French style brewing coffee stirred with a spoon. We had a great supper and then lit up our pipes and talked with the fire roaring. ‘Ray, you’re going to have a great summer up on that Desolation Peak. I’ll tell you all about it.’

     ‘I’m gonna have a great spring right here in this shack.’….”

     “….All the logs that had been bucked had more or less of a crack in them, where you more or less inserted the heavy iron wedge, and then, raising a five-pound sledgehammer over your head, standing way back so’s not to hit your own ankle, you brought it down konko on the wedge and split the log clean in half. Then you’d sit the half-logs up on a block-log and let down with the doublebitted ax, a long beautiful ax, sharp as a razor, and fawap, you had quarter-logs. Then you set up a quarter-log and brought down to an eighth. He showed me how to swing the sledge and the ax, not too hard, but when he got mad himself I noticed he swung the ax as hard as he could, roaring his famous cry, or cursing. Pretty soon I had the knack and was going along as though I’d been doing it all my life.

     Christine came out in the yard to watch us and called ‘I’ll have some nice lunch for ya.’

     ‘Okay.’ Japhy and Christine were like brother and sister.

     We split a lot of logs. It was great swinging down the sledgehammer, all the weight clank on top of a wedge and feeling that log give, if not the first time the second time. The smell of sawdust, pine trees, the breeze blowing over the placid mountains from the sea, the meadowlarks singing, the butterflies in the grass, it was perfect. Then we went in and ate a good lunch of hotdogs and rice and soup and red wine and Christine’s fresh biscuits and sat there crosslegged and barefoot thumbing through Sean’s vast library.

     ‘Did ya hear about the disciple who asked the Zen master ‘What is the Buddha?’

     ‘No, what?’

     ‘The Buddha is a dried piece of turd’ was the answer. The disciple experienced sudden enlightenment.’

     ‘Simple shit,’ I said.

     ‘Do you know what sudden enlightenment is? One disciple came to a Master and answered his koan and the Master hit him with a stick and knocked him off the veranda ten feet into a mud puddle. The disciple got up and laughed. He later became a Master himself. ‘Twasn’t by words he was enlightened, but by that great healthy push off the porch….”
Little grove at the base of the hill.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Sierra Monsoon

Crackling grasses outside the shade of the live oaks.
Not with flame, but you can hear it sizzle in the hot breeze.
Already dry, but now moving towards the dust under foot.
Standing upright, but drooping when pushed.
Parched fibers bursting the heart within.
Quickly waiting with anticipation but only to fall short.
Just cooking in the hot breath as the summer days roll on.
Eventually to give in and lay over.
The lucky ones get to send off their young to jab through fur and socks.

The vapors overhead gathering high.
Frying in the sky's blue skillet like bacon.
Sizzling and crackling into wisps then gone.
Much too hot to form rain.
Gathering from the east, but not over the plains.

Great anvils of white with gray undertones rise from the depths of the desert.
To gather on the ridges and high passes.
Building higher until relinquishing to the hammer's blow.
Only to shift and rise again beyond the blacksmith's keen eye for a moment.
Filling the sky like the frothing of a giant seashore.
Waves breaking on the beach reaching to greet them.
Then spreading out on the sand with a slow roll.
Water flowing uphill in wide swaths.
Until gravity pulls them back.

Underneath, the clams know what is next.
Sudden piercing like daggers to the heart crackle on the electric air.
Molecules of friction entering unannounced.
Darkness shown in the shadows of hills and creases.
The dry grasses shimmer in the blinding light of the frustration that builds.
White with the rage of a hundred lives crushed at once.
Roadrunners and hares scurry for cover, as the shouting continues.
A rain of shame and blame forces itself upon the dust.
Water split apart with brute strength.

The wind slowly dies down.
The rain is left all alone to begin the healing.
The clouds begin to slowly scatter ashamed for their gathering.
But the darkness stays.
Along with the grasses, to live another day.

The monsoon season is upon us.
Storms from the south to cause heartache.
Just enough to bring grief which luckily can be healed.
Some grasses singed at the fringes from the beating.
But they will be back with their green shine again with time.
To blow in the cool breeze.
And to have sunlight bathe them with warmth.
To expose their inner structure to their shadows.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

My First Hatchet Hafting

Last fall I picked up a few hatchets from a local antique store. The one on the far right in the picture would be my first adventure into axe refurbishing and restoration. I chose it because it was the rustiest head and the handle was the junkiest out of my collection. So I wanted a challenge. Now there's 1001 ways to do this, but this is the path I chose. Big thanks to all the axeperts for showin' the ways.

So first up was to remove that junky handle and toss it. I had picked up a link handle for this job. For the next step I soaked the head in white vinegar for a day and eventually gave it an apple cider vinegar soak for about 3 more days.

After the soak, a little scotchbrite rub to get the rust off revealed a partial makers mark stamping. To my great surprise, it turned out to be an American Axe and Tool Co. Americanaxe manufactured in Glassport, PA! Probably forged in the 19-teens, and no later than 1921. Needless to say I was thrilled!

I continued the cleanup with flap wheel and wire brush wheel drill attachments. That wire brush wheel really shined up the metal. The head was pretty pitted out from the rust, but very tiny pits. So pitted in fact that after cleaning it up, the tempering line is easily seen.

Shaped up the mushroomed poll with a file.

The new Link handle I picked up at the local hardware store was covered in a thick laquer. So after sanding all that off, I gave it a quick rub down coating of tung oil. Four coats is what this one called for.

So this morning I finally decided to finish this thing. First had to fit the head to the handle. Did a little shaping and rasping with a four-in-hand.

Sharpened the bit. Started with a Lansky Puck followed by an old sharpening stone. Wasn't doing much so I got out the file. I'll start with the file next time. So filed, then back to the puck, and again with the stone until I was satisfied.

Seated the head on the new helve. Did a little sanding on the wedge. Oiled it up and hammered it in.

Not perfect alignment of the handle with the head, but I'm happy with the mushrooming of the haft over the top of the eye.

No metal wedges here. All ya have to do is swell your wood. Heh heh

Nice grain alignment in the handle.

Still working on this Finnish bad boy. It's gonna take a lot of work.

Almost finished product. Just gotta soak the head in oil for a few days to swell the fibers tight.

14" overall length. 1 lb 9 oz overall weight, with a 3 " bit.

The Americanaxe hatchet.