Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ax and You’ll Receive It

Do you remember when you first saw it and knew it would be the only one for you?  You tried out others, but they just weren’t right.  Oh, you could make it work, but it wasn’t fun and the moment you let up, things went to hell in a hand basket. 

The balance was off; it felt wrong; the look was just wrong.  In the entire universe there was only one, and you had to have that one.

I’m talking about hatchets.  What did you think I was talking about?

I first saw the hatchet for me in Boy Scouts.  It had a black rubber grip bonded to a bright metal handle which was attached with a red collar to the black ax head.  The only silver metal on the ax head was the bevel face.  It was called the Jet Rocket!  What a name!

Made by Ames True Temper, it only took hammering a few tent pegs into the ground and splitting a little kindling to know I needed this.  The only other object I needed that bad was a HP 35 calculator and that waited until college.

Over the years I used and abused it, sharpened it and chopped it dull again.  I never should have used it to hammer steel wedges to split wood.  Over the years I deformed the axhead butt, and finally I thought I was seeing a few metal cracks in the metal.  The dire messages of my Scout leaders about damaging my hatchet flooded back and I started worrying the hatchet would fail when I needed it.  Clearly it was time to retire it.

About two years ago I started searching for a new one.  I want a new copy of what I had, but that was futile.   The moving finger of time had moved on.

After several years of admiring cuties like the Firestonebelt ax or Condor Greenland pattern, I was almost seduced by Wetterling’s hand foraged small hunting ax.  Still I held back.

I’d been around the block, made piles of wood chips and I still remember how those wood handles felt when you hit a nice solid piece of wood.  I also remember how slippery wood handles felt and the crush grip required to control the hatchet and how my hand felt after several hours of making chips.  No, I wanted a high friction rubber grip. 

Sog Camp Axe and Jet Rocket hatchet
The SOG is on top and my Jet Rocket on the bottom.  Years ago I had to replace the sheath on the Jet Rocket.

SOG Camp Axe and Jet Rocket hatchet mano y mano or monkey to monkey
Let's go face to face.

SOG’s Base Camp Axe looked like it would fit the bill. Here’s the specifics:

  • Steel                                   1055C
  • Hardness                            RC 50-55
  • Weight                               33 ounces
  • Overall length                    16 inches
  • Blade length                       3.4 inches (curved edge)
  • Axe blade shape                Straight

I don’t have much information on my Jet Rocket. 

  • Steel                                   carbon steel, I guess
  • Hardness                            ??????
  • Weight                               24 ounces
  • Overall length                    13 inches
  • Blade length                       3.2 inches (curved edge)
  • Axe blade shape                Convex

The only three significant differences are the weight, overall length and blade shape.  The longer lever arm and weight should give me more mechanical advantage in splitting wood, but it could result in less control in splitting ultra fine kindling.

Looking down and the b lade shape of Jet Rocket and SOG Camp Ax
 Jet Rocket hatchet is on the left and the SOG Camp Hatchet on the right.  Really different shaped heads.

The perceived difference in ax head shape is a mystery to me.  The thinner shape of the Jet Rocket allows me to sharpen the edge like a razor, but that also makes for a fragile edge.  After all, I’m not slicing. I’m chopping.

Last winter I packed both hatchets and headed to a winter cabin in West Virginia.  I took pre-cut lengths of pine 2x4s to test the hatchets on.  I selected commercial lumber because I thought it would be more uniform in physical properties and make the comparison easier.  I left the wood out in the weather and the next day went to work on it.  The goal: convert big wood to little kindling and compare the hatchets.

the poll or butt end of Jet Rocket and SOG Camp Hatchet
The Jet Rocket is on the left and the SOG on the right.  Big difference in striking surface!

I think it was a draw.  Maybe the Jet Rocket came out a little ahead because it’s so familiar to me.

The longer and heavier SOG made fast work of reducing big wood to small wood.  But it worked my wrist more and I found myself choking up on the handle to have more control over it.  Pointing wooden stakes was easier with Jet Rocket.  I think the less weight gave me more control over it.  The bigger poll (that’s the hammer side of the hatchet, but don’t let a Scout catch you calling it that!) makes for easier stake pounding.

The pre-kindling stage which is followed by christmas tree-like fir sticks. 

I think the SOG straight face made splitting chores easier than the Jet Rocket’s concave face.

My bottom line?
Okay, I admit that I have a sentimental attachment to utilitarian objects that have served me faithfully.  Primitive man felt that a spirit would resided in each object and that our handling and close proximity to the tool created a bond between that person and that spirit.  The tool would work it’s best only for its owner.  Another good reason to personalize and decorate your tools.

I don’t believe that.  But what if I’m wrong?

I like the Jet Rocket a little better than the SOG Base Camp, but I’m going use the SOG.  I’ll keep both axes together and keep both of them oiled and sharpened. 

Maybe magic will happen.

Maybe my hand and brain will connect with the SOG.

I’ll learn to love it.  After all, it’s my hatchet.