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  Conventional Way of Doing Things by John Manners  

There is often a correct, conventional way of doing things which merits careful description, particularly where safety issues may be involved and sometimes where the sheer practicality of an undertaking requires that only a particular course may be followed.

The recent suggestion that the offset handle to a broad axe may be side-wedged is a case in point where, for the sake of not appearing too censorious, I pointed out that there is only one end of the eye of a single-beveled broad axe which may receive an offset handle if it is to be capable of correct use.

The reversing of such a handle would bring the axe man's hands over the timber being squared, rather than away from it as the handles are designed for one attitude and may not be turned upside down for the same reasons that an ordinary axe handle may not be fitted turned upside down, where the thick top of the handle would have to be shaven to fit the narrow bottom of the eye and a large gap would result along the sides of the handle at the top of the eye. 

I confined myself to the broad axe question because the configuration of the axe head and the handle enabled me to demonstrate the impracticability of reversing the handle, thereby obviating any suggested advantage in using a side wedge to fit the handle.

My real concern, however, is that the side wedging of any handle to any axe head is an inherently unsafe practice although I have seen it adopted on a number of occasions. Side wedging is regarded a lazy man's way of wedging an axe. The practice is adopted by some because, as stated in Mr. Koonz's contribution, it enables the relatively easy removal of the axe handle when the time comes to replace it.

However, the adoption of such practice results in that part of the handle within the eye not being mechanically gripped on both sides by the eye's waist where the eye is wasted (rare) or by the far edge of the eye where it is not (common) as is the case when the wedge is driven down the middle slot of the handle.

One side of the handle is gripped by the waist or eye's edge and the other side of the waist or eye's edge merely grips the wedge and the result is that the whole set-up then relies on the friction between one face of the wedge and one face of the handle.

Imperceptible movements between the mating faces of the handle and the wedge during the axe's use result in these two faces achieving a glass-like smoothness which can result in the razor-sharp head flying from the handle without warning to the likely maiming of any person in its path.

When I was a boy side wedging was never tolerated by men who worked full-time in pairs or larger groups with their axes in tree felling, ring barking or cordwood cutting but seemed to be the preferred fixing method of some farmers who took occasional jobs in these occupations and brought their woodpile axes to work with them.

Very few axes are constructed with eye waists and it has always been considered advisable to permit a little of the handle to protrude from the far end to the head so that the edge of the eye may bight into the handle as the result of the wedge's pressure.

I notice that the Chinese axes available these days in hardware stores do not have the handles protruding a little from the far end and seem to be fixed by some sort of epoxy glue. I doubt that the eyes are wasted but would hope that the handles are wedged and can only speculate as to how the epoxy will hold, particularly if the handle shrinks.

I hope this finds you well.

Regards from Brisbane,

John Manners
July, 2006

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