THE one indispensable
tool in the building of a log cabin is the ax. I know a man who, with no
other implement, can erect a marvelously complete cabin; but this degree
of efficiency we ordinary people may not hope to attain.
If you be wise, then,
purchase the best ax possible. The cost of this will not be over $1.25.
An inferior one may be had as low as 75 cents, but the steel is not
there. Long before the camp is finished you will have discovered that an
ax which bites in deep and holds its cutting edge is desirable. Axes
come of varying weights, but for the average user one of three and a
half or three and three-quarter pounds is about right.
Perhaps it has not
occurred to you that the "handle" or helve was a thing to be considered,
yet the dealer will put out an assortment which, if you examine them,
will be found to consist of crooked and straight, thick and thin, and
varying combinations of these. If you have never handled an ax, you will
have some difficulty in deciding. Your only guide probably will be,
after selecting one fairly crooked, to purchase the one which feels best
in your hand. If your fingers are short, do not get a handle too large
in diameter, and trice versa. Neglected, this point may occasion you a
painful period of cramped fingers. I have seen men in the woods (and
they forget to complain of any hurt) whose grip had to be loosened by
the aid of the swinging hand. An extra helve should be taken always.
To "hang" your ax
properly requires care, and is important. If it be hung too far "out" or
too far "in," or if it be out of line, it will lessen very materially
the effectiveness of your stroke. Therefore, slip the helve into place
in the eye of the ax, work the "bit" or cutting edge up and down, to see
whether it can be brought to a proper position. This means that the
center of the bit and the knob on the handle should touch if the ax were
placed against a straightedge, as shown in the plate.
If necessary to bring
this about you will, of course, cut off a little from the back of the
helve until the ax hangs properly. Be very careful to see that the bit
of the ax comes in direct line with the helve.
About a half inch of the
helve should project through the ax on top. Now, with a chisel or
another ax, split the helve straight across from the "bit" to the
"poll," then select a piece of hardwood, of the width of the handle, and
make a wedge, rather long and about three-sixteenths of an inch in
thickness an inch and a half from the point. Turn the ax upside down and
strike the end of the handle a few sharp blows. This will set the ax on
tight. Sight it once more to make sure that it has not gone out of line.
If all is right, insert the wedge in the slot and drive it in tight.
Then with a saw cut off the projecting ends of the helve and wedge flush
with the ax. You may depend upon it, this will never come loose. A small
whetstone (one of carborundum is best) will keep the edge keen.
the ax must come to the grindstone, for in spite of every effort to
avoid injury, the nicks will appear. Do not attempt to cut off the
knotty stubs of hemlock—they are like iron. Batter them off with the
poll of the ax.
It is best to fell your
lumber in the spring, say from May to July. At this time the sap will
run and the bark may then be easily stripped. After that, you may find
some day that it is difficult or impossible to peel the bark; then the
only alternative is to shave the bark off with a drawshave; but this
spoils the beauty of the log.
To peel the bark from a
tree or log, cut two circles completely around the log about four or
five feet apart, and connect these with another cut lengthwise of the
log. Insert the edge of the ax to start the bark. If the sap is running
well, it will strip easily, requiring but little loosening from time to
time with the ax or a "spud," which is a short stick of hard wood
tapered at one end to a flat edge.
Should the bark be
desired for roofing, it should be flattened out and kept away from the
ground to dry.
Any of the soft woods may
be used for building—pine, fir, spruce, etc.—according to the growth of
timber handiest. Maple, birch, beech, etc., will be much too heavy to
handle and hard to work.
It is a simple matter to
estimate the height of a tree by standing off a short distance and
guessing the probable height of the first branches. If they are ten feet
from the ground, make mental divisions of the tree in ten-foot lengths,
and you will be surprised how near your estimate will be correct.
Before you cut into a
tree, make sure that it does not taper too suddenly, and sight it
carefully that it may not have a bad crook in it that will make it
unavailable. Certainty here will save you much labor, to say nothing of
the regret which must come to a lover of the woods with any wanton
destruction. Keep in mind that it takes only twenty minutes to cut down
a tree, but thirty years' growth will scarcely replace it.
Having decided upon your
tree, make sure of the best direction for its fall. It is important that
it should not lodge in the branches of neighboring trees. Should such an
event come to pass, exercise every care in your effort to dislodge it. A
falling tree has a way of trapping the unwary, the results of which are
apt to be serious. Study the situation well.
Trim away very carefully
all the underbrush within the reach of your swinging ax, and thus avoid
injury. An ax diverted from its course strikes with the quickness of a
Begin to cut on the side
of the tree facing the direction of its intended fall. Your notch will
be quite wide to prevent the ax from wedging as it bites its way into
the tree, a blow from above to make the chip and a blow from below to
cut it out. Work slowly and deliberately, so that each blow may count,
but do not exert yourself unduly. Let the weight of the ax do its share
of the work. Eventually you will achieve some accuracy, and then the
stumps will approximate that planed-off appearance which a lumberman
leaves. Yours will not look that way.
When you have the notch a
little more than halfway through the tree, begin a similar cut on the
opposite side, somewhat higher than the first cut. In a thick growth you
may have to cut very deeply, but presently the tree will pitch slightly
in the direction of its fall, and at the next stroke it will crack and
settle to the earth. Step to one side when this occurs, never in the
opposite direction of its fall, for some trees have a nasty habit of
springing back from the stump, and woe to the individual in their path!
For dressing small
timber, cut two logs four feet long and about one foot in diameter. Bore
three large holes through one of these logs, two about six inches from
each end and one in the middle. Make three hardwood pins to fit the
holes, and drive one through the middle hole so that it projects about
one foot. Now fasten the pin upright by driving two more pins through
the two end holes into the ground, to hold the log firmly. The other log
should have a notch cut in the center about six inches deep.
Bore a hole through the
log to be hewn, about four inches from the end, and fit it over the pin,
the other end of the log lying in the notched stick. Snap a line for
your cut, then you should commence with your ax to "score in and beat
off" up nearly to the line. That is, strike a sharp blow with the ax
from the side of the log, slanting in toward the line, but not quite
touching it. Another blow in the opposite direction will cause the chip
to fly out. Arriving at the end of the log, begin hewing carefully to
the line. You will be surprised how quickly all this can be
accomplished. Of course, all the cutting is done on the side of the log.
The work may be made more complete now by running a plane over it once
In the course of your
work it may be your misfortune to break the ax helve, and you will
thereby be confronted with the problem of removing the stub, which you
wedged in with the idea of its never coming out. Horace Kephart, in his
excellent book, "Camping and Woodcraft," gives a simple solution to the
"When the stub of the old
handle cannot be removed by ordinary means, it must be burned out. To do
this without drawing the temper of the steel might seem impracticable,
but the thing is as simple as rolling off a log when you see it done.
Pick out a spot where the earth is free from stones and pebbles, and
drive the blade of the ax into the ground up to the eye. Then build a
fire around the ax head—that is all."
A cant-dog and a
cross-cut saw are tools which will greatly facilitate work on logs.
Other tools which you will need on the better class of buildings are:
Handsaws—ripand crosscut, steel square, level, hammer, brace and bits,
chisels, drawshave, two-foot rule, chalk line and chalk, bevel,
compasses, large and small planes. Have your saws well sharpened and
keep a good whetstone handy, so that your tools may never become dull.
Many of the operations
connected with the building will take place in the spring, and in many
sections this is the happiest time of the year for the joyous mosquito,
the black fly, the minge, the no-see-um and ad infinitum. Some
protection from these pests is necessary, and a "dope" that can be
smeared on liberally over face, neck, ears and hands should be provided.
This is important, and overlooking so simple a thing may be the occasion
for your quitting work after the first half-hour, with the necessity of
going "to town" to repair the oversight.
There are several
varieties of " dope " on the market, and about every woodsman has a kind
of his own. They are all good so long as they will give a greasy
coating, and this must be renewed from time to time. My own concoction
Oil of Pennyroyal
Sweet Oil ............................. 6 oz.