Saw shop questions and answers: axe handle sizes, mowing machine knives, chisels, and more!

Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

Wow, We’ve got enough questions built up for a 2-parter!

1. (question about putting a bigger handle in a boy’s axe)

Aside from the fact that I have no idea why anyone would want to put anything longer than 28″ in a 2 1/2lb boy’s axe (I even go a bit shorter if I can find the appropriate handels), you want a handle that’s as close as possible to matching the length (fore and aft) of the eye in the axe head. Cutting down an oversize handle too much usually creates a bad problem trying to keep it wedged tightly. If you need a 32″-36″ handle, pick a 3lb to 3 1/2lb full sized poll axe.

2. (question about how to straighten a bent sickle bar mowing machine knife section)

Anything that gets run across in a field that’s bad enough to damage a sickle bar mowing machine is pretty much guaranteed to damage one or more knife sections. The bar itself may be possible to repair, knife sections that are damaged in any way need to be removed and replaced entirely. Anything else is a safety hazard.

3. (question about are vintage chisels meant to have a bent back)

With the exception of special purpose chisels such as slicks (the chisel is flat, the handle socket angles up) or chisel look alike tools such as the bark spud (the blade is curved for peeling bark from logs), the flat side of a chisel should be just that, more or less flat.

4. (question about straightening a warped knife)

If the steel of a knife, chisel, or other hand tool was soft enough to bend in the first place, there’s a 50/50 chance that it can be straightened without breaking it. It’s pretty much a roll of the dice. It’s worth trying on valuable blades that are seriously bent, just be prepared to toss it if it doesn’t go right.

Visit me at any of the following locations:

Depot St, Norridgewock, ME (Mondays)

Tractor Supply, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday)

Somerset Woods turnout, Canaan Rd (Rt 2), Skowhegan,ME (Wednesday)

Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)

Fryeburg Flea Market (Fryeburg Fairgrounds), Fryeburg, ME
(Sundays, Memorial Day thru end of September)

298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!


2 thoughts on “Saw shop questions and answers: axe handle sizes, mowing machine knives, chisels, and more!

  1. Hi Vern,
    I keep hearing ( on video’s ) and reading that a bigger heavier tool’s does the job quicker, so I decided to get a Iltis German Oxhead axe, its a 2 3/4 lb.head with a 5″cutting edge, I had a white hickory handle put on it, its a very thin axe, a little thinner than my G.B.SFA,I plan to use this combination as a camp axe like I would use my G.B. Did I make a mistake ???
    Thanx in advance,

    • Paul,
      I had to check these out, not being familiar with them. This has to be pretty near the most ridiculous axe pattern I’ve ever seen.

      Problem one is the HUGE bit. This axe doesn’t have anywhere near the mass in the poll to efficiently drive a bit that large. Not saying that it won’t cut, but it won’t cut as well as an axe with a more reasonable bit size with good mass behind it.

      Second problem is the super thinness. First, this axe would be very easy to damage. Avoid using it in cold weather, avoid cutting frozen wood with it, avoid cutting hard wood such as limbs. Where a normal axe might ding the edge, I think this one is going to be chipping. Second, this axe isn’t going to split at all, it will stick every time no matter how small a piece you’re trying to split with it. Third, I think this will make it a miserable chopper as well. The goal of the axe bit in chopping isn’t maximum penetration, it’s to remove chips of wood. Chopping with this axe is going to be a lot more work for the gain.

      Last up, I’m afraid that the LONG bit and next to no poll is going to make this head terribly out of balance. I suspect this is why they had to make the bit so thin, any more weight in the bit would make it hard to control.

      For a camp axe, a vintage Snow and Nealley or Kelly/True Temper boy’s axe will leave this one way back in the dust.


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