From the Saw Shop, questions and answers: axe handles, axe sizes,Disston vs Atkins, and more!


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works restored antique tools

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers!

1. (axe handle finish, linseed oil vs urethane?)

Unless you want to create a totally miserable tool to use (and at least a bit dangerous), don’t ever clearcoat an axe handle with urethane of any type. Most replacement axe handles today come with glossy urethane on them, guaranteed to be slippery and hard to control (and at least a bit dangerous) and give you blisters if used with bare hands.

Boiled linseed oil is the proper finish for axe handles (as well as most wooden tool handles of any type). I typically include a bit of spar urethane for durability, but it MUST be mixed in and not applied separately to avoid creating a glossy surface.

2. (difference between a full size and 3/4 size axe?)

The old designations of axe sizes such as 3/4 size are a bit obsolete. It’s far more useful to classify axes by head weight and handle length.

1 1/2lb, 12″ handle hatchet, very light chopping, very light kindling splitting, campfire wood

1 3/4lb, 16-18″ handle hand axe, same as hatchet

2 to 2 1/2lb, 24″ to 28″ handle boy’s axe, light chopping and splitting, stove wood, great camp axe

3 to 3 1/2lb, 28″ handle full size poll axe, medium chopping and splitting

3 1/2lb to 5lb, 36″ handle splitting axe, heavy splitting

3. (which is better, Disston or Atkins saws?)

This is the Ford vs Chevy question. Disston, Atkins, and Simonds were the 3 900 lb gorillas of handsaw manufacturing. All 3 made everything from top quality excellent grade saws to low cost economy grade saws. Other than specialty features, such as the Disston D-8 thumbhole handle rip saw, I don’t think there’s enough difference to turn one brand down in favor of another as a user saw. It appears to me that Atkins OEM’d a lot more of their saws for other people so you’re a lot less likely to find Atkins marked saws than Disston or Simonds.

4. (question about retempering an axe head)

Unless you have access to a forge, I’d forget trying to temper an axe head. There are only two reasons I can think of to ever want to mess with the temper of an axe head. Either the head has been sharpened so much that it’s worn through the original temper, or the axe has been through a high heat event such as a fire. In the old days, blacksmiths would take worn out axe heads and draw the bit out to extend it’s life. I can’t think of any head today that would be worth that kind of effort. If you have an axe head that’s been through enough of a fire to draw the temper, do yourself a favor and deep six it, it’s unlikely to ever be truly safe again.

Visit me at any of the following locations:

B&G Treasures, 11 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 (Saturday)

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!

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