From the Saw Shop Hall of Shame: Damaged Atkins handsaw handle


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works restored antique tools

damaged atkins handsaw handle

Sometimes, in the process of working on customer tools or restoring tools for my inventory, I run across things that are so bad, they just beg for a Wall of Shame to put them on :).

This is (was) what should have been a decent little Atkins handsaw with a “flower” patten handle. It came to me in a bundle of other saws, otherwise I’d never have picked it up.

This is a great example of why I always say to NEVER leave a tool handle without finish on it (you can see where the original shellac finish chipped and peeled off the handle). Yup, that’s not only a split in the handle, it’s a vertical split following the blade slot. Unfortunately, that split severely compromises the structural integrity of the handle, so this saw was one for the trash.

Protect your tool handles!

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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From the Saw Shop, questions and answers: axe head mushrooming, axe handle length.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works restored antique tools

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

1. (question about axe head mushrooming)

Mushrooming occurs when the poll (back) of a poll axe is used to pound hard steel objects, such as splitting wedges. Since the core steel of a poll axe is relatively soft, the poll deforms, leaving steel pushed out and hanging over the sides of the head.

If the mushrooming is solid (not cracked) and isn’t fragile enough to come loose, it’s best to leave it alone. It isn’t very pretty but it’s part of the honest history of the axe and grinding steel off the poll is highly likely to unbalance the axe head.

Mushrooming that is cracked and hanging way off the edge is in danger of coming loose and causing a safety issue and should be removed. The problem is that most axe heads when they reach this point have related issues that make them unsafe to use even with the mushrooming cleaned up. These issues include distorted eyes from the same pounding that caused the mushrooming and chips from the polls. Best to can any axe head in that condition, it’s not worth the risk.

2. (question, is a 19″ handle too short for a 2 3/4lb axe head)

Yup, most certainly. Axes 2 1/2lbs and up need at least a 28″ handle to balance properly.

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!

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!

From the Saw Shop: restoring a damaged saw handle, from ugly duckling to swan.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

George Bishop 12 saw handle

This is an 1880s George Bishop #12 crosscut hand saw handle in barn fresh condition. These were an absolutely gorgeous handle, at least until someone thought breaking the loop on this one was a great idea. At least all the pieces are there, thanks to someone goobering it back together with screws.

George Bishop 12 saw handle

The two individual pieces of the broken loop are glued up.

George Bishop 12 saw handle

The two broken pieces that were reattached together are now glued back into place in the handle. This required a bit of reshaping to get them to fit as one piece (the first break was the middle of the loop, then both sides broke out separately).

George Bishop 12 saw handle

The handle is now back in one piece, the old screw holes are filled, the repaired breaks are filled, and the first sanding pass is done.

George Bishop 12 saw handle

The repaired handle is now finish sanded and waiting for finish.

George Bishop 12 saw handle

The handle is just waiting for our special linseed oil based finish to dry, and then it’s back to the saw. Now it’s gorgeous!

swiftwater edge tool works restored vintage tools

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!

Saw Shop Tech: rewedging loose wooden axe and tool handles.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

This is one of the most common questions I get asked, how do you rewedge a loose wooden tool or axe handle. There are few things more dangerous than an impact tool such as an axe with a loose handle (picture that sharp axe head sailing off for points unknown, out of control) so I’m going to dedicate this entire post to the subject.

First of all, assuming that the axe handle is just a bit loose, in good condition, and has a wooden main wedge (the wedge lengthwise the eye), the best way to take care of it is not to mess with the wedge at all. Soak the eye end of the handle in boiled linseed oil overnight and many times it will swell the wood enough to tighten the handle up. Note that if the handle has a metal main wedge, it will probably NOT swell enough to tighten up. Do NOT EVER soak a handle in water to try to tighten it! A handle that has been soaked in water will almost immediately come loose again and this will only deteriorate the wood.

So, the handle is too loose to swell tight or it has other issues such as deteriorated wood or unsafe wedging (I’ve seen handles with the ends full of nails trying to tighten them up). The choice is, save the handle or replace? If the handle is too far gone to be safe, drill it out and put a new one in.

Now that we’ve decided to save the handle, here’s a few DO NOTs. DO NOT try to shim a wedge with another wedge to tighten it. Here’s a bad example of that.

bad axe handle wedges

Yup, that’s washers driven in next to a steel wedge.

DO NOT try to use steel cross wedges to split a main wooden wedge to tighten it. DO NOT drive anything else in the end of the handle. These DO NOTs all create serious safety issues that will make the axe dangerous to use!

If the existing main wedge is steel, pulling it may be a challenge. Steel wedges driven flush with the end of the handle are pretty much impossible to pull and will require drilling out the handle. Steel “cap” wedges (T shaped with a cap that covers the end of the handle) can often be pulled but they’re a chore. The steel “cap” wedges tend to rust into the wood and it can be a real wrestling match getting them out (usually in pieces). Be sure to check to end of any handle that has had a steel “cap” wedge in it for deterioration, these wedges tended to trap moisture underneath. Some old fashioned steel wedges had a tail at one end that overlapped the end of the eye. These are the easiest to pull, just pry with a screwdriver under the tail.

If the main wedge is wood and especially if it’s already loose, drilling a small hole into the wedge and threading in a screw to pull on usually works well. If the wedge is still too tight to wrestle out that way, it may be necessary to drill most of the wedge out (taking care not to damage the slot in the handle.

Now that you have the wedge out, it’s the perfect time to pull the handle from the eye and inspect it. Any handle that shows signs of deterioration or dry rot inside the eye of the axe or excessive cracking should be replaced as unsafe. Clean the eye end of the handle and any rust from the eye before reseating the old handle. Place the head on the handle and then rap the end of the handle against a solid surface until the head is solidly seated.

Always rewedge a handle with a wooden wedge. Pick the next length of wedge longer than the eye and then trim to fit. Drive the wedge in to the slot as far as possible with a wooden or rubber mallet, then trim the excess off. A properly fit handle shouldn’t require a steel cross wedge. If it does need one, make sure the steel wedge does not split the handle below the eye. If it does, scrap the handle and replace.

I’ve talked mostly about axes here, but the same instructions apply to tools such as hammers, splitting mauls, sledge hammers, etc. One note about hammer handles, wooden hammer handles that are held in with epoxy are generally not capable of being rewedged and should be drilled out and replaced.

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!

Tool Tech from the Saw Shop: the science of choosing the right axe handle.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

In the process of doing vintage tool restoration, I obtain most of my tools in “barn fresh” condition from a wide variety of sources. I see everything imaginable (and a great deal not) in terms of tool abuse, poorly executed maintenance, and well meaning but ill informed attempts at repair. One of the things that mystifies me the most is the choices people make in axe handles.

I thought I’d seen everything in mismatched and poorly hung replacement axe handles but the one I picked up from the Arundel Flea Market this last Saturday really took the cake. The axe was a very nice, top of the line, and quite hard to find Sager (Warren Tool Co, Warren PA) 3 lb Baltimore Jersey pattern poll axe head, hung on an 18″ hand axe handle. This handle is ridiculously short for the weight of the head and not only makes an axe that’s miserable to use, it makes one that’s dangerous to use. This handle was an obvious replacement at some time in the head’s service life.

So, how do we choose the correct length handle for an axe (or how can we tell a new axe has the right length handle from the start)? The primary key to this is balance.

My rule of thumb is that an axe should balance 4″-6″ along the handle away from the head. Most of the full sized poll axes I do balance toward the upper end of the range, a Snow and Neally 2lb Maine pattern boy’s axe with a 24″ oak handle (I consider this to be darned close to the perfect axe) balanced almost to the low end. The miserably mishandled Sager wouldn’t balance at all, the balance point was somewhere inside the head.

If an axe is balanced too close to the head, it will feel abnormally “heavy” and unwieldy. It will make you work harder to swing it and it will be difficult to control, making it dangerous. In the case of the Sager, there was a very real possibility of missing or swinging through the work piece and the short handle causing the axe head to come right back at your thigh.

The second key here is how much power do you need the axe to generate and is the head heavy enough to do it? The further the arc of swing of the head is away from the body, the faster the head speed and the more power will be stored in the head to be released when the head strikes the wood. A splitting axe will typically be hung on as long a handle as possible to generate maximum impact. A chopping axe will be on a bit shorter handle for more control and less effort.

In the case of the Sager, the overly short handle means that you can’t generate enough speed to use the weight of the head at all, so, in addition to being dangerous and uncontrollable, it also doesn’t gain you a thing. An axe will too long a handle will feel overly “light” and won’t supply proper feedback to the muscles swinging it, leading to serious control issues once again.

So, other than trial and error, hanging axes first and then checking the balance, how do you know what length handle to buy? This table is my take on it:

Poll axe (splitting) 4 lbs + 28″ – 36″ 36″ preferred
Poll axe (chopping) 3 1/2lbs to 4 lbs 28″ – 36″ 28″ preferred
Boy’s axe 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 lbs 26″ – 28″ 26″ preferred
Boy’s axe 2 lb 24″ – 26″ 24″ preferred
Hand axe 1 3/4 lb 18″
Hatchet 1 to 1 1/2 lb 12″

The right handle makes the vintage axe a joy to use :).

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!

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!