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Your Axe

A backwoodsman has to be pretty useful with his axe. To become a good axeman a fellow must know, first, how the thing ought to be done, and secondly, he must have lots of practice in doing it before he can be considered any good.

Only bad workmen complain of the tools-so before starting to work, be sure that your tool is a good one.

Sharpening the Axe

Then see that your axe is sharp-really sharp, not merely with a good edge on it. A slightly blunt axe is no more good for cutting down a tree than a very blunt knife is for cutting a pencil. Learn how to sharpen your axe on a grindstone, while you are in civilization, where grindstones can be found and where there are men to show you.

In India, when we went "pig sticking" (that is, hunting wild boar with spears), we found how very necessary it was to keep our spears as sharp as razors. Every time we killed a boar we sharpened up our spear-heads again, ready for the next fight. We could not carry grindstones about with us, but we carried a small, fine file, with which we were able to touch up the edge.

Many an old backwoodsman carries such a file with him to keep his axe keen. There is a saying with these men that "You may lend your last dollar to a friend, but never lend him your axe-unless you know that he is a good axeman and will not blunt it".

Protect Your Axe

Only a fool will go banging about with an axe-hacking at trees, chopping at roots and branches on the ground, in this way destroying valuable trees and at the same time blunting the axe at every stroke on earth and stones. And when his arms tire, he will throw the axe down, leaving it lying around on the ground, where it may catch and cut the toe of someone moving about after dark.

When you want to leave your axe, strike straight down with it into a tree stump, and leave it sticking there till required again, or make a special "mask" for the blade of a piece of wood, or put it in its leather case.

Using the Axe

In using the axe, the "tenderfoot" generally tries to cover his bad aim by the extra strength of his blows. If an old hand is looking on, he is smiling to himself and thinking of the backache he got himself the first time that he did it.

Don't try to put force into the blow, merely be careful about aiming it so that it falls exactly where you want it. The swing and weight of the axe will do the rest. Make the blows at a slant, not straight down.

A good axeman uses his axe equally well left-handed or right. It is all a matter of practice.

Tree Felling

When you want to fell a tree for a useful purpose, get permission first. Before starting to fell your tree, first clear away all branches which might interfere with the swing of your axe and therefore spoil your aim. Also clear away any brambles or undergrowth that might trip you at the critical moment. Make sure that onlookers are well away from you.

The way to fell a tree is first to cut a big chunk out on the side to which you want the tree to fall, and then to cut into the opposite side to fell it. Plan your work so that the tree will fall clear of other trees and not get hung up in their branches.

Begin your first notch, or "kerf", as it is called, by chopping two marks, the upper one at a distance above the other equal to the thickness of the tree. Then cut alternately, first a horizontal cut at the lower mark, then a sideways, downward cut at the upper one, and jerk out the chunk between the two. Go on doing this till you get to the centre of the tree.

Now go to the opposite side of the tree and cut another kerf here, only about three inches above the level of the lower mark of the first kerf.

Cut out chunks when you are at it-not a lot of little chips, which are signs to anyone coming there later that a "tenderfoot" has been at work. It is all a matter of aiming your stroke well.

Then, when your tree falls, look out for the butt. This often jumps back from the stump. Never stand directly behind it-many a tenderfoot has been killed that way. When the stem cracks and the tree begins to topple over, move forward in the direction of the fall, and at the same time outwards, away from the butt.

Trimming and Logging

When the tree is down, it must be trimmed, that is, the boughs and branches must be cut off, leaving a clean trunk. This is done by working from the butt end of the trunk towards the top. Cut off each bough from below, as close to the trunk as possible. The trunk is then cut into lengths. This is called "logging". Cut from one side towards the middle, making the kerf half as wide as the tree is thick. Then turn the tree over and make a similar kerf from the other side, until the logs come apart.


Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell (Chief Scout, London, UK)

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