Home & Shop Companion #0048
In the nineteen-thirties, axmen, such as Peter McClaren of the Plumb Ax Company, were frequently seen in contests sponsored by hardware stores in country towns. In a typical show of this sort, the sponsors would put up a cash prize to support the challenge that the professional could chop through the displayed log twice as fast as any man in the crowd. A stack of silver dollars looked as big as a lighthouse in those depression days, and some muscular farmer would have his coat off before the pitchman finished his speech.
The professional chopper, a man no bigger or stronger than the average challenger, would win these contests with strokes that seemed arrogantly easy and unhurried. His only secret, if that is the word for it, was knowing how and where to land each stroke for maximum efficiency. He never wasted an ounce of effort or an inch of motion.
Here are the basic points the beginning axman should know. Mastery of them is a matter more of intelligent practice than of brute strength, though strong and disciplined muscles are a great help.
BEFORE YOU SWING
There are three things that must be in order before any chopping can be done efficiently.
- The ax itself must have a sharp, relatively thin blade and enough head weight and handle length to suit the chopper and the job at hand.
- The chopper must have secure footing and room to swing. Those are safety as well as efficiency requirements.
- The axman needs to be free of slick gloves or heavy, binding clothing. It is impossible, for example, to chop safely and efficiently while wearing such a combination as wet leather gloves and a floppy poncho or a tight-shouldered raincoat.
GRIP AND SWING
The right ax grip will come instantly to anyone who has handled anything from a broom to a baseball bat. The hands are spread comfortably on the handle, one hand near the handle end, the other closer to the ax head. The spread depends on the proportions of the ax and on the size and strength of the chopper. There is no rule and no need for one. Some chop right-handed by natural inclination; others, lefthanded. Start with the hand most natural to you, then practice switching. All good axmen can chop either way, for there are many times when a one-way swinger will have his stroke blocked by another tree or his footing hampered by some obstacle. Good choppers switch from left to right — whichever offers the most efficient swing — without stopping to think about it.
The important thing about the swing is to keep it smooth, easy, and on target. Beginners, especially the strong and young ones, will nearly always swing too far and too hard — as if they hope to clip off log or tree with one home-run blow. Shorter, smoother strokes which put the ax edge right on the mark cut a lot more wood with less effort.