Tips & FAQs

The JMG staff realizes that there are several different methods and approaches in being successful in the out-of-doors. Our series on Teaching Tips are only suggestions. When the testers evaluate a candidate, we want to see if the method the individual is using is safe and efficient. We want to see if the candidate has confidence in using this skill, and we constantly are asking ourselves,” Is this a proper skill that the candidate can pass on (teach) to other individuals?”

Teaching Tips – Axemanship

Getting started using the axe

Axe to use: We recommend the classic Hudson Bay Cruiser Axe, which is a 1¾-pound axe or use a 2-pound axe. There is no need to use a heavier axe as a woods axe. Make sure that the axe has a sheave.

Proper footwear: We strongly recommend wearing boots when using an axe.

Introductory steps: First have the candidates pass the axe around to each other. The person passing the axe holds on to the head end of the axe and passes it handle first. Make sure that the person receiving the axe replies with a “thank you” which means “I have a good grip on the axe now.”

Next demonstrate to the campers how to sharpen the axe with a file. (This will be discussed in a later teaching tip.)

Introducing how to use the axe: We suggest the campers put points on some stakes to get used to the feel of an axe. (This also will be discussed in a later tip.)

First steps in swinging the axe: A secure chopping block is needed that has a small “V” (or notch in it) to hold the billet. Put a 2-inch or so mark on the top of the block – not in the V, but to the side of it (You can also use the V as a target). Have the camper take a short weak swing using the mark as a target. Individuals like to swing the axe by either bring the axe up to the side over their shoulder or keeping the axe is a straight up and down plane. Don’t bring the axe head behind your head trying to take too big of a swing. Keep the axe head in front of your forehead.  Most right-handed folks like to keep their right hand at the bottom of the axe handle and use their left hand as their top hand. Have the camper use both methods of swinging the axe to see what is most comfortable. As the camper finds that he/she is able to hit the target with a short, weak swing, encourage the camper to increase the strength of their stroke.

Next steps: After the camper feels that she/he can do this well and feels confortable in swinging an axe, use a match stick or a thin twig as a new target. (Remember to keep an eye on your camper to make sure that the camper is not progressing too quickly by trying to use too strong of a stroke that is not controlled well.) The next step is trying to split a small piece of pine without any knots in it. The piece of pine should be 12 + inches long. Even better would be to use some pine scrap wood as practice material.