Sep 24 Five handtools for woodland management and how to care for them. By Ian
These are the hand tools that have helped me most in my wood, and that in many cases have proved popular when supplied second hand to others. In the case of the edge tools I can’t emphasise enough the importance of good sharpening – if in doubt get help.
1. Billhook/handbill – indispensible for light trimming, felling and splitting. Most woodland workers prefer a lighter single bladed bill of about 10″ with a moderate hook. My personal choice is an Elwell 3901 (Tenterden pattern) – not made for over forty years, but often found second hand. The thin blade makes sharpening easy, and if kept in order it will sever a 1″ hazel rod with a single light blow. A good woodsman with a billhook never needs to stoop: the hook allows you to pick up material from the ground easily. I keep my billhooks in old trouser legs, sewn up at one end, together with glove in which I store a sharpening stone, so all that I need is in one place. Beware of the modern type of bill that has short tang riveted into the ferrule – everything about these tools is dire, and they are dangerous to use.
2. Light axe – a small Kent or Wedge pattern axe of 2 to 3lb is great for heavier splitting, snedding and for pointing stakes. Felling trees up to 6 inch diameter with an axe is a pleasure, and much more restful than using a chainsaw, if you are not pushed for time. Try to select an axe that has a fairly slender blade. This will be easier to maintain. Once again old legs from jeans are good for protecting the blade. A round axe stone is useful, but not easy to find at a sensible price. Cutting 2″ off the end of an old carpenters combination coarse/fine bench stone makes a cheap substitute. Good axes are often found second hand, but almost always need rehandling. Beware of tools that have been used as hammers on the poll (rear), as they eye is often cracked.
3. Timber tongs – not a tool that people automatically think of for light manual forestry work, but it saves your strength and saves your hands from injury. Two pairs of tongs assist greatly if you are trying to carry a heavy log with a helper. Tongs can transform your productivity when stacking cordwood. The larger size are easier to use and can still grip fairly small logs. Not often seen second hand, but worth the expense to buy new – Sandvik ones are fine.
4. Bow saw – I use a 21″ with a triangular frame and a 24″ type. The smaller saw is good for pruning and for getting into coppice stools, the 24″ is great for light felling. When not in use you should release the tension from the blade. This gives the blade and frame a longer life. The supplied blade guards always break or get lost. A length of plastic water pipe with a cut down the side is a fair replacement that lasts a while. Sandvik Bahco seems to make the best blades, cheaper bowsaws often cut in a curve, or suffer frame failure. It is worth buying a decent, heavier robust saw. Don’t be mean about blade replacement, a new blade is a joy to use.
5. Long handled fork – I still burn up lop and top, so I find this tool invaluable for tidying up and turning in the fire. The type that works best has a 4′ handle and four light curved tines. They are the kind that people use for mucking out livestock. You can rake up debris with it, and throw matrial into the fire without getting scorched. Never leave it too close to the fire, (many of these tools end up with one side of the handle charred!) and give the handle a dose of linseed oil occasionally. Once again thse are sometimes found secondhand, and SCATS have had reasonable modern ones.
Always wipe off moisture before storing your tools, and then lightly oil blades, including saws. Wooden handles on axes and bills need to be checked for looseness. Avoid soaking handles in water to tighten, as this can lead to the wood degenerating, and in the long term makes the looseness worse. Applying linseed oil is kinder to the tool. Looseness on axe handles may be cured with a new wooden wedge, or additional small metal wedges, not nails or staples! Any cracks necessitate fitting a new handle. Billhook handles are harder to tighten, but the tang (metal part that is inside handle) may be tightened up where it emerges from the back of the handle. Clamp the blade in a vice near the handle, and using a hammer gently peen over the end of the tang. This works if the looseness is slight, but leaving the handle to rattle will allow the problem to get to the stage where a new one is needed.
Hessian sacks, old trouser legs, canvas kit bags and old ammunition boxes are all great for safe storage and transport of edge tools.
Sharpening is a real knack, and requires practise and patience. Briefly, you need to consider the following points:-
-Only sharpen when you are not going to be distracted.
-Damage like chips and burrs needs to be tackled in a workshop where you can clamp the tool and use a file to remove the fault.
-The bevels should blend into the sides of the blade without a shoulder. If this is not the case then once again clamp the tool down and use a file to correct the contours of the tool.
-Don’t sharpen the extreme edge of the tool (the angle of the edge will get obtuse), work on the bevels and maintain the acute angle of the edge. This helps to avoid a shoulder forming.
-Sharpen during the working day. Little and often keeps the tool keen and avoids you needing to sharpen when you start work next time.
-Experiment with different shapes and grades of sharpening stone to find out what works for you; many modern stones are very poor. Old ‘Carborundum’ brand ‘canoe’ shaped stones are usually useable for billhooks.
-Use water (or spit) not oil on your sharpening stone. Oil tends to go gummy or glazed with time, and it picks up dust. Wash the stone if needed.
-If new to sharpening consider wearing gloves, rubber palmed builders gloves allow reasonable dexterilty and some cut protection.
Look at Ian’s website for more details on him!
He owns and manages a woodland and repairs and sells tools.