There was I on the 29th of July at yet
another Holy Saturday at the flea.
The banana queue was extensive but, in
terms of rust, only the man who has cornered the market in
second-hand irrigation pumps was in sight. He informed me that all
of his competition had gone to a large swap-meet at a nearby town
and by the prices he was asking for his wares it was clear that he
intended fully to exploit his monopoly for the day.
The free-range dogs seemed too dejected
to offer combat. Even the man who sells wooden tool handles, a
steadfast vendor through all adverse weather conditions when only
the truly brave venture forth, had deserted his ever-faithful
customers for greener pastures. I purchased two books (no O.T.
content unless one stretches the mission statement to include
military railways before 1918 or childhood fights with pet 'possums)
and soulfully kicked around until the distaff side returned to the
dogmobile laden with fruit and vegetable booty and oddments of
household use or ornament.
Ennui loomed large for the balance of
the week-end, no planes to fettle back to brilliant performance, no
saws to de-rust, sharpen and set, no drill chucks to dismantle and
re-spring. The Yandina wallabies put in an appearance under the
lifting mist on the trip homewards, a heartening omen for the Rugby
clash to come that evening between our mighty fifteen and their
opposition from the Land of the Long White Dole Queue, the All Bleks.
A false omen, as things turned out.
Must have a word with those wallabies about their becoming a bit
more professional in their function as augurs of the outcomes of
However, a look around the garage which
serves as a workshop during a conversation with the dog who occupies
this space as his preferred principal place of residence disclosed
that all was not lost. I had made a bit of a promise a while back to
endow one of my sons with a half-axe for his hiking and camping
expeditions into the outlands and there, amongst my accumulation of
precious objects, was the head of a Kelly half-axe and a suitable
handle which I had forgotten I had left in this particular place.
With the thought that this would occupy
me for ten minutes or so before I took the dog for a couple of hours
walk along the beach I set about removing the handle stub from the
axe's eye, trying to punch the stub out with a wooden drift from the
axeman's side of the eye. Ever heavier whacks with the mallet
produced not a millimeter of movement of that stub.
Close examination of the head at the
tree's end of the eye revealed through the grime that the axe's
former owner was a major devotee of the goddess Araldite. The end of
the handle had not exited the eye when it was being fitted, there to
be wedged and sawn off, but had come up somewhat short and the
cavity had been filled with araldite. The other end of the stub
revealed a heavy application of araldite acting as a gap-filler
where the stub had been shaved too thin. I have previously used
freezing to break araldite bonds but that usually requires leaving
the thing in the freezer for a couple of days and I was in no mood
to take the slow, scientific approach.
Instant gratification was what I
craved, so I drilled three holes through the stub mixture of wood
and araldite. Then out with the trusty blowlamp, on the appearance
of which the noble spaniel retired to the extremities of the garage,
no doubt in recollection of the occasion when the blowlamp, during
preparation, had assumed the characteristics of a flame thrower
whilst he ambled into its path with the result that I had
half-smothered him in my shirt whilst he, much younger then, sought
to repulse such an unmerited assault with all the bravery, vigour
and teeth he could bring to bear in such do-or-die circumstances.
Minor interest side-note: one does not require anti-tetanus shots
for dog bite as canine mouth enzymes destroy the tetanus bug, or so
I was informed in my youth by my favourite grog-blossoms medical
practitioner who decided that, instead of administering a shot, we
should go together to the pub.
With the blowlamp working nicely the
three holes quickly enlarged under the application of the flame as
the wood and araldite mixture did their best to assume the
proportions of a raging conflagration and I was able to use that
universal tool, a screwdriver, to poke burning sections from the
eye. I noticed that, almost as soon as the flame was removed, the
araldite assumed adamantine qualities and it was necessary to keep
the flame on the araldite whilst scraping and pushing with the
screwdriver to clean out the eye fully.
I was somewhat concerned not to
interfere with the temper of the bit and kept that portion of the
axe-head below the eye in a container of water which barely changed
temperature during the proceedings. The spaniel re-assumed his good
humour and cheerful demeanour after the blowlamp was extinguished.
I then sanded off the light coat of
varnish from the handle, oiled it and then waxed it with a mixture
of beeswax and mineral turpentine. The wax provides a good grip
notwithstanding sweaty palms and the oil tends to prevent drying
It took about five minutes of trial and
error to spokeshave the eye end of the handle to fit reasonably
tightly. By-the-bye, an axe handle must be driven for approximately
the last half of the length of its eye section to fit correctly.
This is most effectively accomplished by inserting the handle into
the eye until it sticks, then holding the axe by its handle at the
axeman's end in one hand with the head suspended a short distance
above the bench whilst striking the butt end of the handle with the
mallet. This saves damage to either the handle or the head and
usually surprises those who use this method for the first time for
its ease. Before the handle is finally inserted to be driven home it
is advisable to cut a shallow groove with a chisel along the end
line of the wedge slot as this assists with starting the wedge. I
prefer old, dry hardwood for wedges and plane them down to a fairy
sturdy edge, never a feather edge which will crumple under blows.
Steel wedges are dangerous. The blunt leading edge of the wedge is
then planed to a sharp, obtuse edge so as to gain a start in the
groove prepared for it.
Here I probably part company with
purists in that I smear ordinary wood glue on the wedge before
commencing to drive it as it acts as a lubricant for the driving and
should assist the wedge to stay in place during seasonal wood
movement and the expansion and contraction of the head due to
temperature changes. The end of the eye section of the handle is
then cut off almost flush to the head with a coping saw.
Interesting experience has taught me
that final sharpening of an axe should be postponed to fitting the
handle. The Australian-made "Dandenong" Kelly in this case, a forged
axe, was old, blunt, slightly gapped, very hard and showing file
marks, and notwithstanding its diminutive size it took me about
twenty minutes on the coarse carborundum oilstone to produce a very
thin wire edge with a bevel extending upwards for about 3/4".
Establishing such a relatively wide bevel initially is important as
it greatly facilitates resharpening during use and allows the axe to
bite reasonably deeply without having to overcome the bit's swell
too soon whereby the force of the stroke will be dissipated.
Competitive axemen establish, or have
established for them by professionals in the art, a sharpening bevel
extending more than half way up the bit but this, of course, makes
the axe a much more fragile thing and therefore not particularly
suitable for general usage involving the occasional miss-hit.
this it was pretty much plain sailing as I refined the bevel on the
coarse side of an India stone, then on the fine side and finally on
a natural stone. As progress was made through the finer stones it
became harder and harder to detect a wire edge, the sign of a good
edge on good metal. It was quite happy in the business of
defoliating my calf muscle.
There now awaits a bit of leatherwork
to produce a head cover and accompanying baldrick, a sort of Sam
Browne contrivance which keeps the axe's proclivity to slice the
nearest parcel of flesh whilst being carried abroad to a minimum.