One very common question we get (usually from those new to the bushcraft world) is, how do you carve with a hatchet? And if you’ve never seen it done, I can see how this wouldn’t make sense. Woodcarving is usually thought of as a somewhat precise exercise, using knives with tiny blades and fat handles that allow a great deal of control. The chopping movements of a hatchet sound like an awfully good way to reduce a carving project to kindling.
But this isn’t so. While the hatchet (defined as an axe-pattern right-angle chopping tool with a 1lb head and 16” handle, although this is open to interpretation) isn’t quite the do-all woods tool that its big brother the felling axe is, it’s still a super handy tool well worth carrying if there’s room in your kit. Hatchets are great for running cleanup on downed trees, clearing brush, splitting kindling, processing game, and of course, flipping pancakes. (If you know, you know. #hatchula)
However, carving is quite possibly my favorite use for a hatchet. If you’re working on something pocket-sized, you probably don’t need it. But for roughing out larger items like spoons, spatulas, kuksas, pot hangers, hanging hooks, or any other carving project where you need to remove a lot of wood quickly in the early stages, a hatchet is indispensable, and can save you tons of time. It would take hours with a knife to remove the excess wood that you can chop off with a hatchet in just a few minutes. You can also use the hatchet to split the log you’ll be working with.
It’s best to outline the shape of what you’d like your finished product to look like with a pencil or a piece of charcoal first, and then get to work. Use short, controlled strokes and grip the hatchet towards the middle of the handle initially, and then by the throat when you get closer to finishing up. With each stroke, very slightly twist your wrist to sort of “pop” the chip straight out. This helps prevent splintering.
Once you’re done roughing it out, you can then move in with your knife or knives and do final finishing. Instead of taking an entire day, you can have a spoon mostly done in an hour. All hail the hatchet. This principle applies with any other chopping blade. Tomahawks, machetes, or even big knives can all be used for this purpose. But the weight and convex grind of the hatchet still put it at the top of the list.
In fact, hatchets have been used in this manner for centuries. The whole idea of a carpenter’s hatchet/axe comes from the days when carpentry involved a lot more hand notching and fitting of beams, pegs, and logs and much less running an air nailer and skilsaw. Broadaxes, adzes, and crosscut saws were used for the initial work, and small axes and hatchets were used for final finishing to ensure a proper fit.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why it looks like someone took a file to the throat of my hatchet… they did. It’s in the middle of being fitted for a throat collar. If you’d like to get your own, you can pick one up from the SARCRAFT Outfitter Store here: https://www.sarcraft.com/products-1/hults-bruk-almike-hatchet
Like this tip? Learn how to do it and a whole lot more in an interactive, hands-on setting in great company at our upcoming Sunday Afternoon Bushcraft: Carving a Kuksa on Sunday, January 27th, from 2pm-7pm! Register now at https://www.sarcraft.com/course-registration/register-sunday-afternoon-bushcraft!