On Course

Ever thought about learn­ing axe skills? Be­ing able to wield such a tool can bring myr­iad ben­e­fits, from felling trees and cop­pic­ing wood­land to mak­ing rus­tic fur­ni­ture and more

Country Smallholding - - Contents -

Learn­ing to use an axe

AN AXE is one of the first pieces of kit I pur­chased after be­com­ing a small­holder many years ago and although I have proudly (ac­tu­ally clum­sily) swung it to chop up logs for the wood burner, I wouldn’t say that I have used it to any­where near its full po­ten­tial. I imag­ine that I am not alone. An axe has many prac­ti­cal uses around a small­hold­ing, from the felling and cop­pic­ing of trees, to split­ting tim­ber for fire­wood and cleav­ing. Now a two­day course at the JG Graves Wood­land Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre, Sh­effield, shows you just how this valu­able, tra­di­tional tool can be max­imised and main­tained to great ef­fect in and around wood­land.

With an em­pha­sis on safe and ef­fi­cient tech­niques for us­ing an as­sort­ment of axes for dif­fer­ent pur­poses, the week­end is suitable for ev­ery­one, from com­plete be­gin­ners through to those look­ing to im­prove their ex­ist­ing skills. Held at the idyl­lic crafts area on the edge of Ec­cle­sall Woods (one of the largest an­cient woodlands in South York­shire), the Wood­land Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre is a great set­ting and fully-equipped train­ing ground in which to learn.

The week­end mas­ter­class is led by highly ex­pe­ri­enced tu­tor Dave Jack­son, who joined the cen­tre more than seven years ago and has been run­ning cour­ses ever since. Dave has a pas­sion for tra­di­tional wood­crafts and he is proud of what the team he works with has achieved over the years. They run a range of cour­ses, with new sub­jects launch­ing all the time.

“In­ter­est has grown so much that we have gone from host­ing about 10 cour­ses a year to more than 40 now,” Dave ex­plains. “It’s great to see folk have the con­fi­dence to come back to learn a new skill or build on the skills they have, or en­joy a craft course given as a spe­cial gift by a friend or rel­a­tive.”

At the end of the week­end, full to the brim with in­for­ma­tion, com­bined with oo­dles of prac­ti­cal hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence gained through felling trees and chop­ping wood, any­one at­tend­ing an axe course can ex­pect to take home all the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence nec­es­sary to get the best (safely and ef­fec­tively) out of their own tool. They will also know how to keep the axe in good con­di­tion for the fu­ture, hav­ing learnt main­te­nance skills, such as grind­ing and sharp­en­ing. On top of this, there is the chance to try out bill­hooks and saws and a wide range of dif­fer­ent types of axe (side, car­pen­ters and broad) to boot.

“Many peo­ple think that the big­ger the axe the bet­ter, and they buy a larger one than they ac­tu­ally need and find it too heavy for the job they are do­ing,” says Dave. “Small and sharp is bet­ter than big and blunt.”

Dave loves pass­ing on his knowl­edge and her­itage skills, such as axe use and the ben­e­fits of cop­pic­ing in the wood­land (which leads to an in­crease in birds, but­ter­flies and wild flow­ers for starters).

There are also other rea­sons for want­ing to learn this tra­di­tional skill. “This course would also help some­one want­ing to get into the craft side of wood­work­ing — for ex­am­ple, know­ing how to use a small craft axe for ac­tiv­i­ties such as rus­tic fur­ni­ture mak­ing, spoon carv­ing or how to use a pole lathe,” adds Dave. “They will learn to ap­pre­ci­ate that the axe is an im­por­tant part of wood craft­ing and some­thing they will use a great deal in a wide range of crafts.”

Axe cour­ses are in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar

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