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
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