A Handmade Life: How to Make a Broad Hatchet

Author and amateur blacksmith William Coperthwaite takes up axe making and teaches the basics of forging a broad hatchet.

  • Handmade Life Cover
    Coperthwaite's writing in " A Handmade Life" is both philosophical and practical, exploring themes of beauty, work, education and design while giving instruction on the hand-crafting of different objects, from a carved bowl to a broad hatchet.
    Cover Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Axe
    It is hard to find a good broad hatchet — a small, broad axe with a wide cutting edge beveled on only one side.
    Photo By Peter Forbes
  • Axe Template
    The first step to making a broad hatchet is to trace this pattern on annealed (temperable) steel, 5/16-thick.
    Illustration Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Black Axe
    The face of the axe should be slightly hollowed, like a shallow gouge.
    Photo By W. Coperthwaite

  • Handmade Life Cover
  • Axe
  • Axe Template
  • Black Axe

William Coperthwaite is a teacher, builder, designer and writer who for many years has explored the possibilities of true simplicity on a homestead on the north coast of Maine. In the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and Helen and Scott Nearing, Coperthwaite has fashioned a livelihood of integrity and completeness — buying almost nothing, providing for his own needs, and serving as a guide and companion to hundreds of apprentices drawn to his unique way of being. A Handmade Life (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007) carries Coperthwaite's ongoing experiments with hand tools, hand-grown and gathered food, and handmade shelter, clothing, and furnishings out into the world to challenge and inspire. The following excerpt from chapter 1, “Society by Design/Design by Society,” solves the problem of finding a simple, broad hatchet by teaching you the basics of forging one.     

"When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece." 
— John Ruskin 

A Democratic Axe

It is hard to find a good broad hatchet — a small, broad axe with a wide cutting edge beveled on only one side, like a chisel; this special bevel makes it easier to hew to a line.

After forty years of hunting in antiques shops and flea markets, I have found only two broad hatchets that passed muster. To friends who sought one of their own, the outlook was discouraging. They could get one made — if they happened to know a good blacksmith, if they had a good design, and if they could afford the price.

Or you could forge one yourself, but by the time you had learned to make a fine one, you would have become a blacksmith yourself. This is an elite tool. In Japan, in the Tosa region of the island of Shikoku, I was surprised by the number of blacksmiths. Each village had its smith, and all could make excellent edge tools. It was delightful to see the grace and skill of those smiths. I became friends with one who made a broad hatchet to my specifications. Twenty years went by, and in the interim I had studied many axes and was blending what I had learned into my ideal of a broad hatchet.

A few years ago I carved a pine model and sent it off to my blacksmith friend in Shikoku. Yes, he would make it for me. Two years passed and it did not appear. I assumed the project was forgotten.

2/4/2015 7:02:33 AM

This is an interesting article however it is frustrating and essentially useless because the hyperlinks to the Image Gallery on the last page of the article - don't in fact take you to the Image Gallery?!?! Without the 2 pattern images seemingly promised within the article it is impossible to follow through with an attempt at the project. This seems like a cheap bait-and-switch used car sales tactic and leaves a bad taste in mouth after an otherwise promising read.

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