Because of its size and the way in which it is used, an ax can be more dangerous than other wood tools. Remove the sheath only when you are prepared to use your ax correctly. Give it your full attention.
An ax must be sharp and in top condition. If the head is loose, soak the ax for a few hours in a stream or a bucket of Linseed oil (Tip thanks to Jeff Starks, Troop 24 ). The wood in the head will swell, and the handle will be tight for a while. Linseed Oil or Flax Seed Oil doesn't dry out as quickly as water, thus making it safer. When you are home, drive a wedge into the wood in the head, or replace the worn handle with a new one.
Always wear sturdy leather boots when you are chopping with an ax. Leather won't stop a blade from hitting your foot, but good boots may limit the extent of an injury.
Safe working area.
You must have plenty of room in which to swing an ax. Check your clearance by holding your ax by the head. Slowly swing the handle at arm's length all around you and over your head. Remove any brush or branches that the handle touches. While you are cutting, be certain other people stay at least 10 feet away.
In a long-term camp using lots of firewood, rope off an ax yard large enough to provide the clearance you need to work. Enter the yard only to chop and saw wood. Allow just one person at a time in the ax yard. Clean up the chips, bark, and other debris of cutting.
Chopping branches off a downed log is called limbing. Stand on the right side of the log opposite a branch. Chop close to the base of the branch, driving the ax into the underside of the limb. Keep the log between you and your cuts. If the ax misses a branch, the blade will hit the log rather than your leg.
Bucking a log means cutting through it. Stand beside the log with your feet shoulders'-width apart. Hold the ax with one hand near the head and then slide your hands together as you swing the bit into the log. Let the falling weight of the ax do most of the work. Slide your hand back down the handle to the head. Lift it and swing again. Aim your strokes so that you cut a V shaped notch twice as wide at the top as the log is thick.
Learn to switch-hit with your ax. As you cut on the right side of a notch let you right hand slide on the ax handle. Switch your grip and slide your left hand up the handle as you work from the left side of a notch. Develop a relaxing easy rhythm, switching hands after each blow.
Cutting small sticks and splitting large chunks of wood known as rounds are best done on a chopping block, which is a piece of log that has been sawed and turned upright to provide a flat surface. It should be about 2 feet high so that you won't have to lean down much as you work. A chopping block is important for safety too. If you swing your ax badly, the bit will probably hit the block instead of flying on toward your feet.
To split a large round of wood, stand it upright on a chopping block. Swing the ax as you would to buck a log, driving the bit into the end of the round. If the wood doesn't split, remove the ax before swinging it again. Do not swing an ax with a piece of wood wedged on the bit.
Place a sheath over an ax blade whenever it is not in use. Carry an ax at your side with one hand, the blade turned out from your body. If you stumble, toss the ax away from you as you fall. Never carry an ax over your shoulder.
Sheathe your ax and store it under the dining fly or in a tent. On the trail, a sheathed ax can be tied or strapped to the outside of your pack.
To pass an ax to another person, hold the handle near the knob with the head down. Pass the ax with the bit facing out at right angles between you and the other person. When your partner has a grip on the handle, he should say, "Thank you." That's your signal to release your hold.
Sharpening an Ax
Keep your ax sharp with a mill bastard file 8 or 10 inches long. The lines across the face of the file are the teeth. They angle away from the point, or tang. A sharp file will be a drab gray color. A silvery shine means a file has broken teeth that won't sharpen very well.
Whenever you sharpen with a file, wear leather gloves to protect your hands. Also, make a knuckle guard from a 3-inch square of leather, plywood, or an old inner tube. Cut a small hole in the center of the guard. Slip it over the tank and hold it in place with a file handle. Buy a handle at a hardware store or make one from a piece of wood or a corn cob.
Brace the ax head on the ground between a small log and two wooden pegs or tent stakes. Another Scout can help hold the ax handle steady. Place the file on the edge of the blade and push it into the bit. Use enough pressure so that you feel the file cutting the ax metal.
Lift the file as you draw it back for another stroke. A file sharpens only when you push it away from the tang. Dragging the file across the blade on the return will break off the teeth and ruin the file.
Sharpen with firm, even strokes. After you have filed one side of the bit from heel to toe, turn the ax around and do the other side. Under bright light a dull edge reflects light. Continue to file until the edge seems to disappear. Filing can leave a tiny curl of metal called a burr on the edge of the bit. Remove the burr by honing the bit with a whetstone just as you would the blade of a pocketknife.