Cutting Tools

In our Equipment section we described the use of axes, saws, ice chisels and augers, in a corresponding subsection.

Axes:  Safety using an axe requires proper training and practice.  If you are now an adult and never had the good fortune to be trained with an axe as a child, like many of us were, then I don’t know where you go for training, other than finding a buddy who can teach you, or taking a woodcraft course.

Splitting safely requires certain skills.  Never hold a bock end up with one hand and bring the axe down with the other.   It seems like common sense not to do this, but its amazing how many people who do.   They claim they have never had an accident, but one day they will, and it could ruin theirs and their buddy’s trip, as well as cause a permanent debilitating injury.   Holding a block upright is a common technique to split fine kindling.   If it does not stand up on its own, please use a holding stick in one hand, supporting the block upright with the stick, so that your hand is well away from the block.  Then you can safely bring the axe down on the block with the other hand, with no worries even if you miss.

A summer photo showing how to safely hold a block upright for splitting that won’t stand up on its own. With a firm one handed stroke you can split the wood. Usually in snow, such a block could be propped up for a 2-handed stroke, but for making fine kindling the stick holding method is safe for thin pieces that won’t stand. Use a longer stick if you are a beginner!

Splitting a larger block requires a swift decisive swing since the snow supporting the block will absorb the impact.  The swift decisive swing will use the inertia of the block, and it will split without being driven down into the snow.   Spread your feet and bend your knees so that the arc of the swing through the block, or missing the block, will not arc back into your body.  The arc trajectory should be into the ground, well out from and between your feet.  If the arc is coming into your body when splitting, you need to bend at the knees and back more.

Short handled hatchets are extremely dangerous, and just about useless anyways for winter camping.   You cannot get a splitting swing with a hatchet.  The follow through arc is into your body.  I will not allow hatchets on my trips.

A long handled axe is the only choice for winter.   Length of handle and head is personal preference, and most people like to bring their own axe on a trip.  Personally I like a 28 inch handle and a 2 ¼ to 2 ½ pound head, which for me does everything well.   Tall people may prefer a longer handle.

Cutting an ice water hole with an axe can be done standing or kneeling.  Please always use eye protection when cutting an ice hole with an axe, since the ice chips will be flying.

Cutting a water hole with an axe in early season thinner ice. Woolman is one tall lad, so the stance has to be very bent. Note the arc of the swing on the long handled axe will go safely into the hole. He’s wearing eye glasses, but adding a pair of ski goggles would be even safer, since the ice chips really fly.

Trimming branches on poles should always be done with gloves on.  Obviously the trimming swings should always be away from you. Always be aware of where the follow through is going, and guard against awkward swings that can deflect off a stick or knot

Saws:   Always wear gloves when sawing wood.   The saw can jump and those teeth are wickedly sharp, so gloves will protect your hands.   Obviously you need a saw blade cover for transport.

Augers:   The blades on an ice auger are razor sharp and with the blade guard off, they stick out at an angle that can easily catch and cut very deeply into anything which brushes against them.   They could easily slice off a muscle or tendon by brushing a leg, hand or arm too fast or close across the blades.    When ice fishing and moving locations, sometimes the auger is placed on a sled without the blade guard on.  This should not be done.  Always put the blade guard on when transporting an ice auger.

Ice Chisels:   Ice chisels need to be kept very sharp to cut effectively.  Obviously the blade guard should always be on during transport.   When cutting an ice hole your feet are close to the hole.  Spread your feet and pay close attention to what you are doing.   It’s not as scary as it may first appear – just use common sense and pay attention and you’ll be fine.   Eye protection is a good idea although your face is generally well above the main spray of ice chips.