Hand Forging a Tomahawk


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Last weekend I had some free time to spend working at the forge. It has been a while since I did any blacksmith work and this tomahawk was a fun project to kick things off with. Here is a sneak peak!


I forged this small tomahawk from mild steel flat bar with a high carbon bit for good edge retention.

First I took the piece of mild steel bar and tapered the ends and bent it in half to form the initial shape of the eye.


Then I started forge welding the two bend halves together starting from the eye working towards the bit. I forge welded it up unto about 7/8″ from the end. This left space for the high carbon bit to fit in that was previously forged into a wedge shape.



Here the hawk is taking shape after I forge welded the high carbon bit in. I use the straight peen of my hammer to fuller and spread the metal out to widen the blade.


The tomahawk head is heated to non magnetic and quenched to harden the bit. It is then immediately tempered to soften the edge and reduce brittleness while remaining hard enough to hold an edge. This image is not of the hardening process, but I threw it in because it looks cool. :-)


At this point the final finishing is done and the hawk is cleaned up and fitted with a nice new hickory handle. To get the scale off I used a wire wheel on the bench grinder, and then forced a little patina with yellow mustard spread over the hawk head.

The handle is burned, which is something new I have been playing with. The process for burning the handle is simple. First the handle is wiped down with boiled linseed oil and then a propane torch is used to scorch the handle. After doing this the handle is sanded and oiled again, and then several days later coated with paste wax. This gives the handle a very nice feel to it and is suppose to help preserve the wood. Plus if you don’t overdo the burning it looks nice as well.

Here are some more finished shots of the new hawk. This tomahawk is the smallest one I own. At first it seemed too small, but I think it is going to make a nice little pack hawk that will travel well in the woods. The handle is just 15″ long.


I will probably be making a few more of these in the next few months. If there is any interest in a more detailed “How To” let me know and I will try to remember to take more pictures of the whole process.

Also if you are interested in purchasing one of these hawks hand forged by yours truly, send me a message via the “Contact” page and I will get one made up for you.

Thanks for looking,

Simple Pole Lathe


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I built this pole lathe back in the summer of ’13, but never posted any pictures. I figure that now is a good time do a blog about it after posting about the class I just took at North House on turning bowls on the pole lathe.

This was built out of old lumber that was laying around from a dock that had been taken down a few years earlier. The wood was sound, but not pretty, however it was free and the cost of the lathe was only around $5-6 dollars since I had to buy the bolts.

I am going to start out with a picture of the lathe in use and then will show you the construction details. Here I am turning a piece of ash into a chisel mallet.


I am not going to go into a lot of detail as the pictures are fairly self explanatory. The basic frame consists of two 4×4 posts and 2×6 rails as bed ways. There is a 2×6 board on the bottom of the post forming a base or foot, and then there are two 2×6 cross braces per post for stability.





The poppet was aligned and hit onto the headstock center to mark the location to drill the hole for the poppet’s center.


The mortise was drilled and then chiseled out for the poppet wedge. For some reason I did not take any photos of the rest of the poppet build.


Here is how the lathe turned out complete with traditional spring pole and cross braces staked into the ground.




One of the first projects I turned after making the lathe was a simple ash mallet for use with carving chisels.



So there you have it. A simple but very functional lathe that can be built for next to nothing if you can salvage the lumber you need. I am thinking of making an extra poppet for bowl turning with the bent center. However I might try turning a bowl with the current configuration and see how it works first.


Bowl Turning on Pole Lathes – North House Folk School


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This past weekend I attended my first class at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. I have been interested in taking one of their classes for a while and it seemed like a good time to take a break from building our house and do something fun.

The class was entitled “Wooden Bowl Turning: Norwegian Ale Bowls” and instructed by Roger Abrahamson. He is a big fellow standing six foot six inches and a great teacher and all around good guy. He has been turning bowls and teaching his craft full time for the past 18 years. I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn from him, it was a lot of fun.

Roger Abrahamson

Roger Abrahamson

This class also happened to fall on the 2nd annual Wood Week. This is a time when all the classes are woodworking related and the school puts on an extra day of mini classes allowing you to try out some of the other class offerings. The main benefit to this week for me was that after classes we had open shop time where many similar minded people hung out till late in the evening working and socializing.

The class was held in the school’s red building, which was an old timber frame building built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp for the Forest Service. When North House began back in 1997, this was one of the main workshops and is still the center of much class work. Our class was held on one end and had four other students besides myself. This was nice as the class had enough people to make it enjoyable, but still allowed plenty of one on one time with Roger.


We started out on Thursday discussing a short history of pole turning and Norwegian Ale Bowls. The other students as well as myself were quite motivated and got to work shortly after.

Bowl blanks were split out of white birch logs of around ten inches in diameter. They were then hand carved to a roughly round shape, and then put on the lathe. I did not take many pictures at this point as I was pretty engrossed in the work.

Here is the initial roughing out of the outside of my bowl on the pole lathe.


Here is a look at some of the other students working.



Here is the start of my first bowl. Not a bad finish for the first time turning a bowl and a pole lathe.



Here is a poor quality picture of my first bowl. I took this in the evening after getting back to the motel and the color is a bit off, but you get the idea.


The second day of the class I turned two more bowls. I only took a few pictures of the second bowl. I will take more pictures later after they are dry and oiled. Applying oil will make the bowls look much nicer.




Saturday we did not have class as that was the Wood Week day with mini classes. I took the “Decorative Details with the Slojd Knife” class for adding simple details to spoons and carvings. It was a fun class put on by Mike Loeffler who is a nice instructor and easy going. I did not take any pictures during the class, but here is a picture of a sample detail pattern I did.


That night after the mini classes the school hosted a pizza cook out in their brick oven. North House provided the pizza sauce, cheese, and dough made by the interns. Thanks guys. The toppings were a community affair with everything from herring to boiled eggs(that would be Jarrod Stonedahl’s contribution, hehe). Ben, one of the four interns, had the honor of standing outside taking charge of baking some 70+ pizzas. Thanks Ben!

Ben Baking Pizzas

Sunday, which was the last day, I slacked off after staying out till three AM the previous night. :-) I slept in late and did not get to class till around 11am, but still managed to chop out a blank and turn a bowl before lunch. This bowl turned out the best and is a nice size and shape.


During lunch Roger and I talked about blacksmithing, and decided to head over to the blacksmith shop and make some bowl turning tools. He and I got the forge fired up and then both put on demonstrations of tool making to the rest of the class. That was fun for me to do a small demonstration and teach a little bit as I have been blacksmithing since I was a kid.

Here is Roger working on his bowl hook.



Then I made myself a nice bowl hook out of some W-1 tool steel that Roger had.



So in around two and a half days of class I was able to get four bowls turned on the lathe and forge a hook tool. I am happy with the amount of work I was able to get done. Roger said that most people in these classes only get one or two bowls made, so I guess I was doing alright for a first timer.



After the class was finished and everyone else had gone home, I stayed and helped Roger clean up. When I was done sweeping the floor, I decided to take this picture as a parting shot. This picture is of my last bowl on the pile of shavings created during the class. I thought it was kind of cool.



I am glad to have had the opportunity to take this class and get to experience the North House Folk School. They are doing a great job at this school to create a nice atmosphere with a wonderful community of people involved in the school. It was such an awesome experience that I would like to continue to be involved and would love to one day teach a class just to be part of the school.

I signed up for what North House calls a service learning program. This is basically an apprentice style program working in their blacksmith shop making tools for their school. It works out well for everyone, as they get tools made for the blacksmiths shop, and I will get the opportunity to learn a few things working under their experienced blacksmith Dave Hanson. I am really excited about this program and look forward to going back to North House in April for it.

I cannot say enough about North House. It is a unique folk school that is interested in building a community of craftsmen in many old world crafts. They are working with people like myself (service learning / work study) and the public to keep prices down so that the average person can attend classes which is very different than many of the schools of this type. Great job North House Folk School!!!

I would love to hear your comments and any experiences you have had with the school. If you have not had the privilege to attend North House, I encourage you to check them out and take a class or volunteer, you will not be disappointed.

Take care,

Our Homestead Progress — The Slab


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Gosh it is hard to believe so much time has passed since my last blog entry. I guess that is how things go when you are living a lifestyle like us building a homestead from the ground up.

I had wanted to do a more detailed documentary of the house project, but it has been really hard to keep this up while dealing with building the house and living “In the Project”. My wife finally did a blog post on her blog with a short blurb and a lot of pictures. I decided that would be better then not posting anything.

So here is photo essay of our progress, starting with the slab. This was in late August.

Working on tamping and leveling the ground for a slab.

Working on tamping and leveling the ground for a slab.

First stage of forming up the slab.

First stage of forming up the slab.

Putting in drain pipe below the slab.

Putting in drain pipe below the slab.


Vapor barrier in and ready for rebar.

Vapor barrier in and ready for rebar.

Concrete truck getting set up.

Concrete truck getting set up.

Starting the pour.

Starting the pour.




Slab mostly finished.

Slab mostly finished.



Yesterday marked the tenth week camping on our land. About two weeks ago we moved into the unfinished cabin, but it is still like tent camping as there is no water, electricity, heat, bedrooms, or privacy to be alone for a minute.

Today I feel physically and mentally exhausted. I need to get back to work, but I am having a hard time getting my head in the game.

They say that in survival situations, what kills most people, is when they get to the stage where they have a hard time doing what they need to keep fed, dry, and warm. I can completely understand that right at the moment. I would just like to go sit next to a tree for the rest of the day and not worry about anything. However if I do that the cabin will not be ready for winter and we would be miserable and probably freeze to death.

I do not typically write about stuff like this on my blog, but it is the reality of undertaking such a project. Lots of people have a glamorous view of doing something like this, but it is extremely hard living on property with very little and camping while you undertake building a home in a place like northern Minnesota where the closest hardware store is over an hour away.

So there you have it. I cannot afford more idle time so I must get up and finish getting this cabin insulated, for the cold nights are here and winter will be upon us very soon.