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The drawback in the Hudson Bay pattern

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by Square_peg, Feb 9, 2014.

  1. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Several times I've mentioned that I prefer the boys axe pattern over the Hudson Bay pattern because of its deeper eye, hence stronger connection to the haft. I've meant to elaborate on this several times and just never got around to it. I'm still just coming to understand this and I would appreciate any thoughts and input you guys have on the matter.

    The short eye becomes an issue when the axe gets stuck in the wood and you pry it out. At this time the haft is acting as a lever with the fulcrum at the bottom of the eye on the poll side and the load at the top of the eye on the bit side. See image below.


    When you pry up on the handle there are forces at work in the eye. Crush force is applied to the wood of the haft in these locations. The crush force isn't actually at a precise point but is spread about the general areas indicated, strongest where the wood has best contact with the eye. The law of the lever is that the closer the fulcrum is to the load the greater the force.

    In an axe eye, the shorter the eye, the closer the fulcrum is to the load, hence the greater the crush force is on the wood. This is something that works slowly over time, weakening the wood and loosening the handle.

    Compare the HB eye above with the Jersey pattern below. Notice the greater distance between the fulcrum and the load. This results in less crush force applied to the wood and a more durable connection.


    The advantage of the Hudson Bay is that the short eye allows you to choke up right behind the bit and gain better control for wood carving and bushcraft work. But for heavier work like chopping or splitting the short eye becomes a hindrance. What do you guys think about this?
  2. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    In reality the force inside the eye results in both crush and abrasion. In a tight fitting well-wedged eye it will begin as crush and become abrasion as a small amount of wiggle room is created. As the head becomes looser the abrasion increases. That's why a slightly loose head can become a very loose head quickly.
  3. dogstar


    Jan 23, 2011
    Seems like sound logic. Hudson bay is meant to be a lighter duty axe, though.
  4. triggahappy


    Jul 12, 2011
    always thought of a hudson bay as more of a limbing axe where this really wouldn't matter! if you're using a hudson bay as your main splitter.... idk
  5. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Yeah you're right, for light work it won't be as much of an issue. But even in limbing I've had HB's come loose more easily than my boys axe would. There's trade offs.
  6. 300Six


    Aug 29, 2013
    Cannot argue or disagree with you at all about the physics or engineering of one of these. On the other hand 'them's purdy' sells more today than the same spontaneous buyer's peruse of technical specs. Hudson Bay pattern was a trade staple with the Natives at Hudson Bay Trading Posts, as I understand it, and not at all offered as European or settler sales so makers and suppliers cut corners everywhere they could. French trade axes had no poll on them so the simple upgrade from 'tomahawk' (and their low grade steel) by the Brits became the 'cat's meow' with Natives. These axes would have been handier than a hatchet and lighter to carry than an axe and I can readily see how they graduated over to 'paleface' markets.
    Square_peg likes this.


    May 6, 2001
    Hi Square_peg,

    Ummmm....great points. Seems my recent thread has caused a spark. I think this wonderful. THIS is how I learn. While I love like the "looks" of a Hudson Bay Axe, like you, I too am leaning more towards the BOYS Axe (with it's longer handle and slightly heavier head) as my "go to/head for the hills" Axe especially after your thread. Thanks SP.

    Square_peg likes this.
  8. KingKoma


    Feb 2, 2012
    Doesnt bucking cause much greater force on the eye than both limbing and splitting, since you tend to get stuck more?

    If this is the case, and seeing as this pattern mostly is promoted as a "bushcraft" axe, wouldnt you expected it to be able to handle some bucking as well as limbing and splitting? But then the Gränsfors axes have short eyes as well and they are Ray Mears-level bushcraft.
  9. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    This is an ember that I've had smoldering for some time. But your recent thread was indeed the impetus to finally present this idea. I've been trying to think of a way to present it and I'm not totally happy with how I've done it. But it starts the conversation and hopefully I'll learn more from the responses to this thread.
  10. Binalith


    Apr 22, 2012
    I hope this doesn't sound snarky, its not meant to and in think its way cool to see anyone analyzing the way they use their tools. anyway, getting axes stuck is 98% an issue of technique. Also the haft is never meant to be levered. You're going to do it eventually but its to be avoided. Occasionally I'll use a baton of some kind to beat my axe out if I hit some unexpectedly punky wood and it becomes lodged.
    However I definitely agree about the crush force being more distributed in the larger eye of later patterns. I suspect the Hudson bay is a sort of throw back to pre American poll axe designs
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
  11. Alocksly


    Dec 30, 2013
    Full disclosure; Lifetime Hudsons Bay fan. I agree that the smaller eye contact area is a disadvantage in an absolute durability test, however, when it comes to limbing and general camp chores including small firewood, kindling, shaping poles and pegs etc. I love using the hudsons bay. I find it light enough to swing one handed easily while still able to buck up 8" green timber. I like being able to choke up on the handle and make use of the bearded blade for shaving, shaping and as an assist in peeling the bark off a cedar. I've only ever had one handle fail on me and it broke do to grain run out several inches below the head after years of use. That said I would not recommend it for serious splitting or felling. It's more my "jack-of-all-trades" axe that's small enough to find it's was into my camping kit and the tool kit of my vehicle.

    Also, and I know this is a very specific situation, a sharp Hudsons Bay will go through a young red alder grove like the Reaper Mans scythe .

    edit: Hey Peg, I think I have that very Collins you've pictured.
    Square_peg likes this.
  12. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    I suspect they were more of a pattern that was easy to churn out in volume. They're essentially a narrow rectangle with an eye drifted and a bit forged out on one end. :)
    Square_peg likes this.
  13. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Not snarky at all. You're absolutely right. Always best to free a stuck axe by knocking the poll with heavy chunk of wood or mallet.
    Even during normal and proper use these lever points come into play. The forces are just greater when prying an axe free.

    No doubt they are very useful for light to medium work. That's why they're so popular. Same with the small import bushcraft axes.

    And you might indeed have that HB. I sold it at auction last year. It was a sweet little axe. I almost kept it for myself.
  14. thunderstick


    Jan 15, 2007
    For the reasons stated I prefer the Hudson Bay style in a 19-20" handle. In this length I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages as an all-round tool. I have a semi-Hudson Bay Craftsman axe on a 26" handle that is an absolute joy to use for limbing. It has the typical HB blade but it has a longer eye section than most. I think it slices limbs better than a typical boy's axe because the angle is long and gentle. The good Hudson Bay designs also have a wide eye which helps to offset the crushing with thicker wood in the eye.

    The Council Tool HB that I have came loose on the factory handle when my brother talked me into throwing it. The factory handle has the inferior metal center wedge with gaps at each end. I re-handled it properly with a glued-in wood wedge and small metal cross-wedge. I also epoxy coated the whole interior of the eye and the handle before inserting the handle to strengthen the surface of the wood crush points. I extended the handle above the eye as shown above. To date I have not had a problem with it --nary the slightest wiggle--but I don't throw it any more either.

    When trying to release a stuck axe I use a series of downward raps on the handle. I never pull up or push down on it.
    Square_peg likes this.
  15. Steve Tall

    Steve Tall

    Aug 28, 2010
    Besides the drawback that Square Peg mentioned, wouldn't the shorter eye result in the impact forces from chopping to be distributed over a smaller area of the haft (resulting in increased wear)?

    Besides the benefit of being able to choke up on the handle, wouldn't the shorter eye make a longer bit possible for the same weight of the axe head?

    Square_peg likes this.
  16. Steve Tall

    Steve Tall

    Aug 28, 2010
    Here's what Dan Beard says about Hudson Bay axes in The Book of Camp-Lore and Woodcraft:

    Fig. 321 shows the long-handled Hudson Bay axe used much in the North country. It is made after the tomahawk form to save weight, but the blade is broad, you notice, to give a wide cutting edge. The trouble with this axe is that it is too light for satisfactory work.

    Beard's preference:

    Probably the best axe for camp work, when you must carry the axe on your back, is one with a 30-inch second growth hickory handle, weight about two and three-quarter pounds, or somewhere between two and three pounds.

    quoted from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/44215/44215-h/44215-h.htm
    Square_peg likes this.
  17. Alocksly


    Dec 30, 2013
    I have that book on my nightstand and I confess to making a sour face at his dismissive critique of the pattern. On the other hand I know that the esteemed gentleman's idea of a camp generally involved considerably more felling, notching, and hewing of timber than most of us would consider necessary today. Anytime I'm processing a lot of wood I too would choose a heavier blade. Now, If I've a fish to clean, a fire to build, a wiener stick to carve, a replacement paddle to whittle, a few small poles to cut for my tarp, and perhaps a cattail root to dice up, and only one axe to do it, I like my HB.

    Apologies, I mean the same model. The Collins I have came to me from my dad and I've been swinging it for decades.
    Square_peg likes this.
  18. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Thanks for the link, Steve. I downloaded the epub version with images. Looks like good reading material.
  19. Alocksly


    Dec 30, 2013
    One of the founders of the Boy Scouts in the US. I own two of his books (modern reprints) and they've both been reread more times than I can remember.
  20. halfaxe


    Nov 29, 2012
    I'm a fan of the Hudson Bay also and own maybe 15. Legitimate concerns on the pattern here but still I think the light weight is the main point. Not all Hudson Bays are the same though. Here is a picture of an early Snow and Nealley, Peavey Mfg. prior to 1923, and a Collins Legitimus. The Collins pattern would tend to exacerbate the fulcrum problems since the head is an inch longer and the head 1/4 lb. heavier than the others.

    Square_peg likes this.

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