The drawback in the Hudson Bay pattern

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

  1. BG_Farmer


    Mar 13, 2014
    I've enjoyed this thread much despite a feeling that the baby was in danger of being thrown out with the bath water a few times :). My son rec'd his long handled CT HB for Christmas and has been very pleased with it, as have i, during limited testing. Even with 2# head and 26" handle, it feels much different from a boys axe, definitely more hatchetesque, which may not be a word. He will be using it for helping me limb, as a camp axe, and it will probably look good at a rendezvous or two as well. I think it fits this role well and is perfectly sized for him now and will continue to be useful when inherits my bigger axes. I can see the head being very useful for camp type chores in particular, eg sharpening poles or shaving off chunks.

    The head did not fly off on the first swing, though of course we'll be watching for trouble... Anyway, I think it is not a perfect design, but is more than worthy if used with a regard to its limitations!
  2. 300Six


    Aug 29, 2013
    Good for you. For all around light or recreational use these axes are probably the cat's posterior for most anyone. Now if your boy winds up a husky 6'4" on a survey crew and has to clear line of sight day in day out the choice of small axe might change, especially if heads keep working loose.
  3. upnorth


    Nov 25, 2006
    Yes, I have studied the old fur trade, lived along its major route in Canada, and I found an original belt axe head from the late 1700's. I have three hatchets already, and another one on order (Husqvarna, currently contracted through Hults Bruk I believe). I had heard of the issues surrounding the H.B. pattern previously, but this thread made it all much clearer for me. This is why I decided on a hatchet as I consider them to be light duty tools. I am currently eyeballing the Snow&Nealley H.B. hatchet (Penobscott?). I see one vendor with them seemingly available, but everything surrounding S&N seems ambiguous. Are the heads U.S. manufacture now ?, Chinese? Is production still ongoing ? I really like the S&N version over the Council Tool small version. Even if it is a Chinese product I might still buy. I am only in it for the nostalgia. I have no illusions about the design, but I would still use it as a light duty hatchet. :) I had these out a few days ago, when it wasn't minus 40.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2015
  4. SR69


    Apr 30, 2012
    That's the same feeling I got from it.

    Much more maneuverable with one hand for camp chores where to
    me the 3/4 (aka Boy's Axe) felt more like a dialed back felling axe.
    For me, they are tools and no matter how nice they are, if they are in
    the shop more than they are in the field, they aren't worth the effort.

    I also prefer the poll for camping needs as well as the ability to choke
    up on the handle with it for more control. I like hatchets, but I'm always
    left wanting "more" of a hatchet (more weight, more handle length).
    I like my Boy's Axe too, but it's more a one-trick-pony for me.

    The Hudson Bay fits that niche right in between the size I need along
    with the capabilities it offers. I haven't used one enough to wreck one
    so the jury's still on durability, but I have no doubt that for what I want
    it for (what it was designed for), it's going to be perfect.
  5. Axe Master '94

    Axe Master '94

    Sep 24, 2014
    I know this might be an unpopular opinion, but I'd rather carry both a big half hatchet on a 18" handle a and a Connie boy's axe on a 28" in stead of a single HB. The ability to use a more suitable tool is worth carrying the hatchet to me, and the connie will tackle everything the HB could and more.
  6. SR69


    Apr 30, 2012
    Personally, I could appreciate that "2 specialized tools are better than one jack-of-all-trades" approach.
    If I had that much wood to go through on an outing, I'd pack my Hardcore Hatchet and my Council Boy's Axe.

  7. jp_over


    Feb 13, 2010
    Excellent discussion and information; thanks to all who contributed!
  8. BG_Farmer


    Mar 13, 2014
    Update. The CT Hudson Bay head has worked loose, very loose! I still dont think it is a huge architectural problem. The problem is the slippery metal wedge is in a kerf that looks almost 1/8" wide. I set the head down a little bit and truncated a stock wedge I had on hand. Then in anger, I glued said wedge. We'll see how it holds up. My son loves that axe, and I have to admit it is pleasure to use, so i'll fix it someway!
  9. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    I think the Marbles eye is a result of drilling rather than drifting the eye. Weygers in his 'The Complete Modern Blacksmith' suggests this method with the addition of filing off the ridges as a simpler alternative to slitting and drifting the eye of a tool.
  10. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Yes, I believe with the Marbles pieces it was drilling vs drifting. But it did serve a dual purpose from a business perspective. :)
  11. Operator1975


    Sep 24, 2010
    Somehow this thread passed me by, which this is when I was moving, so that makes sense. Great thread with lots of great points no doubt. Good read.

    HBs have advantages and disadvantages just like any other axe head out there. I only have experience with the one I have, as I just never really got into them that much. Probably because the first ones I ever saw were Norlunds, and I think Norlunds are junk personally, but that is for another discussion.

    The way I understand HBs is that they were the evolution of the trade axe in North America(NA) and some of the first settlers. Trade axes were the first to be made by NA blacksmiths that could actually get the materials to do it when things first got going. These were designed to be light weight and easy to carry, as hunters/trappers/skinners etc needed them to be just that. They also made great trade bait for the first NAs to use with indians. Indians used them effectively, and then they got the negative press per NAs about scalping, etc that came with the stores of indians.

    Trade axes at the time werent needed for heavier work, as most of that was still accomplished by euro axes(what there were of them anyway) that were coming in due to the fact they demanded it and NA didn't have the resources to really do big metal items very well, yet.

    Then the evolution of the poll(late 1700s) on an axe came about, and that changed everything from a use and effectiveness standpoint. This was not a new axe, but it was a way to make current axes, in this case the trade axe, better(Per Henry Kauffman) This gave better balance, effectiveness, and also a makeshift pounder if you needed it to be if you were in a pinch. HB pattern was born. The very first ones were small and light, belt hatchets really, to be carried as stated above. As materials became available, they would get bigger of course, fabrication methods would evolve, and could accomplish more basic tasks. The trade axe would for the most part go to the wayside as it was seen as less effective, plus is had the negative association with the indians.

    As time went on, of course the HB has evolved, and we have seen the various patterns over the last 100 years that met more marketing reasons than anything else.

    They way I look at HBs and the issue with the heads is this - its an axe, with a wooden handle. That thing is gonna come loose at some point and time, that is a fact.(gluing, specialized wedges, etc not applying here). If it is a wooden wedge driven in and nothing else, its just a matter of time. Hence why axe maintenance is so important, and it was tremendously more important back then(1800s to say 1940) then it ever will be now.

    Its just a matter of how well of a hang job did you do, what are you doing with it, and how hard. Weather, moisture, etc will also play a role. The topic, physics, and points made are all excellent and make sense. Really makes you think about different aspects of the specific use of axes(jerking on the handle, up/down, etc.) As pointed out they weren't meant to split, but lighter work, but will still probably come loose at some point, all things considered, whether it is during your lifetime or not.

    Great thread!
  12. halfaxe


    Nov 29, 2012
    I would be interested to see when the Hudson Bay pattern was included in the axe companies catalogs. I've seen early catalogs with the various Michigan, Dayton, Jerseys etc., but Hudson Bays were seen earliest in the outdoor catalogs like L.L. Bean or Abercromby and Fitch. This was later when the logging in North America was already in decline. I think the Hudson Bay was the reason Snow & Nealley could hang on so long.

    Also if the head becomes loose you have to blame at least part on operator error. Too many hard overstrikes in the heel. It's made for smaller wood.
  13. joshiecole


    Apr 29, 2012
    People sometimes knock the HB format as a 'camper's axe' or as an axe that's fine for 'weekend warriors', as if a real man only uses a boy's axe or heavier. Perhaps that's a natural reaction to the mythology surrounding the HB pattern, but I think it's unfair. There's nothing ignoble about a canoe axe or an expedition axe. There's a reason that the Hudson Bay pattern has similarities with the axe used by the trapper in Happy People: A Year in the taiga.

    Similarly to the carpenter's axe, the strength of the Hudson Bay format is really the dexterousness with which it can be deployed in shaping wood. You can see how the shorter poll/wider bit combination excels in this capacity from about 7 minutes into that documentary.
  14. 40oz


    Aug 12, 2015
    I don't think it's a knock to call it a campers axe. You don't like camping? And what kind of person spends time worrying about who is a "real man" and who isn't?

    The fashion aspect of the Hudson Bay pattern has to do with people epitomizing the fur trader of old and wanting to emulate that by acquiring and using the period correct tools. Just like dual clutch transmissions in passenger cars because "that's what real racecars come with," despite the fact that nobody is actually racing to the grocery store to keep their sponsors IRL. There's nothing wrong with it, just like there is nothing wrong with being educated about the shortcomings of the traditional Hudson Bay pattern or being aware of its history in context.

    I would argue that there is nothing noble or ignoble about axes as a whole.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2015
  15. 40oz


    Aug 12, 2015
    I agree with you, there's a lot of good here. Learned quite a bit just from this thread :thumbup:
  16. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    True statement there. Outdoor outfitters like Abercrombie & Fitch and L.L.Bean were strongly built around what, at the time, was effectively "romantic" leisure camping for the effete. Their equipment also served a practical purpose, but it was often the gentrified versions of tools used by the more common folk that went to the woods to work, rather than play.
  17. 40oz


    Aug 12, 2015
  18. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    I use the term in the sense of "affected" or "overrefined". Growing up in a tourist town surrounded by national park, an image that springs to mind is the wealthy tourist with an outrageously expensive camera who only ever shoots on the auto setting. :)
  19. Operator1975


    Sep 24, 2010
    So, back to HBs.

    From what I can tell, continuing on what I posted earlier and then reading/researching more -

    HB pattern itself has been around awhile, modified from a Biscayan style trade axe. This is discussed by D Cook, T. Lammond, and H. Kauffman. When that actual modification really happened, I don't know. Basically the addition of a poll to the axe and the bit being widened. D Cook states that the new "american" axe, (one with a poll, not necessarily HB) was known by the mid 1700s. T. Lammond states that changes in the American Axe weren't seen until the early 1800s, when America could make its own steel, and the prices dropped and gave more freedom for blacksmiths to try and evolve different patterns. I would assume that this means the first axes with polls made in North America, started in early 1700, but were limited due to resources, and then with the end of the 1700s and start of 1800s as the resources were there the American Axe took off. This makes sense as this correlates with the start of the axe companies as we are familiar with - Mann Edge(original Manns), Collins(1826), etc. i bet the true evolution of the HB pattern follows this latter timeline of late 1800s. T Lammond also states that the purpose of the HB was to provide a tool that could be used for a variety of applications not readily possible with a hatchet, while at the same time reducing the weight of the axe so it could be carried along with other hunting and camping gear. This makes sense, and has been discussed before. When this actually happened I cannot find a time reference to however.

    Popularity. One has to remember that at around this time, for every 10 Americans there was 1 Canadian. This technically isn't too far off from today, but obviously the concentration is different, and was tremendously different back then as well. I would stir up a notion that the original HB pattern could of been around in Canada for years before it being seen in any kind of amount in the lower 48, or even by one of the axe manufacturers.

    Standard - In the hey day of axe making, in the golden years as it is sometimes called, there were who knows how many axe head patterns. 300 is probably some reasonable number. In 1921 axe heads were standardized into patterns for the sake of simplicity. Some would be added, some would fall off and no longer be manufactured due to want/demand. Question - where was the HB pattern? Surely it was out there seeing it evolved from the trade axe which originated a couple hundred years prior. This leads me to believe it was out there but in limited number, and probably still well north of the lower 48. Heck the Rafting and even the Cedar axe were on there but no HB.

    Back to area/popularity - So, if we put this all together, plus the fact any major axe makers really didn't get going in Canada until around 1900, I would bet the HB pattern was technically around, but didn't get any recognition until Mann Edge and Kelly were in the area.

    References - The earliest I have in my catalogs for a HB to appear is in Collins 1936. There are patterns similar to it listed in earlier catalogs, but not called HB. This again, with what has been listed, makes sense.

    Vintage specimens - I have never seen a really old HB axe. I have and have seen pre 1900 and pre 1800 axes. I have never seen this for a HB though. Doesn't mean it isn't out there, but I have never seen one.

    This leads me all to believe that the HB pattern(as we see it today - narrow eye, big wide bit, long from poll to bit) was probably rediscovered in the early 1900s, say 1920s by one of the big companies, Say Collins, and they went into production to feed the nitch for that axe, which was the traveling/camping/backpacking person that needed a light weight axe with more uses that a hatchet. It makes sense overall, explains why you don't really see it prior to the early 1900s, its nitch, and then popularity. The only other explanation is that it technically didnt really exist prior to say 1920s and one of the major axe makers created it and made it, and then the others copied it, which was prevalent at the time(undercutter, cedar, rafting, on and on). I don't think this is the case as the big companies were copiers not creators(see Cedar pattern). The fact that I can't find a date for it leads me to believe this.

    Thats it. My mind is spinning about this axe. Axe history is interesting indeed. Ugh!
  20. Steve Tall

    Steve Tall

    Aug 28, 2010
    A 1912 publication showing "The Hudson Bay Axe, courtesy Abercrombie & Fitch Co.":


    "There is one pattern of axe known as the Hudson Bay axe that is best for a canoe or trapper; it is light weight, about two pounds, with twenty-seven inch handle. If it is cold weather you will want a full size axe."

    Hunter-trader-trapper, Volume 24, F.J. and W.F. Heer, 1912, page 66

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