The drawback in the Hudson Bay pattern

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

  1. jake pogg

    jake pogg Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 20, 2015
    Thank you,it makes perfect sense that it be so.

    Now,i know that you guys really did a bunch of thinking and diagramming back in the beginning,determining the loading inside the eye.
    Somehow i can't help wondering if the brunt of the load is not against the poll-side(in regular use,not the rocking to free the stuck tool).
    That's just intuition,but also nthere're some historic axes where the poll was peculiarly extended,i always wondered if those people did not try to ameliorate that same HB not enough eye trouble...

    Here's a drawing of a cool artefact,a so-called "Baltic" axe(i believe by Peter Johnsson):
  2. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    You'll see many antique European axes with extensions on the bottom of the poll. I don't think it was done to resist the impact - that will hit on the front of the eye. But extending the bottom of the poll with help with exactly what we've talked about here - loosening the head by leveraging it out of the wood when its stuck.
  3. jake pogg

    jake pogg Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 20, 2015

    Seems like another thing that was largely left behind in the Old World were the langettes,either integral,or the add-on kind,like on some very old boarding,or more recent fire-fighting axes(halberd-style,those sometimes had them all four sides of a square haft).

    So,would modifications like this be in any way appropriate,or would it screw up the purity of a given type?Say if a guy inserted a long strap inside against the poll,the top bent to hook over the poll,and the bottom running down the handle pinned by a small screw...(Or no,wait,it'd have to be the front,for lifting the handle up...)
  4. littleknife


    Nov 29, 2000
    Square_peg, you are right, there are many European axes like that and likely the design meant to function the way you have suggested.
    But there are other examples, with the extension in the from, under the bit. Some of those survived until today in Bulgaria:$_35.JPG

    and Russia:

    There are similar historical examples from other parts of Europe, from earlier times too.

    I suppose in those cases these extensions functioned as Jake has suggested, to stabilize the head on the handle during impact.

    Regarding the effect of hickory on the development of the narrow eye design, I think the suggested scenario is likely the case, but I think more research is needed to support it.
    Even in North America, white oak was preferred for axe handles in some regions, even when hickory was available.
    While common European woods are definitely inferior to hickory in shock and rupture resistance, European beech, a commonly used handle wood in Europe is not far behind. They also used European dogwood (Cornus mas), which is a truly tough wood.

    So I think, it was not only the mechanical properties of the handle wood alone, which lead to the evolution of the narrow eye.
    As Jake suggested, the enormous size of the trees in the virgin North American forests might have played a role too. A narrow eye design definitely reduces binding during chopping.
  5. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Socketed axes were not a compensation for available wood grades. They were a natural progression from palstave axes. But yes, European axes usually have larger eyes than American axes as a result of the availability of hickory.
  6. jake pogg

    jake pogg Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 20, 2015
    Wow,thanks,guys.Littleknife,marvelous links,some really sexy axes,and a special thanks for the info on the wood species.

    The most common haft material in Central Europe is birch(especially as you get further north,where of course the use of axes increases exponentially(firewood/wooden(vs wattle et c.structures),there,increasingly so,there's nothing But birch...(like around me in AK:).

    The Russian axes have a giant volume in the eye.Birch is great for shock-absorbtion,but the fibers have very little toughness...A typical American axe handled with birch lasts about an hour...:)

    FortyTwoBlades,i don't know if it's possible to trace things all the way back to palstave,but yes,people gradually addressed issues,as problems came up,and provided they had the resources to stop and think(food:),and the good clean ores,and plenty of charcoal,then the axr evolution happened!

    Of course one of such places was Sweden,and you can almost see how the common U-bent strap was gradually improved(following possibly the similar issues discussed here).

    Here's this famous Wira video(i'm sure that most here have seen this,but just in case):

    And,the inimitable Jim Austin researching that poll/eye extention(among other things,my respect for this man knows no bounds...):
  7. littleknife


    Nov 29, 2000
    Jake, thanks for the great links. :thumbup:

    It may seem that all these discussions in the latest posts are not related to the original topic of this thread, but I think they provide some broader prospective to the discussion.
    That lead me thinking again about the drawback in the Hudson Bay pattern.
    While true, that the latest interpretation of the HB pattern, with the tomahawk-like very narrow eye (viewed from the side) are more prone to handle loosening or breakage compared to axes with wide (viewed from the side) eyes, I think those axes marketed primarily as canoe axes were meant to be used for things which would not put too much strain on the eye-handle interface.
    In that age (early 20th century) axe use was still widespread enough that most people knew that axes came in different patterns and sizes for a reason, that they were more or less specialized tools.
    The primary use for a canoe axe would have been quick processing of saplings or not too thick tree trunks and branches into firewood, kindling, and also preparation of poles, rough carving of paddles: all tasks which did not involve felling and bucking large trees.
    Another issue is the area they were intended to be used: the boreal forest to mixed softwood-hardwood forest of the more northern regions. The woods intended to be processed by the HB axes were softer: spruce, hemlock, fir, poplar/aspen (Populus spp.), softer birch, and not oak or hickory.
    For those species and applications even the nowadays typical HB pattern is sufficiently strong.
    Of course there is no denying that the “tomahawk”-like shape of the design must have been deliberately accentuated by the manufacturers to cater to fantasies the contemporary weekend-sportsmen. After all, before bushcraft, there were woodcraft and camp craft. :D
  8. halfaxe


    Nov 29, 2012
    Exactly, the modern factory manufactured Hudson Bay was for woodscraft, bushcraft, camping, trapping or related during the late 1800's at the earliest. This was a time of diminishing frontier but still many reasons for a light personal axe were still around. Some uses were increasing like camping. The lightest factory manufactured axe generally available before the Hudson Bay appeared was a 2 1/4 lb. boys axe. A 1 1/2 lb. Hudson Bay can efficiently be used one handed by most adults. That makes it very versatile with the long handle.
  9. markv


    Sep 8, 2004
    Wira video, spends a lot of hammer blows forming the eye and very skilled inserting the cutting bit.
    i like the idea of sparingly using high carbon steel just for the cutting edge.
    you could cook a whole cow in that forge cavern
    thanks for posting

  10. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    I was directly referencing Square_peg's assertion that socket axes were developed as a response to available wood types. Socket axes were a technological progression from palstave style axes that didn't really have much to do with the wood type used for handles.

    Essentially you went from stone celts to bronze celts, from bronze celts to palstaves, and from palstaves to sockets, with each representing an improvement over its preceding type.
  11. Steve Tall

    Steve Tall

    Aug 28, 2010
    I haven't seen much mention of this aspect of Hudson Bay axe history:

    Hudson Bay axes made by Collins (and painted green) were used by the U.S. Army, and designated the "M 1950 Camp Axe". This replaced the earlier "Camp Axe" (which was not a true Hudson Bay pattern, sourced from L.L. Bean beginning in 1942).

    [As mentioned in the article U.S. MIlitary Axes, Part II, by Carter Rila, The Chronicle, June 1986, page 23]

    Some possible evidence of these:



  12. grafton


    Aug 28, 2010
    After re reading this thread there is some information lacking that helps to explain why the Hudson Bay axe was so popular and was thought to be such a useful tool by trappers. Many of the details in this thread explaining its use and its drawbacks come from perspectives of processing wood in some form or another. To most folks this means chopping/felling/limbing/bucking/splitting, all of which can be thought of as pretty heavy use in comparison to what a trapper may use his axe for on a daily basis. Granted the Hudson bay can perform those tasks at some level but there are many other tasks that make a light axe handy to have in a pack basket.

    Even those who have never trapped a thing can probably understand the need for cutting and hammering stakes but there are many other uses for a small axe on the trapline, especially a beaver line.

    There are a number of other tasks which the trapper likely finds daily use of his axe for that do not necessarily involve much in the way of wood processing or at least not as the ultimate goal. Just a few of these are breaking ice, debarking and sectioning beaver bait sticks, dispatching captured animals, cutting poles for drowning sets and under ice snaring sets, hooking and pulling up submerged traps, as a tool to assist climbing up steep banks and pulling out sections of beaver dams, building platforms for under ice foothold sets, removing feet before skinning, clearing away small brush at a set location, clearing away overhead limbs along a bank when working from a canoe. etc.. I am sure there are many more I have left out. The point is that none of these tasks requires a large, heavy axe and many of the tasks involve little more than an "extension of the hand" that is why the Hudson Bay shines at this and is often called a "trapper's axe".
  13. BG_Farmer


    Mar 13, 2014
    Grafton, that is an excellent summary of the situation.
  14. garry3


    Sep 11, 2012
    Grafton hit the nail right on the head.

    Its kind of harsh to judge a tool when we use it for something other than its intended purpose.
  15. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Yes, but once you went to sockets you would form the socket to accept however much wood was necessary to make a durable handle. So the size and shape of the socket would still reflect local wood. And the narrow eye of the American axe only became possible when hickory became available - which is wasn't in the Old World.
  16. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    I think I covered things pretty well in the first post. Yes, there are advantages to the Hudson Bay. And there are drawbacks. Like any axe they should be selected based on use.
  17. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    I think I misunderstood your use of the term "socketed" to mean a socket axe, like those of the bronze age and early iron age. Re-reading it it seems as though you perhaps meant axes with an eye that extended below the point of the bit/eye junction?
  18. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Yes. That's what I meant.
  19. garry3


    Sep 11, 2012
    All true, but the point I think Grafton made was the pattern gained its reputation in a trappers pack basket. This is probably the true context that the tool belongs in, and as Grafton stated it was a beaver trappers basket. It was a specialized tool.

    I personally have been pretty critical of the pattern in the past. For reasons already covered in this thread and some of that I think is because of all those cheap 1970's produced axes in this pattern, furthering my bias towards it.

    Now that I have pissed off half the axe collectors in America, I should just shut up.:eek:
  20. Old Axeman

    Old Axeman Basic Member Basic Member

    Jan 10, 2015
    Didn't piss me off, I have never been a big fan of the Hudson Bay axe. You wont find one anywhere in "An Ax To Grind". A boys axe is a much better choice for about the same carry weight. Dont worry about it, I always considered my ability to piss people off as a gift.

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