News posts from jmccharen's Archive


Watch and Learn with our New DVDs

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

If you’re a visual learner, a book full of text can sometimes leave you scratching your head. What did he mean when he said use the hive-smoker with short, fast puffs? Or, where exactly is that ramial mulch supposed to go in relation to the trunk of the apple tree?If this describes your state of mind as you peruse our how-to titles, you’re in luck. We have several new DVDs that serve as visual companions to some of our recent, best-selling how-to books, all narrated by the farmer-authors you know and love.

Natural Beekeeping with Ross Conrad

In this filmed workshop, noted Vermont beekeeper Ross Conrad flips the script on traditional approaches by proposing a program of selective breeding and natural hive management. The video presents a comprehensive survey of natural beekeeping methods and challenges, including segments filmed in thefield. It offers practical information that every aspiring beekeeper needs to know—everything from basic hive equipment to working with your bees to harvesting and processing honey.

Also available with the new, fully-illustrated second edition of Conrad’s essential text Natural Beekeeping as a convenient set.

Perennial Vegetable Gardening with Eric Toensmeier

In this DVD—a culmination of workshops recorded in Mexico, Florida, and Massachusetts—plant specialist Eric Toensmeier introduces gardeners to more than 100 species of little-known, underappreciated plants. Ranging beyond the usual suspects (asparagus, rhubarb, and artichoke) to include such delights as ground cherry, ramps, air potatoes, the fragrant spring tree, and the much-sought-after, antioxidant-rich wolfberry (also known as the goji berry), Toensmeier explains how to raise, tend, harvest, and cook with plants that yield great crops and culinary satisfaction. Toensmeier also takes viewers on a plant-by-plant tour of his garden in Massachusetts.

Also available alongside Perennial Vegetables as a book/DVD set.

Top-Bar Beekeeping with Les Crowder and Heather Harrell

In this instructive video, New Mexico beekeeper Les Crowder shares his thirty years’ experience in developing best practices for working with bees in top-bar hives. Les and Heather Harrell, authors of Top-Bar Beekeeping (Chelsea Green, 2012) discuss everything from hive management techniques to how to harvest and process honey and beeswax to the best plants to grow for the foraging bees.

Get the book, Top-Bar Beekeeping, and the DVD together.

COMING SOON! Holistic Orcharding with Michael Phillips

Michael Phillips is a pioneering author and orchardist whose books include The Holistic Orchard and The Apple Grower. In this video, he leads viewers through a year in his own orchard, demonstrating basic horticultural skills like grafting and pruning, but also revealing groundbreaking and field-tested strategies for growing apples and other tree fruits not just organically, but holistically. With this information in hand, there’s now every reason to confidently plant that very first fruit tree!

In addition to the DVDs we publish ourselves, we also distribute DVDs from other publishers and independent filmmakers that are central to our mission of sustainability. The videos below are some of our latest distributed titles.

Genetic Roulette

Monsanto’s strong-arm tactics, the FDA’s fraudulent policies, and how the USDA ignores a growing health emergency are also laid bare. This sometimes shocking film may change your diet, help you protect your family, and accelerate the consumer tipping point against genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A film not to be missed.

Sourlands

In the Sourlands, farmers struggle against high land prices, high property taxes, and increasingly erratic weather patterns. A local entrepreneur struggles to find a market for his innovative product. But pay close attention, and the challenges facing this community look a lot like the challenges facing ecosystems, farmers, and visionary entrepreneurs everywhere. The message of cautious hope presented in the film is just as universal: To start solving complicated environmental problems, we need to forgo quick fixes and start restoring the natural world—and people’s connection to it—from the forest floor up.

Celebrate National Pie Day with a Few Great Recipes

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Not to be confused with “Pi Day,” the nerdy celebration of everyone’s favorite irrational number, which takes place on March 14th, today is National PIE Day.

Today we celebrate the delicious beauty of scrumptious round baked goods with fillings both fruity and savory, with crusts both crumbly and crisp.

The American Pie Council*, which has as its mission to “preserve America’s pie heritage and promote American’s love affair with pies,” and which sponsors National Pie Day, shares some tidbits from man’s long love affair with pies:

  • The first pies were made by early Romans who may have learned about it through the Greeks (sic). These pies were sometimes made in “reeds” which were used for the sole purpose of holding the filling and not for eating with the filling.
  • Pie came to America with the first English settlers. The early colonists cooked their pies in long narrow pans calling them “coffins” like the crust in England. As in the Roman times, the early American pie crusts often were not eaten, but simply designed to hold the filling during baking. It was during the American Revolution that the term crust was used instead of coffyn.

We want you to be able to celebrate the illustrious pie in style, so we’re happy to share some fun pie recipes from Chelsea Green books.

First, we’ve got a simple, mouthwatering recipe from our newest cookbook, Home Baked: Hanne’s Lemon Pie.

Home Baked comes from the Risgaard family, who grow and grind organic grains in Denmark. The Risgaards grow and sell some of the finest grains on the planet, and bake phenomenal breads and pastries with them. A unique bread book, Home Baked features recipes made with spelt and rye as well as conventional wheat. With fresh ingredients such as nettles and ramps, you’re sure to find a surprising treat within its pages. And, of course, a pie.

An alternative to the typical apple pie comes from Michael Phillips’s book The Apple Grower. This pie is made from cider, reduced down to a thick and tangy syrup more like lemon curd than the familiar beverage that warms up your Christmas parties. Get the recipe here.

And lastly, from Joan Gussow’s classic memoir This Organic Life comes a recipe for Gooseberry Pie. The tart, tiny, green fruits look a little like grapes gone mad, but their flavor is unforgettable. And, what endears us to them even more is that they are a reliable perennial crop. Perfect for a permaculture-inspired home garden!

As Joan says,

“Nothing I know of tastes anything like gooseberry pie. My first Christmas away from home, in 1950, with my whole family across the continent in California, I tried all over Manhattan to get fresh gooseberries. Finally, in the German section, I got two cans of gooseberries for a price which was, then, about 20 percent of a week’s salary. Well worth it. My recipe calls for fresh ones.”

We hope you have a delicious and exciting National Pie Day!

*Yes, there is an American Pie Council. No, it is not a joke.

Save 25% on The Organic Seed Grower

Monday, January 21st, 2013

If you could take a time machine back eight years, you might have heard Chelsea Green making the announcement that the first comprehensive book on growing seeds commercially was on its way to your bookshelf. But life happens, and the project hit nearly a decade of delays on its way to completion.

Ladies and gentlemen, that long-awaited and much-anticipated book, The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio, is finally available, and will be on sale for 25% off this week.

Editor Ben Watson has been along for the entire journey.

“A lesser author, and a lesser publisher, would have called it quits on this project years ago. But the subject is one that’s important enough to take the time that it takes. If anything, with the phenomenal growth in the organic food sector, this book is even more relevant and more critically needed than it would have been if we’d published it eight years ago. In hindsight, the timing was almost perfect.”

Funded by a grant from the Northeast SARE program, The Organic Seed Grower is an in-depth manual for the serious vegetable grower who is interested in growing high-quality seeds using organic farming practices. It is written for both serious home seed savers and diversified small-scale farmers who want to learn the necessary steps involved in successfully producing a commercial seed crop organically..

Early praise for the book from Suzanne Ashworth, author of Seed to Seed, says that, “John Navazio has taken organic seed production to a higher level with extensive information on selection, genetic integrity, isolation distances, and seedborne diseases. Although his focus is on plant breeders and commercial growers, much of the information is also applicable to small-scale farms producing seed for on-site use.”

It’s been a long time coming, but the best book on growing seeds is finally here! Get a copy for 25% off this week.

Winter Gardening Tips from Eliot Coleman and Charles Dowding

Friday, January 18th, 2013

It may seem counterintuitive, but now is the perfect time to be thinking about next winter’s harvest. How can you time your plantings this summer and fall so your broccoli and cabbage are big enough to survive the winter and get cranking as early as possible the following spring? What kinds of vegetables can you expect to last through the cold season, and into the ‘hungry gap’? In this post, we share a couple of excellent resources on the kind of year-round vegetable production a dedicated homesteader, or anyone attempting to bring food closer to home will want to try.

Eliot Coleman was one of the first authors we published, and his book The New Organic Grower helped set Chelsea Green on the path to becoming the leading publisher of books on sustainable agriculture.

Coleman runs Four Season Farm up in Harborside, Maine — a very chilly place to make a living growing salad. But that’s exactly what he does, and his two most recent books are full of information on how to keep tender, tasty veggies growing throughout the dark and cold of winter. Chances are, you live in a climate several hardiness zones more hospitable than Coleman, so we’re here to tell you that when it comes to growing fresh food year-round, sorry, you have no excuses! Or at least, with advice from this master-farmer, winter will no longer be one of them.

Coleman was by no means the first to implement the winter-gardening strategies he has helped make famous. In this excerpt from The Winter Harvest Handbook, he points to the inspiring example of Parisian farmers 150 years ago, who grew vegetables under glass cloches for city markets.

“La culture maraîchère (market gardening) in Paris during the second half of the nineteenth century was the impressive result of years of improvement in both protected and outdoor vegetable production…In addition to feeding the inhabitants of Paris, the growers also exported vegetables to England. Growers averaged at least four and usually up to eight harvests per year from the same piece of ground. It was a successful system both practically and economically.”

Read more about these enterprising French farmers here. And take a peek inside The Winter Harvest Handbook, here. All three of Coleman’s classic organic farming books are now available as a convenient set, which you can purchase in our bookstore.

Over in the United Kingdom, another farmer-author is busily tackling the challenges of winter gardening. Charles Dowding is the author of many gardening books, including How to Grow Winter Vegetables.

In this beautifully illustrated volume Dowding explains step-by-step how to grow, and more importantly, how to plan, for plentiful harvests during the “winter half” of the year.

“True winter is underway by December, when growth is almost halted, and continues until March or even April, by which time daylight and some early warmth have returned, although there are still very few fresh vegetables to eat. Then, in April, May, and even into June in a cold spring, there can be a long and frustrating wait for plants to grow and mature. Although the weather may be fine and warm, there is surprisingly little to eat from the garden, in a period known as the ‘hungry gap’ — a kind of ‘second winter’ in food terms.”

Read more from Dowding’s book, here.

And happy gardening!

Young Farmers: Back to the Land and Down to Business

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

A New Wave of Savvy Young Farmers Plows Ahead 

New farmers are filling a small-scale niche long abandoned by industrial agriculture. As Rebecca Thistlethwaite says in the first chapter of her new book Farms with a Future, mid-sized farms are the hardest to maintain.

The USDA Census from 2007 says as much — farms earning between $10,000 and $100,000 per year disappeared in droves, while farms earning less than $10,000 cropped up like chickweed after a spring rain. As production is scaled up, stresses on the farmland and the farmer increase, but profit doesn’t necessarily keep pace. Regulations are often more stringent for larger farms, such as Vermont’s laws about selling raw milk which reduce the pressure on the smallest producers but require mid-sized ones to do expensive testing and reporting.

But a sense of place is the true spirit of local food, and these days small and even tiny farms are starting up all across the country, feeding their communities fresh food, grown organically, and creating fun lifestyles for the entrepreneurial folks who started them. Perhaps more than any previous wave of back-to-the-landers, small farmers today are approaching their missions with a desire to do it right and make a lasting, positive impact. With inspiration (and funding) from the Slow Money movement, and from farmers like Richard Wiswall (another Chelsea Green author), newcomers to the field are proceeding with caution to match their passion and harnessing the tried-and-true methods of sound business to create a resilient and sustainable food system.

New farmers are doing market research before they start digging, and writing business plans before they go out and buy a bunch of peeping chicks. Sustainable farmers like the ones FarmPlate profiles on their blog are looking for unmet needs in the local foodshed, and developing high-value that both make a tidy profit and increase the vitality of the local food culture. At the 5000 plus new farmers markets that have opened in the first dozen years of this century you’ll find the unique fruits of their labors: specialty ferments like sauerkraut or kombucha in wild new flavor combinations, artisan farmstead cheeses, heirloom vegetable varieties long thought forgotten, grains grown and ground by hand, and heritage breeds of beef, poultry, and eggs.

Here at Chelsea Green we have a dedicated interest in the growth of this movement. We’ve built our own business model on the strength of the growing desire for living more in concert with nature, eschewing fossil fuels, and coming to a deeper understanding of ecosystems and how they sustain us. We’ve seen that desire grow over the past thirty years, and while we’re pretty sure Monsanto and Exxon Mobil aren’t going away anytime soon, we know the values embodied in sustainable agriculture are a palpable alternative to the trainwreck pattern of development humanity has been pursuing over the past century and a half.

Nowhere is it more obvious that a shift is happening than in the realm of small farms and local food, and the new wave of farmers is taking the overused concept of sustainability farther than ever. By working with livestock and composting systems to restore the health of the soil, and often using horses instead of diesel-powered tractors these farmers are going back to the future (or Yak to the Future, as one Vermont company puts it). They’re putting small but important elements in place to build diverse and strong food systems by fostering strong relationships with their communities. Even the efforts farmers are making to protect their own financial and emotional sustainability by thinking carefully, doing good old-fashioned market research, and developing flexible and ambitious business plans is pushing the envelope and expanding the meaning of sustainability.

Why I’m On A Hunger Strike — Diane Wilson

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Diane Wilson is a long time environmental activist, the author of Diary of an Eco-Outlaw, and An Unreasonable Woman, and an injured worker advocate in the Texas Gulf Coast. She is presently on a hunger strike to stop Valero from investing in the Canada tar sands. She forwarded us this letter last week…

Workers! Demand Valero divest from tar sands. The life you save may just be your own.

I’m a fourth generation fisherwoman from the Texas Gulf Coast. For forty years I have made a living on a shrimp boat plying the Gulf Coast waters, but for the past twenty-five years, I have fought a long and difficult battle with industry to preserve the health and wellbeing of our Texas bays and marine life for our children and our children’s children.

Today I am involved in one of my most difficult challenges. I am on the 35th day of a hunger strike that I began to convince Valero to divest from Canada’s tar sands.

Many stakeholders have been pulled into this fight that is so colossal and mind boggling that it can almost be called biblical and not be an exaggeration. The indigenous tribes of the First Nation in Canada, land owners, cities’ water supplies, communities surrounding the refineries, and the very planet that we call home are all being threatened by the extraction of tar sands and the XL pipeline that is snaking its way from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Workers in the refinery don’t get mentioned much and that’s pretty surprising given that workers are ground zero for exposure from the refining of tar sands.

When a refinery uses a bitumen blend from Canada’s tar sands, it is using a raw material that contains large quantities of sulfur. This means U.S. refineries using tar sands generally produce more intense sulfur dioxide air pollution that is, today, not adequately regulated. The result is heightened health risks not only to communities living near tar sands refineries, but also to the workers inside.

In fact, workers are the most direct line for sulfur dioxide poisoning.

A few statistics from publicly available sources indicate that, in general, tar sands refineries spew more sulfur dioxide pollution per barrel produced than refineries that do not use tar sands. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), short- term exposure to elevated sulfur dioxide levels is associated with reduced lung function, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, respiratory illness, deterioration of the lung’s defense systems, and the aggravation of cardiovascular systems.

In addition, a refinery’s processing of tar sands leaves a toxic cocktail of 20 by-products (often at 1,000 times above the safe limit) that include the cancer-causing chemicals benzene, toluene, and hydrogen sulfide.

Now I know what some workers are going to say when they read this. I know because I’ve asked them and they say, “Smells like money to me!” or “Not me! I’m healthy! ” Or “That’s why I have two life insurance policies.”

Then stuff happens.

The experts say 870,000 workers get sick and 55,000-60,000 die each year in the United States from an occupational disease. Then the experts add the caveat that these numbers are undoubtedly underestimates. How much of an underestimate? Well, as much as 69 percent of illnesses and injuries never make it to the Bureau of Labor statistics. And the vast majority of workers with an occupational illness never receive any benefits from workers compensation.

Ask any injured worker who’s developed an illness brought on by exposure to a chemical and he can recite a litany of reasons why help never comes.

Work related illnesses are difficult to identify, especially those with long periods between exposure and illness. Part of the problem is simply an absence of data on the health effects of hazardous exposures. Absolutely nothing is known about potential toxicity for more than 85percent of chemicals in use in industry. In addition, routine training on known hazards and their effects is lacking. The average doctor receives 4 hours or less of training in occupational medicine in a 4 year medical school curriculum.

But the major reason is Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) reliance on employers self-reporting. Employers have strong incentives for underreporting illnesses or not at all. Businesses with few illnesses on the job are least likely to receive inspections from OSHA, they have lower worker compensation insurance premiums, and they have a better chance of winning government contracts.

There are other reasons. Employers and Worker compensations Insurers have major incentives to deny a connection between a workplace exposure and disease. Every occupational disease that is not recognized saves them money by socializing the cost on to someone else, mostly injured workers, their families, and taxpayers.

Workers themselves may not want to suggest their health problem is work related, fearing they might lose their job or suffer retribution from an employer angered by a Workers Compensation claim. Workers report widespread harassment and intimidation when they report an injury or illness. Reports, testimonies, and new accounts show that many employers fire or discipline workers who report injuries or illnesses or complain about a safety problem. Other employers add demerits to a workers record for reportable illnesses or injuries or absenteeism that resulted from an alleged safety violation.

This is all just to say: Workers! Demand Valero divest from tar sands. The life you save may just be your own.

NEW! Gift Sets for Gardeners and Eco-Foodies

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Several classic Chelsea Green books are now available as convenient sets at discounted prices. By combining books that are commonly purchased together, we make it easier and more affordable to add these valuable titles to your library, or give them as gifts.

In addition to putting their expertise down on paper in our books, several of our authors have also produced instructional DVDs, and we are now offering book/DVD sets for a complete educational experience.

The Eliot Coleman Set: If you love the joys of eating home-garden vegetables but always thought those joys had to stop at the end of summer, this set of three books by master organic farmer Eliot Coleman is for you. Includes The New Organic Grower, Four-Season Harvest, and The Winter Harvest Handbook, all for just $51.90 .

The Preserving the Harvest Set: If you’re a dedicated gardener you probably know about hot-water-bath canning and pickling, but there are many other ways to preserve the bounty of your harvest so it will last the whole year. This set combines Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning (a classic book on simple methods of food preservation), with The Resilient Gardener, a new book on gardening that includes some innovative preservation methods. Set price: $35.72

The Sandor Katz Fermentation Set: This set combines Sandor Ellix Katz’s two classic books on fermentation with a DVD of one of his popular fermentation workshops. Last year’s The Art of Fermentation was a runaway hit, reaching the New York Times Bestseller list and helping Chelsea Green to record sales. It’s the most comprehensive guide to fermentation ever published, and complements Katz’s earlier book Wild Fermentation (which is much more like a typical cookbook) nicely. This set also includes a DVD of one of Katz’s popular fermentation workshops, in which he discusses the cultural implications of fermentation, and guides you step-by-step through a few easy ferments. Price for the set: $64.94

COMING SOON! Top Bar Beekeeping Set: This book + DVD set combines the new book Top-Bar Beekeeping by Les Crowder and Heather Harrell, with an instructional DVD on how to use top-bar hives, which require more care than box hives, but produce more valuable beeswax while keeping bees healthy. With top-bar hives the bees naturally construct their own wax combs rather than relying on prefabricated frames of plastic cell foundation in a typical box-type hive. And top-bar hives are now being used to raise healthy bees organically, without the use of antibiotics, miticides, or other chemical inputs. Set price: $34.95

Perennial Vegetables Set: Imagine growing vegetables that require just about the same amount of care as perennial flowers and shrubs, need no annual tilling or planting, yet thrive and produce abundant and nutritious crops throughout the season.

Get the best information on growing these easy and interesting crops from Eric Toensmeier’s award-winning book Perennial Vegetables, and tour his own lush forest garden in the new DVD, Perennial Vegetable Gardening with Eric Toensmeier. Set Price:$59.95

COMING SOON! Natural Beekeeping Set: Today’s beekeepers face unprecedented challenges, a fact that is now front-page news with the spread of “colony collapse disorder.” Newly introduced pests like varroa and tracheal mites have made chemical treatment of hives standard practice, but pest resistance is building, which in turn creates demand for new and even more toxic chemicals. In fact, there is evidence that chemical treatments are making matters worse.

It’s time for a new approach. In this set, which includes the new, full-color, Natural Beekeping, Revised and Expanded Edition, and a DVD workshop, Ross Conrad brings together the best “do no harm” strategies for keeping honeybees healthy and productive, all of which are covered in a thoughtful, matter-of-fact way. Set price: $54.95

Holiday Sale Extended Through January 31st

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

The holidays may be over, but our holiday sale has been extended through January 31, 2013!

That means you can still save 35% on any purchase from chelseagreen.com by using the discount code CGFL12 when you checkout.

This sale is a great time to stock your library. If you’ve had your eye on our runaway hit, New York Times Bestseller The Art of Fermentation, now is a great time to grab it. Or if you’ve been tempted to pick up some some gardening classics like Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook or Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener, or books to help improve your small farm like Richard Wiswall’s The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, or Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits — this sale is a great chance to get them for a low price. Be sure to check out our new book/DVD sets as well. This is a nice time to snap them up for a great price.

Books like the two-volume series Edible Forest Gardens are usually $75 apiece and $150 as a set. With the 35% discount they would only cost you $48.75 each, or $97.50 for the set. That’s a great deal for some of the best resources available on cultivating forests of food using natural methods!

The recently released Natural Building Companion is another great deal. Part of a new series from Yestermorrow Design-Build School, the book includes information on almost any natural building technique you can imagine, from straw bale to cob, and much more, plus a DVD to help you learn. Normally $59.95 amount, during the sale you can get The Natural Building Companion for just $38.97.

Likewise, Passive Solar Architecture, a comprehensive book on building to utilize the readily available power of the sun to both heat and cool your home. The book normally costs $85.00 but during our sale you can get it for just $55.25.

If you’re a small farmer interested in producing your own seeds, check out our new book, The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio. Funded partially by a USDA SARE grant, this beautiful and easy-to-use book is a guide to producing seed organically, including botanical information, planting distances, how to harvest, prepare, and store seed, and so much more. The book’s full price is $49.95, sale price $32.47.

These books are particularly nice to get during our sale, but the discount code applies to every book in our catalog, except for any that are already on sale. Remember to use the code CGFL12 when you checkout, and happy shopping!

Save 25% on Desert or Paradise

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Sepp Holzer was doing permaculture before he even knew what permaculture was. He started playing around in his mother’s garden as a little boy, learning how nature functioned and what helped plants thrive. When permaculture practitioners visited Holzer’s homestead, they were astonished to find the theories they learned from Bill Mollison and David Holmgren applied to beautiful effect — and in a steep, northern, high-altitude (read: really harsh) climate.

Since then, Holzer has been recognized as one of the premier permaculturists on the planet, and has consulted on landscaping projects around the world. Especially important to the success of Holzer’s landscapes is his use of ponds and terraces to manage water, especially in semi-arid climates. His latest book, Desert or Paradise, focuses on these water control methods.  This week only you can get it for 25% off.

In the excerpt below, read about Holzer’s understanding of how water affects a landscape, and his attitude toward nature.

“My most important rule is to put myself in the position of the other. I imagine that I am the tree…the same goes for the pig, the earthworm, the ladybird, the nasturtium or the sunflower and of course the other human being. Would I feel good in their place? If the answer is ‘yes’, I am doing everything right. If the answer is ‘no’, I have to find out what is wrong. When I am lacking sun or shade, when I realize my feet are in the water or that my movements are limited I have to change things. All beings need to feel good and then they function at their best. I need to remember that, and so do you.”

Desert or Paradise is full of case studies from Holzer’s work around the world, especially in the Mediterranean region, which suffers from rampant desertification after millenia of agricultural overuse (and a few especially bad centuries of industrial fertilizers and pesticides).

If you’re interested in learning from Holzer himself, check out his upcoming US workshops, here. He will be holding three multi-day intensives on agroecology in Loma Mar, California from March 21-25; Bozeman, Montana from March 27-31; and Duluth, Minnesota April 6-10.

Reading Nature: An Excerpt from Desert or Paradise

Project: How to Make an Axe

Friday, January 4th, 2013

When it comes to useful DIY projects, I’m sure most of you don’t think, “Gee, I think I’d like to make myself a hatchet today.”

But with some scrap steel, a hacksaw, a file, a drill, a bonfire, a bucket of water and an oven, you can make this simple, hardy, “democratic” axe.

Don’t believe it? Read on!

The following project on how to make a quality broad axe is from A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by William Coperthwaite.

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.
—John Ruskin

It is hard to find a good broad hatchet—a small, broad axe with a wide cutting edge beveled on only one side, like a chisel; this special bevel makes it easier to hew to a line.

After forty years of hunting in antiques shops and flea markets, I have found only two broad hatchets that passed muster. To friends who sought one of their own, the outlook was discouraging. They could get one made—if they happened to know a good blacksmith, if they had a good design, and if they could afford the price.

Or you could forge one yourself, but by the time you had learned to make a fine one, you would have become a blacksmith yourself. This is an elite tool.

In Japan, in the Tosa region of the island of Shikoku, I was surprised by the number of blacksmiths. Each village had its smith, and all could make excellent edge tools. It was delightful to see the grace and skill of those smiths. I became friends with one who made a broad hatchet to my specifications. Twenty years went by, and in the interim I had studied many axes and was blending what I had learned into my ideal of a broad hatchet.

A few years ago I carved a pine model and sent it off to my blacksmith friend in Shikoku. Yes, he would make it for me. Two years passed and it did not appear. I assumed the project was forgotten.

While visiting Italy, I came upon an elderly smith who had made axes years ago. I carved another pattern, and he forged the axe. Now, these are far from democratic tools. To get one you first have to design it and then know a smith in Japan or Italy or wherever who can—and is willing to—make an axe from your design.

It was doubtful that the axe from Japan would materialize, and the Italian smith was very old and sick and would probably not make another. A good broad hatchet for students and friends who wanted one was as elusive as ever. And though this axe adventure was exciting, and I had acquired some fine ones, we badly needed to have some inexpensive ones available.

While studying in Switzerland the breakthrough came. The tiny fellow who lives upstairs above my right ear (and works mostly at night) shouted “Eureka!” He presented me with a full-blown design for a democratic axe.

I could hardly wait to get back to my bench. For steel there was an ancient plow point of about the right thickness lying behind the barn. Into the bonfire it went and when glowing red, we heaped ashes over it and let it remain until morning, cooling slowly and releasing its hardness. Next day I reheated and hammered it flat using a handy ledge for an anvil. When it cooled, I drew the pattern on it. Three hours of work at the vise was needed to cut it to shape with a hacksaw and another hour to dress it with files.

For us amateurs in axe making, there are two major difficulties. One of these is forging the eye of the axe—the hole into which the handle is inserted in a conventional axe. This democratic design eliminates the eye. The other difficulty is tempering, or bringing the steel to the correct hardness. Smiths have long been respected for their skill at this magical process of tempering steel, which requires good judgment and much experience to be able to do dependably.

After a good deal of pondering, experimenting, and reading all that I could find on tempering, some of the mystery began to fade. Before tempering, the steel must be hardened by being brought to red heat and then plunged in water. Then it seemed that tempering was merely a matter of temperature control. So we put the axe in an oven set at 475°F for half an hour and let it cool slowly. This worked!

Now, you smiths may object, reminding us that a tool like an axe that gets a blow needs to be soft in the eye to resist breaking. To this charge I plead nolo contendere. However, a broad hatchet is made with a short handle for use on a block, and such hatchets do not undergo the same severity of blows.

For the first time, we now have a democratic axe—an axe that most anyone who wants one can have. (You say you never knew you needed an axe, and I say, very well. Even so, here we have another example of one more democratic tool, which will make design of the next one a little easier, whatever its purpose.)

This experience with the broad hatchet is important for me on several levels. First it has been a exciting adventure all along the way, from learning to appreciate the variations in different forms of such a basic tool, to designing my own which others made, to ultimately making my own. Another level of the adventure is to be able to help others make their own hand axes and in the process gain the confidence that comes from making a tool. This process demonstrates how we can have adventure in a variety of ways: designing, working with the hands, and working with the mind as we carry the concept of democratic things further.

Another value this experience has had for me is the breaking of mental and social barriers, which we need to be able to do if we are to solve our problems and create a decent society that works for all people.

At times the outlook appears very dark. It would seem our problems are insurmountable. As with this little hand axe, I was quite sure that I would never make my own. And yet, without consciously focusing on the problem directly, unconscious forces were at work and discovered a solution. This gives me hope that if we can continue searching and caring and supporting one another—we may be able to find the solution to even our worst problems.

P.S. The broad hatchet from Shikoku finally arrived. It is a veritable gem. Actually, two came—a left- and a righthanded one—polished to a mirror finish and gently wrapped in small white towels.

To Make an Axe:

  1. Trace the pattern on the next page on annealed (temperable) steel, 5/16-thick.
  2. Cut out the axe head with a hacksaw.
  3. Smooth all edges with a file, and file the bevel to make the cutting edge. (For a right-hander, the bevel should be on the right, for a lefty on the left.)
  4. Drill two rivet holes.
  5. The face should be slightly hollowed, like a shallow gouge. To do this, carve a hollow (6 inches long and 1/4 inch deep) in a chopping block. Heat the axe head until it is glowing red, then hammer it into the hollow with the bevel side up.
  6. To harden the steel, heat it to glowing red and plunge it immediately into cold water.
  7. To temper the steel, put the axe head in an oven at 475°F for about twenty minutes and allow to cool slowly.
  8. Carve a handle of hardwood in the form shown in the photograph and rivet it to the axe head. You can customize the handle’s curve and weight to your own preferences.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
—Henry David Thoreau


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