Sunday, November 19, 2017

Axe handles and children

I was looking at some old posts on my blog, and ended up looking a one where Olav had made a new handle for a hatchet. 

One of the comments was from Suzanne Deslauriers. She suggested to read the poem called "Axe handles" by Gary Snyder. 
(I haven't got the permission to print the poem, and I don't want to mess up with any copyrights to it, so I have simply linked to the poem instead. And that site states that it has got a permission.)

It is a delight to get such comments to the blog, because the poem is really well written and spot on for me. I guess that a lot of people into woodworking feels it the same way. If Suzanne hadn't commented on the post, I would never have known about its existence. So thanks a lot for bringing it to my attention.

I once made an axe handle too - together with Gustav when he was a lot younger, and I remember it being a good experience. But that was before I knew about the poem. And I also think it was before I wrote a blog, at least I haven't got any pictures of it. But the axe still hangs in its place in the shop - ready to be used. I will have to ask Gustav if he remembers making it, but I am pretty sure that he does.

I have let my children use an axe since they were very small. At first they used one together with me, so we helped each other to hold it correctly and stand in the correct position, legs lightly spread to give a good stability and to avoid hitting the shins if the axe should slip. Later when they turned a bit older they would split small scraps of wood on their own while in the shop with me, and proudly carry the tiny pieces into the house and present them as kindling to Mette.

Even today, if we go the the summerhouse, one of the first things they help find are a couple of axes, so they can trim some of the wild saplings and split firewood. I am totally confident in that they use the tool with the necessary respect, and I have never had the reason to remind them about how to use it safely. So I guess that all the education and practice has paid off.

I think that an axe has a strong appeal to a child, because it is a real tool, and a smaller model is not just designed to be a toy, but it is really a smaller version that is fully capable of doing the same type of work as a large axe can do.


  1. jonas,

    Good on you. Kids learn quickly and if instructed well can do most jobs. In the States over the last few decades we've changed how we see childhood to a time to protect vs. a time to learn and develop. I grew up on a farm in the '50s and by the time I weighted enough to push the clutch down I was out in the fields with the tractor. There is more to life than a iPhone or Pad.


    1. Hi Ken

      Thanks for the nice comment.

      This upbringing of kids is an interesting discussion. I see the same trend in Denmark that you excellently describe as "time to protect vs time to learn and develop".
      The funny thing is that most kids will gladly help if given a manageable task, and they usually feel very proud of their achievements once the task is completed.
      Once they turn teenagers they are not always that willing participants, but generally our kids understand that the family isn't just a service provider, but an institution where you are expected to pull part of the weight too.

      I also sense that they simply enjoy doing something with either me or Mette. Other than watching TV in the living room.
      I guess that a lot of tasks such as axe hewing or tractor driving can be done by kids if we let the, off course provided that we give them some proper instructions first.

      Asger and a friend have had a continuous build of a tree house going on at the place of the friend. They are so incredibly proud to show any progress they have made any time I drive there to pick up Asger after a day of playing. They use a saw and a cordless screwdriver, a lot of imagination and a lot of energy. And they are having a blast.
      building stuff in real life is indeed so different from swiping your finger around on an ipad.


  2. There is such a fine balance, and that line is difficult to find anymore. Part of the issue, at least here in PA, is that EVERYTHING is done on some form of tablet or smart device. Much of the school work, homework, etc. So it is almost a natural progression for kids to do the same thing at home.
    I've seen the notion that parents today are spending money on "experiences" rather than possessions. I get that to some extent, because today's kids today don't experience things like they did 30 years ago. Information is not learned through experience anymore, but by searching Google on a tablet.
    Yet, I don't find possessions "evil". Part of the experience of growing and developing responsibility is learning that hard work leads to reward, and that could mean material possession.
    That all being said, when we took my daughter to Mount Vernon a few weeks ago it was so great seeing her experiencing history "for real". They provide a scavenger hunt for kids, which is more or less a grouping of history lessons, and seeing her enthusiasm at completing each task was really reassuring. It was a valuable lesson in learning that there is more to the world than what you can see on a computer screen.

    1. Hi Bill
      Thanks for commenting.
      I can see the same trend about school work being done at either a computer or a tablet. And I am probably too old to really understand the benefit of it.
      I can see that whenever I help Gustav doing math it takes a lot longer to make a drawing to scale using the drawing program in the computer that is used for the math class compared to how fast it would be to make the same scale drawing using a compass, a ruler and a pencil.

      I think that spending money on experiences might also be a result of that a lot of people don't really need anymore stuff to put in their homes.
      I guess it is a first world "problem", that if we need e.g. a new frying pan, we just buy one instead of waiting half a year for a birthday or Christmas to wish for one. So Christmas and birthday gifts are often "luxury" items in that sense that they are not necessary everyday items anymore.
      I think that giving experiences might even be a better idea because it might mean more in the long run.

      Many historic places or museums etc. have become really good at capturing the interest of children. I think that is a good thing, because while it earlier could be a bit boring to visit a museum as a child, now they clearly have become better at conveying the message to that age group.

      I am not much of a sports person myself, but Asger likes soccer a lot, and while I was home, we went to see a game with the local top team in soccer. Just to get a feel of being at the stadium and hearing the chanting etc. The tickets were cheaper than going to the movies, and we had a great time.
      We have already agreed to go there in February where we will be able to attend two home games with the team. They will meet teams from the Copenhagen area at that time, currently No 1 and 3 of the league. Our team is at a second place for now.



    2. We go to baseball games at times, but generally just what they call minor league games. The stadium is very nice, and not far from where we live. I won't go to watch Major League Baseball anymore because I don't agree with the salaries they make, and it is very expensive just to go to a game. For instance, just to park your car it costs $25, which I think is outlandish.

      You are right about museums being more open and less stuffy. In September we went to the Museum of the American Revolution and it was very interactive, with lots of "living history" pieces, and of course there were thousands of artifacts as well. I had mentioned that we went to Mount Vernon, and they have a fantastic museum there as well. We also went to the Ford's Theater Museum, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and there was also a fine museum there. It is great to see the kids so involved.

      We are going to a Colonial Christmas in two weeks, at a farmstead where George Washington planned the Battle of Germantown, and it is just a short drive from my house. They are having a traditional 18th century Christmas party, and the Belsnickel will be there, which my daughter is obsessed with. I'm not sure if you have the Belsnickel in Denmark, but because this part of PA was settled by many people from Germany, the custom continues here.
      The following week we are going to a book signing at Valley Forge Park with an author who has written a series of young adult books set during the American Revolution, so we have quite a busy schedule coming up. And it makes me so happy that my daughter has inherited her old man's love of American History.

    3. Last time we went to a game was two years ago as far as I remember, but I decided that since it means so much to Asger I couldn't really decide not to go. I checked the price for tickets, and was pleasantly surprised, that a kids ticket was 6,5$ and an adult ticket was 18$ parking is free, and the hot dogs etc. are also very reasonably priced at the stadium.
      So I have sort of made a resolution that we should go there whenever I am at home and we have the opportunity to catch a home game. There is about one and a half hours to drive there, so it isn't too bad.
      A ticket to see a movie in the local theater is 12$ for comparison.

      I have no idea how well the players are payed, but I sincerely doubt that they are anywhere near the wages of a major league baseball player.
      If they are really good they usually go to a foreign club where the money is better. But Denmark is still a small country, so we are far from the economy of clubs like Bayern Munich and Liverpool etc.

      I had to google the Belsnickel, and we haven't got him in Denmark. I hope he doesn't bring any lumps of charcoal with him!

      I think it is great to get kids involved in history. Asger likes it when I tell a "real" story (like he puts it) for a goodnight story. It could be about explorations or inventions or something historic. If we as parents stay away from the most blood dripping examples, I can't see why a bed time story about Clarks and Lewis couldn't be just as fine as reading about some teddy bears adventures.

      I think that today it is possible to get books that are more aimed for kids in that respect as well compared to earlier history books that were often just a list of facts and tables etc. And as long as they are interested, it is just a matter of keeping them fascinated by the subject, so they can get a sense of how the world and societies etc. have evolved.


    4. I'll be honest, I've always found the Belsnickel kind of creepy. My ancestry is Irish and Italian for the most part, so I didn't know anything about the Belsnickel until my mother remarried when I was a teenager. Her husband is part PA German, and they always had a traditional "Dutch" (Deustche) Christmas.
      But basically the Belsnickel is sort of a miserable version of Santa Clause. He's usually covered in soot and dressed kind of shabbily, and what I always remembered is that he carried around a tree branch, and if the kids were deemed bad he would give them a whack across the rear with the branch, and if they were good he would give out candy.
      So yeah, I think it's kind of creepy. But my kid gets a huge kick out of it for some reason.

    5. I can see that he is kind of creepy, but I guess that somehow that also has some mystic attraction on kids.

      Maybe it is because a Santa figure armed with a branch ready to hand out a beating is a far cry from the modern sugar coated version of a jolly red dressed Santa with cute reindeer. And deep inside the kids know that he isn't for real, but he is just spooky enough to be interesting and not only frightening.

      I guess it is a bit like watching a horror movie when you become a teenager. It is "fun" to get you blood to stream fast.