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Sleepers Through Time

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

was used to measure for the final trimming and smoothing cuts that were done with the rear of the broad axe blade. The process was repeated on three faces.

Juggles are 12- to 14-inch-long chips which could not be sold, but they did have a key function. Juggles accumulating at the work area made a bed of wood that protected the blade of the axe from cutting into the soil and rocks below. Payment was based on the number of ties produced. Time spent sharpening the axes, after hitting rocks, was wasted.

Sharpening saw blades and axes was done with file and whetstone. An improvised filing vise was made by cutting a high stump from a small tree and then making a vertical saw cut. The crosscut saw was placed in the saw kerf, teeth up. The high stump allowed the filer to sit on the ground with the saw teeth about eye level.

The saw was held tight by wedging a small chip between the saw body and stump. One end of the saw was supported by a split length of limb driven into the ground, holding the saw body stationary. Teeth were flat filed and the hacker paid close attention to maintaining the correct tooth angles for best sawing. Saw teeth were of three types. Right and left hand cutters severed the wood fibers while rakers removed saw dust from the cut.

A broad axe head weighed about 5 pounds with a single edge, 12-inch-long blade. Sharpening the blade involved using a file and stone, but was only done on one side of the blade. The other side of the blade was flat, resembling a chisel, and resulted in a flat surface on ties.

Sharpening a broad axe involved supporting the blade against a small diameter log and stroking the file toward the sharp edge. The toe of the blade dulled rapidly, resulting in frequent filing and a blade that was wide at the heel. A corn cob served as a file handle. A tie hack owned only the essential tools, which were expensive and hard to get. Tool accessories, like file handles, were either home-made or nonexistent.

Double bit axes weighed about 2 pounds and had two cutting edges. Tie hackers sharpened an axe by first sticking the blade in a stump and then filing the exposed blade. A whet stone was used in a circular motion to get a razor edge.

Once hewn,

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