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Project Story:

If you are new to my keyboard dribble, I do apologize beforehand. Few people could find something to type about for 4,261 words when discussing a young girl's new hatchet….but I can. Some call it a gift, others a call it a curse.

My goals in writing are to tell a heart-story, woven with family connected-ness, flavored in the promotion of liberty and entrepreneurship, one that promotes a simpler lifestyle, and ultimately a story that speaks to the heart.

In this process of telling the stories behind my projects, I often do what my old High School teacher used to call, "chasing rabbit trails," and that may understandably not be your thang.

However, in following these trails, I hope they each weave together a message nugget, like a real-life parable that speaks to your life as well, something that motivates you to contemplate your own life and the direction you are heading.

A Wise Man once said, "If you sow to the wind, you will reap the whirlwind…"

What are you sowing?

That's one of the important questions I like to ponder for myself…..and if you do also, we might connect.

That's the disclaimer and apology, now let's get started…

This project is really a simple one, just a little restored and sharpened hatchet with a new handle that I made up for my Daughter (14). The handle is air-dried Osage Orange, with her name carved on both sides with some checkering to make it less likely to slip out of her hand. The lanyard is both for safety, and to be colorful and large enough to help locate the hatchet if dropped along a trail.

In the "Dictionary of Woodworking Tools" by R.A. Salaman, this tool head is identified as a Plasterer's Hammer, the author saying on page 238 in the Hatchet Section, "…Only the Plasterer's Hammer has a nail-pull in the lower edge of the blade.…Used by plasterers for cutting to length and nailing plaster laths. The flat top enables the tool to be used close to a ceiling."

What Mr. Salaman may not know, is that a tool with both a hammer head and a sharp hatchet head is pretty useful to a whole lot of things when you live in the country, even if we are long into the "drywall years". I'll call it a "hatchet" for my purposes.

There are a lot of small Hatchet heads like this floating around the globe, they aren't valuable as collectibles. I saw one today on eBay selling for $4.00 plus shipping. The value of this little hatchet is not in its collectability and rarity, but rather its special meaning because of its past owner. Like so many things I own, it's only value is the personal history and memories it holds for me.

This "Plasterer's Hammer" was last owned by my Grandfather, who was a life-long Rancher and Farmer in Kansas. He collected tools over the years to do the job at hand, with money always being tight for him. And even when it wasn't tight financially, he acted that way….as did a lot of people who gained the wisdom provided by enduring the Great Depression of the 1930's.

He was 18 when his father died leaving the family farm deep in debt the year the stock market crashed. It took him 10 years to pay off the family farm, then he moved out and started his own family and farm. A hard start, but rich in character building.

I wish I could still shadow him on a daily basis, and listen to the history he easily told with everything we did, every place we went, and everybody we met along the way.

He was particularly interested in telling me the history of the tools we used daily, such as "…this ball peen was in the barn that burned when I was a kid…..and this jack was used on my Model-T when I used to court your grandmother….that pump handle used to pump the water on your great-granddad's well, back when it was so dry we cut down trees to feed the cattle the green leaves while we hoped for rain….."

His stories gave me an appreciation for the functional need of the item, its origin, and the family connections to it. And, like so many USA-made tools of that era, we still could use them because they were built well….long before the importing of cast iron and crappy steel tools. A lot of steel and cast iron was brought in off the farms of America during WWII for the effort to help win the war. I'm glad this little hatchet didn't make it to the smelter in those days.

I don't know where he picked up this particular tool, but it was in his barn and after he passed away. My parents allowed me to take a few mementos from his tool collection. It had a bad handle in it, and had been set in the head poorly, so it didn't get much use, and was really rusty, the way things get when they are stored in unheated buildings for many years.

I've had it in my collection for a few years, never taking the time to put in a decent handle and clean it up. This hatchet could be something with a long family history, or it could have been in a box of things he bought at a farm auction over the years, I just don't know for sure, even though I wish I did know.

My Grandfather was a story teller through and through, and all the years I visited and helped him farm and ranch, we did things together. Now, I realize that some Grandfather's spend play-time or sit-in-the-bleachers-time watching ball games, going to the park, riding bikes, or fishing with their grand-kids.

But more because of his character, my Grandfather worked most of the time, except Sundays unless there was an emergency. Sundays were for church and relaxing by design, but I remember many of them being interrupted with an emergency that required "work" on the Lord's Day.

My grandparents lost their house in 1976 to a tornado, and so many of the little household mementos were lost to the winds….but some still survived. For instance, I still use the Emerson oscillating fan in my woodshop, the fan that went through the tornado. Covered with mud and no longer working after the storm, the little brown fan was "saved" and moved to the new farm house, but relegated to the basement for 30+ years.

Three or four years ago I found the fan and saved it from the basement of his old farmhouse. I took it home and cleaned off the mud still on it from the tornado storm, oiled the bushings, straightened the blades and wire cover, replaced the electrical cord, and plugged it in. Sure, it wobbles a little, but wouldn't we all if we had gone through a tornado?

The wobbles just remind me every day of my grandparents and their Only-God-Could-do-it miraculous survival in that terrible storm…so I like the wobbles….they tell a story, one of tragedy, miracles, and overcoming it all.
I remember watching my grandfather who I could tell was fighting back tears that morning of the tornado when we all showed up to help with the clean-up.

I watched as his tears were not for what was lost in the storm, but how thankful he was for their miraculous survival. He was humbled, yet saved, and I could hear it in his voice as he told the visitors that morning after the storm. That morning he put us all to "work", the family, friends, and strangers that showed up to help.

Persevere, move forward, press-on, get-it-done, thank God regardless…..good lessons for me to observe as a kid of 12 at that time. Lessons that have served my own life well so far.

When I would go down to the "Farm" and spend time with him, we didn't spend much time "playing", but mostly working. I don't say that like it is a bad thing, I actually appreciate now more than ever, his character of hard work, frugality, and the desire for personal liberty and being his own boss.

I remember well the long conversations while digging post holes (the old hedge post style with a two- handed hole shovel, "…Mark, you never get anywhere in this world working for wages (hourly pay as he called it), you need to be your own boss, chart your own course, put your work into it and make the profits…."

At the time I was wondering why we had to hand dig post holes and tamp them with a stick when other ranchers were using augers on the back of their tractors, or they used the new T-posts.

I remember asking, "wouldn't it be easier….if…..we used those metal posts….?"

He'd respond, "…oh, the easy way is not always the best way, and I don't trust them, you watch Mark, those t-post fences will lean over before long, and my fence will stay straight up….and then you'll see what I mean….."
He was right about that, and a lot of things.

But, I remember those lessons, the more important ones now, and I thank God that we had two weeks of digging posts in July for the new fence, just the two of us sweating and trading off on who was digging and who was tamping, and who was pouring water on the next holes to loosen up the dirt a little before we got there. Oh, the good ole days…..

But, back in those days I didn't want to "work", I just wanted to fish or go shoot BB-guns together. I think that today looking back, I can better appreciate his constant need to "work" and "survive-the-day", and appreciate how he helped teach me to "build my barn before the house".

During our times together, what we worked at depended on the weather, and the needs of that day. Repairs were always seemed to be at the top of the list, and I learned so much from him just shadowing him and running after a tool he called out for from underneath, or on top, of something we were fixing. Something important that demanded immediate attention and ingenuity.

And then sometimes the weather didn't cooperate, and we had to improvise something new to do…...

For instance, one rainy day we couldn't work outside on what we needed to do, so not wanting to let a moment go by that was wasted, we grabbed shovels and started killing the "Sand-burs", those nasty three pronged sticker beasts, that were sprawling all over the barn yard.

It was lightly sprinkling and it felt good to be cooled off in July with a little rain, and I was enjoying a relaxing chore listening to Grandpa tell stories…..when all of a sudden a huge flash of light hit my grandfather's shovel blade. The shovel blade had been struck by lightning! Lightening out of nowhere, just one strike without warning.

I remember at the time, I didn't appreciate the severity of the situation. My Grandfather just smiled, wiped his brow with his blue handkerchief, and said, "…whew, guess it wasn't my time today, good thing I had a wooden handle in this shovel…."

And ever since then I've opted for wooden handled tools over the fiberglass and metal ones. I also learned to look for the good side of things when something bad, or unexpected happens.

Working together on the Farm/Ranch, these projects ranged from tractors to windmills, to broken fences, to sick calves, to stubborn horses, feeding hogs, filling in badger holes, and everything in between. What I remember now is that every project was always something that had to be done in a hurry, with improvised tools and materials…we saved everything, never know when a new job would require it.

With everything, we had to fix it now before it got worse, or we needed it now for the work at hand. Which left little time for making things "pretty" or "artistic", and no time for "fun" most of the time.

He did teach me how to fish for bullheads in a farm pond with grasshoppers or chicken liver. He always preferred the long cane pole, while I opted for hi-tech rod/reels. He caught fish, and I casted hooks fruitlessly most of the time. I didn't figure out for many years that bull heads are often right along the bank, just perfect for a long cane pole to catch.

So, my Grandfather's mark on me was not in artistic creativity, nor in detailed craftsmanship, nor carving, nor in entertainment for leisure's sake. But he did provide me with a sense of frugal perseverance, improvisation, ingenuity and problem solving, the practical things.

He'd just as soon repair a fence by bending over a nail than running back up to the barn to get steeples.

He'd rather fix a loose hammer head with a rusty bent nail as a wedge than take the time to cut a wedge and fix it "proper".

As with his lifestyle, his tools were mostly treated that way also, economical, functional, improvised, repaired quickly, and make-do type things….all with a story and a bit of family history.

So, this hatchet tool isn't financially valuable, but it brings me back to better days when life was full of dreams and aspirations, my whole life ahead of me, and many long hours spent with my Grandfather getting something done in a hurry before something worse happened.

Ok, so that's the tool's past, and now for its future…..

I try to pick something every year to learn about, something of a "hobby" that I do a lot of reading and research about, and spend time understanding a bit about. Mostly I like historical crafts and esoteric things, and anything without a circuit board.

Usually these things involve using my hands, learning to build something, ranging from jewelry to guitars, to chicken & duck coups (last years' big adventure).

This year I'm learning something about "Bushcraft". The need for these skills was evident when I starting trying to camp regularly with my son who is a Boy Scout. Some parents drop their kids off at the meetings, but my son has the burden of having his dad go with him on all of the adventures. I hope someday it will seem more exciting for him than it does now….dad going everywhere with him.

Personally, I don't like sleeping on the ground, fighting mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers, but my son is learning a lot, we are learning more about each other, and I can see how effectively this young-man's program of Boy Scouts is helping him in many ways.

There's been a lot of bad-press about Scouting in the last few years, but I'm here to testify that if get into the program and do the work, it can really help shape kids to take on leadership and learn responsibility, and be self-sufficient men someday.

My son is not a great "Boy Scout" yet, if you base that criteria on the text book definition: namely having a sash filled with merit badges. He doesn't like to read, and so stumbling through merit badge books and writing out answers is about the last thing he wants to do now, maybe just below regularly brushing his teeth.

His hygiene habits are less than I would like, but a couple of weeks ago I was remembered overhearing my Grandfather tell my Mom one day, "….Oh, when he starts to get interested in girls, he'll start cleaning up better, you'll know it when he start to wash behind his ears…."

I remember knowing that he was talking about me, and I remember then thinking, "behind the ears, why would I need to do that, who's going to see that?"

It was a couple more years and I was scrubbing back there hard every day. So, I'm thinking that my kid will also clean up himself soon, I hope. And, "A Scout is Clean", is one of the principles we are learning at the meetings.

Despite the required book work, my son loves camping and learning "bushcraft". So, even though his sash is pretty empty, his skills to survive in the wild on his own are growing fast, and in the end that might be more valuable than patches that go into a storage box someday.

For instance, for our s'mores-family-fun-night this past weekend, my two kids built the fire themselves, and lit it with char cloth and flint/steel. We live in the Flint Hills, and finding a suitable rock to use for a spark is about as easy as spitting and picking up the rock the spit hits….(pretty easy if it isn't too windy). My kids don't play video games, by my choice, but they can now effectively build a fire in the method used by the Colonists….I think that's pretty cool, especially if your matches are wet, and your lighter is out of fluid someday.

So, my preference is to focus on what matters long-term, and make my son do his own merit badge work. I was reading a posting by TV Personality Mike Rowe, an Eagle Scout, answering the question of a frustrated parent asking about how to motivate a kid to do the merit badges, so the kid could become an Eagle Scout. Basically, Mike said that if the Scout is not self-motivated, they should not become an Eagle Scout.

So, that's been my concept since we started Boy Scouts, my son will motivate and earn himself whatever he gets….that's been the theory… and we've had a few setbacks and adaptations to that plan. I seem to have a longer-term vision than he has some days, about what is important to spend his time on.

But, my goals are not just for him to get patches, but to use the Scouting Program as a way to help him learn how to be a man someday, to set goals and work hard, to do his best, help others, and live morally, to depend on God, to be thankful, and be able to teach others what he knows….and if that means he gets an Eagle patch great, if not, that's ok with me, it's his choice. And in the process I want to spend some focused time with him, both of us enjoying our time together and learning something interesting.

Scouting, Camping, and Bushcraft fits in with our schooling as well. We are homeschooling both kids this year, and we picked "Lewis & Clark" as our history core. This has been fun for me, because it involves a period of history that I've enjoyed from the times of my youth watching "Davy Crocket" and "Daniel Boone" on the Disney shows. I was doing Black Powder shooting and camp-craft items before the kids were born, and now I have a parental reason to teach them as well, and the homework is a whole lot more fun.

Since neither of the kids like to just sit and read about history, we go out and try to learn it. Since I also have an interest in crafts, a lot of the school work involves crafting old-timey things, to connect to the history through the crafting of the items.

So, this year we've learned to tan a deer hide, tan a raccoon hide, make turkey wing bone calls, learned to gather tinder, how to pour lead round balls, etc.

In the process of doing something fun they like, they also get to read. When my son wanted to learn to tan a raccoon hide to make a Davey Crocket hat, I made him sit on a stool in my shop and read the instructions to me while I worked on my shop orders.

Then, he had to read about the Lewis & Clark expedition, and the economic benefits to the economy with the fur trade, and the resulting negative consequences on the wildlife and Native Peoples. So, history with a bit of sociology, economics, and crafts, and the kids don't even realize they are learning something, and learning values….it's pretty cool. Still, it's a lot of work for us parents.

I hope they remember and respect the history, but I have two main goals right now, 1) prepare them to be job creators not job takers, and 2) that they can learn anything they want to know from a book or a teacher.

This Spring-Break week a local legend and expert "Larry" is coming to teach us flint knapping of arrowheads. He taught me black powder shooting, powder horn making and scrimshaw artwork before the kids were born, now he's coming back in to teach my kids… that's a treasure for sure.

I included a photo of my son doing some "bushcraft" today trying to build himself a primitive shelter in the yard north of the woodshop. Funny, he thinks that he's on "Spring-Break" and not doing school, and yet I see him doing exactly what I'm trying to teach him. I'm proud of him, he's come a long ways.

This primitive shelter project was his idea, and he worked on it all afternoon. Only discussion we had was that he cut down 14 of my sapling trees while I wasn't watching, and so we "discussed" not cutting down the trees that I'm trying to nurture….never a dull moment.

When going into the house to be consoled at the loss of my new trees, my Wife offered no condolences, "I don't know what you expected, giving him a big knife, and a hatchet, and showing him how to cut down trees, really, what did you expect?"

She won that point, as with many others in the past.

So, now to the "why" for this little "Hatchet" project….

My daughter has been extremely jealous about my son and I going camping so much with Boy Scouts. To her, we seemed to have a whole new language of terms that she didn't speak (i.e. flint, steel, char cloth, kindling, feather sticks, lashing, knots, etc.) and my daughter is feeling left out. I've not been fair to her in the one-on-one time.

So, we started "Dad-Daughter" dates, and she regularly reminds me that it's her time to go with me and do something. And, she tells me when she thinks that her brother has gotten something she hasn't received.
I know there are girl activities in Boy Scouts nowadays.

But, when she's around boys her age, nobody seems to think about anything except smiling at each other, kicking the dirt, and saying "…we're just-talking Dad".

So, to eliminate the distractions she causes to the other Scouts, and my blood-pressure, she's not going along on our camping trips with the Boy Scouts.

But, I'm sensitive to including her in these new skills, and sharing my time with her also. These lessons in Bushcraft have taught all of us, and we are feeling more confident in ourselves and our abilities to survive this crazy world, and finding out how much fun spending time as a family can be during the early teenage years….I just hope it stays this way, is that possible?

With this process of learning to camp, and study history, the need for a back-pack sized "hatchet" for a 14 year old daughter camp up.

I had one, and my son has one, but the girls didn't. Rachel asked for one first, and now after seeing the Daughter's, the Wife also wants one… now I need to make another one.

For my Daughter, I picked out of my collection of rusty hatchet heads, the little "Plastering Hammer" from my Grandfather.

The hammer head works great for tent stakes, and the blade cuts kindling and saplings, and many other things a girl needs while camping.

I apologize for the blade cover, the duct tape in wild-pink was my daughter's request. I made a quick gray duct-tape blade cover for my son's camp hatchet, as all Boy Scout's need a cover for their hatchet before they can carry it in their equipment. I didn't have time one weekend to make up a leather one like I prefer, so I fashioned one quickly for him from duct tape and we headed to the campout with the other boys.

My son later saw "camo-duct-tape" at the store, and wanted that to be used on his blade cover, so we redid it. Then my daughter started asking for her cover to be made in pink-camo, and this wild pink stuff was the closest the store I went to had….and she loves it.

Handle Style….I know for the purists who surf the internet, this style of handle will not fit their structured way of thinking. And, I know they won't read the text, so the text is for the rest of us.

Personally, I like the post-Civil war style arc to axe handles, so I just made up a miniature axe style curved handle sized to fit the little Plastering Hammer head. I made a little template out of thin plywood, cut out the rough shape in some Osage Orange, scrap wood laying around after a walking cane someone ordered many years back…..score another one for the wood hoarder.

"…Use it up, wear it out, do without…." Wisdom given to me from a by gone era.

Thanks for reading along,
Mark A. DeCou

(This text, all photos, project design, are protected by copyright 2015, M.A.DeCou, all rights reserved and protected, ask permission first! Weblinks to this page are permitted)



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285 Posts
LOL! The sapling trick is something I would have done when growing up. Now he gets to plant new trees!

Thanks for the memories. I can remember following my grandfather around and listening to his stories and wondering if I would have stories to tell when I got old like him. Yes, I do have stories and love to tell them to whoever is willing to listen. So much to tell and so little time to tell them in.

I think that all fathers at one time or another would like their kids to follow in their, good, footsteps or be just a little better than themselves.

Thanks for the memories!

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1,408 Posts
Great story Mark. I enjoyed reading it.

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4,477 Posts
Excellent read! You really have a knack for story telling. Your grandchildren will benefit from it one day, just as you benefitted from your grandfather's stories.

My mother's parents both died before she was 20, and my dad's father passed when my dad was 5. By the time I got to know his mother, she was well into her 70s, so I never really got any "learnin' time" with my grandparents.

And that little axe will no doubt be passed along to your grandchildren's grandchildren one day. I wonder if the pink cover will still be with it in 50 years?

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215 Posts
Hi Mark. That is a wonderful story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

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9,143 Posts
Mark: A great story and the kids are sure growing up. I remember the day of the baptism and them inviting me to come back and participate with them.

God bless you and the family. Karson

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124 Posts
im sure that she is going to keep that hatchet forever. It will always have great meaning.

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137 Posts
Ya sure you don't write texas cowboy stories???....You do have a way of talking around the point without exactly saying it….loved the story.


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6 Posts
I really enjoyed chasing rabbits with you. Great thing about chasing rabbits is that sooner or later they circle back to where you jumped them. My son was much like yours while in Scouts with the camping, hiking and canoeing being much more important than advancing in rank and earning badges. He is now a business owner and more importantly, a wonderful father and husband. I also have two daughters who became quite proficient in the outdoors and at life. Keep up the good work with the kids and with the wood. And come take us rabbit hunting again just for old times sake!


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513 Posts
I enjoyed every one of the 4,261 words. I could see my grandfather, also of the depression years. He was the oldest of 10 and I imagine he shouldered a lot of burden for a young man in those days. I grew up just two miles down the road from him and we worked many a hot or cold day together. I lost him when I was 15. I still have a few of his tools and a lever action rifle. His memories and stories have stuck with me the 30 years since his departure.
As you, I have two children coming up quickly, 10 and 8 but both girls. I don't think my wife and I could handle home schooling but we do try to instill those values of self sufficiency and self reliance while still being able to work as a team and accomplish a goal or a mission.
Thanks for the article, I really enjoyed it.