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A new tool to me: stoßaxt/pontache/push axe

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El Barto

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I worked for a chap a couple of weeks ago who used one of these for all his paring and clean up work. It's a German tool called a stossaxt that we typically call a push axe over here, but is also referred to as a mortice axe, half-bisaigue or pontache (and probably other names too). The closest thing I'd seen to it was a bisaigue or a twybill, but still it is neither of those things.

As with so many older tools, it looks very crude but is really beautifully functional. I can certainly see the appeal of that pistol grip after undercutting tenon shoulders on oak frames all day using a normal chisel. I managed to pick up a very nice looking one (1800s apparently!) from eBay Germany that has yet to arrive, but they are still manufactured and can be bought new relatively cheaply here. Unfortunately the bloke who made the example I originally saw is now dead - a great shame as it was particularly nice.

I'm looking forward to trying it!

https://northmen.com/en/products/woodwo ... f-bisaigue
https://www.dictum.com/en/tools-for-car ... tal-708369

 

AndyT

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Fascinating! Always interesting to learn how different tools and techniques survive elsewhere.

I've handled (but not used) a bisaigue and assume that the greater length is so you can use it on timber resting on the ground. Would your tool be used with the timber on some sort of low bench or sawhorses or something?
 

El Barto

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Yes the timber would be on trestles and then you use your body's weight to use the push axe - doing this with a normal chisel handle can be really uncomfortable. It's like an earlier version of the slick in many ways. Here's a guy using one quite low to the ground which I assume was more common in the olden days: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeS0jZ-srT0
 

dannyr

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Last year I met a young Austrian man doing his travelling 'Journeyman' time - he was in the square in a town in the Welsh Marches looking for work and accommodation. Unfortunately I was on holiday and had no leads for him. he was wearing the traditional white shirt and moleskin suit with buttons, and carrying this symbolic (and useful) tool in his bundle.
The French bisaigue is very long and has a blade at each end - pushed by hand and shoulder - again symbolic of the 'compagnons' apprentice/journee/maitre system.
Wonderful how some artisanal systems have lasted.
(I talked to him - he of course also knows how to use a chain mortiser etc).
 

MikeG.

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Fascinating. I'd never heard of anything like this.

El Barto":1xtuj8pw said:
.........Here's a guy using one........
Love how he used the edge of the tool to sight for flatness, even though the tool edge isn't straight.
 

Cheshirechappie

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El Barto":2ilyp63z said:
..... It's like an earlier version of the slick in many ways. ....
That was my immediate reaction to the video, too - or something about half way between an adze and a paring chisel. Because I have no experience of either timber framing or shipwrighting, I have a rather sketchy knowledge of the equipment, but I did once hold a slick and could see how effective it would be as a heavy paring tool, though I gather a slick is intended to be driven by the shoulder and guided by the hands. I can see how the push-axe would be more comfortable to use than a large chisel, since the arm and wrist stay straight; you don't have to crank the wrist to grasp the chisel handle.

It's interesting how different traditions have evolved slightly different tools and techniques, though.

Interesting stuff - thanks for broadening my knowledge a bit!
 

El Barto

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dannyr":2jwelief said:
Last year I met a young Austrian man doing his travelling 'Journeyman' time - he was in the square in a town in the Welsh Marches looking for work and accommodation. Unfortunately I was on holiday and had no leads for him. he was wearing the traditional white shirt and moleskin suit with buttons, and carrying this symbolic (and useful) tool in his bundle.
The French bisaigue is very long and has a blade at each end - pushed by hand and shoulder - again symbolic of the 'compagnons' apprentice/journee/maitre system.
Wonderful how some artisanal systems have lasted.
(I talked to him - he of course also knows how to use a chain mortiser etc).
Ahh this is really cool! That was certainly an unusual and auspicious meeting - I'd like to have met him or another similar journeyman. It's cool that these traditions are still so strong in France and Germany.
 

MikeG.

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Fun little mixture of etymology, there. A journeyman isn't someone on a journey....it's from journee (no accents on this keyboard) meaning day, so it was someone picking up day jobs, or being paid on a day rate rather than a salary or piecework. So you were quite lucky to find a journeyman on a journey. :lol:
 

dannyr

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You're right, but the trad European system of craft progress has one going out on a journey to get those day jobs (or typically longer than a day) in that space between apprenticeship and maitre/meister/master-craftsman (mester here in Sheffield) and in Germany and France it was expected by the guild or brotherhood that one would travel far - there are many romantic illustrations of the journeyman (usually a pair) setting off down the road with staff and bundle.

Oh and the English word journey does, I think, originally come from the French (and Latin) for 'day' - it meant a day's travel, as well as a day's work.
 

El Barto

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dannyr":cfqbeznh said:
You're right, but the trad European system of craft progress has one going out on a journey to get those day jobs (or typically longer than a day) in that space between apprenticeship and maitre/meister/master-craftsman (mester here in Sheffield) and in Germany and France it was expected by the guild or brotherhood that one would travel far - there are many romantic illustrations of the journeyman (usually a pair) setting off down the road with staff and bundle.

Oh and the English word journey does, I think, originally come from the French (and Latin) for 'day' - it meant a day's travel, as well as a day's work.
And aren’t they expected to do unpaid work and travel via hitchhiking or similar means while they are still apprenticing?
 

Droogs

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AES met some a few years ago. The tradition is still alive and well in the south of Germany apparently. Funny how subjects pop up as we were talking about this very fact just last week as he had noticed that my avatar is in fact a woodcutting of those very journeymen and the chaps he met were dressed like it
 

El Barto

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MikeG.":v2xotp27 said:
Fun little mixture of etymology, there. A journeyman isn't someone on a journey....it's from journee (no accents on this keyboard) meaning day, so it was someone picking up day jobs, or being paid on a day rate rather than a salary or piecework. So you were quite lucky to find a journeyman on a journey. :lol:
Just wanted to come back and offer some appreciation for this nugget of information. Cool bit of etymology =D>
 
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