The hatchet is my favourite tool. It is completely intuitive and I can really get into it when I work with it. There are only a few rules which are not that complicated. And otherwise I just go for it – provided that there is a sufficiently big and hard piece of wood in front of me.
Working with the hatchet I use for basic shaping of the sculpture. And its most fun on fresh wood that is still pretty wet. On dry wood I only use it occasionally – apart from getting of the bark, for which the hatchet is best. The most basic rule is: hit the wood at an angle to the direction of fibre, not in line with it. The hatchet is best, when it cuts the fibres. When you use the blade in line with the fibre, it just sticks.
Another rule is for your own good: don’t hold on to it with a firm grip. The hands on the handle give it impulse and direction. But the actual work is done by the weight of the hatchets metal head. When that hits the wood, the grip on the handle should be loose. Otherwise the impulse of that hit travels trough your fingers and your wrist into the arm, through the elbow and right up to the shoulder. Keep that on for half an hour and all these parts of your body will hurt. The god thing about that pain is, that it reminds you of the rule. I still sometimes need that reminder. It helps me to relax.
Hatches can be worked with one or two hands. When working with one hand it is usually positioned close to the head. Otherwise the hatchet would be too heavy. That means there is less power behind the hits, so one-handed work is for details and accuracy towards the end of the hatchet phase. With both hands one can develop a lot of power. One hand is still close to the blade and gives impulse and direction while the other one secures at the end of the handle. When I want to get rid of a certain part of the tree trunk or give a surface in certain drive and I’m still more than an inch outside of the surface I want to end up with, I use both hands.
Other than the knife and hammer, the hatchet allows me to work a broader area of the surface. And the physical feedback of where the hatchet hits, somehow informs me about the shape. I think it works on a subconscious level.
I have two hatchets. One ca. 800 gram and one 300 gram. The bigger one is beautifully made and perfectly balanced. For my taste it could just weigh one or two hundred gram less. I have to train to be able to use it one-handed for longer times without getting tired soon and suffering from aching muscles later. Two-handed its perfect. The lightweight is for softer wood and details, working out a surface more concretely. It was my first tool I bought for sculpture and will always be special to me.