Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) is often quoted for having said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.” The hours vary (usually it’s given as either eight or six hours), but the meaning is that one should spend more time in preparation. The saying is similar to the proverbs “measure twice, cut once” and “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The proverb “time spent in sharpening the axe may well be spared from swinging it” was cited in 1901.
“I heard somebody once say that if he were given five minutes to chop down the biggest tree in all of the northwest, or pay with his life, he would spend three of those five minutes sharpening his axe” was cited in print in 1956. “Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said, ‘If I had five minutes to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first three sharpening my axe’” was cited in 1960.
“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax” was cited in print in 1983. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar wrote in 1984 that Lincoln’s statement was “If I had nine hours to cut down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my axe.” Citations of the supposed Lincoln quotation before the 1950s have not been found.
[This information inc;udes research by Garson O’Toole of the Quote Investigator.]
20 November 1867, The Crisis (Columbus, OH), “Mowing Machines,” pg. 339, col. 4:
The time spent in sharpening knives, oiling bearings, tightening nuts, and the care of the machine is not lost, but is the secret of success in doing good and satisfactory work.
(...)—Cor. N. H. Mirror and Farmer.
The Times and Young Men
By Josiah Strong
New York, NY: The Baker and Taylor Company
Time spent in sharpening the axe may well be spared from swinging it.
29 August 1903, The Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA), “The Press on Education,” pg. 4, col. 2:
It is a homely saying, but a true saying, that time spent in sharpening the axe is well spent.
Old Fulton NY Post Cards
19 June 1916, Buffalo (NY) Evening News, “The Boy or Girl That Quits School” by Dr. Frank Crane, pg. 6, col. 4:
Don’t hustle. Think!
An ounce of intelligent getting ready is worth a pound of fussing.
Time spent sharpening your axe counts as ten times of hacking and hewing.
American Pomological Society
I heard somebody once say that if he were given five minutes to chop down the biggest tree in all of the northwest, or pay with his life, he would spend three of those five minutes sharpening his axe; and I think that’s the thing to do.
Roads and Streets
SHARPEN YOUR AXE
Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said, “If I had five minutes to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first three sharpening my axe.”
8 February 1962, Port Arthur (TX) News, “Time Out” with Corlis Holt, pg. 16, col. 1:
Royal (football coach Darrell Royal—ed.) recalled “in Washington I met a lumberjack who said that if he were given five minutes to chop down a tree or lose his life if he failed to do so, he’d spend three of the five minutes sharpening his axe.”
17 January 1963, Anderson (IN) Herald, “Folklore” by William Wade, pg. 4,col. 8:
American Saying: Time spent in sharpening the ax is saved in chopping the wood.
26 February 1963, Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), “Wows Ute Banquet” by John Mooney, pg. 15, col. 6:
“PREPARATION—If a woodchopper was given just five minutes to chop down a tree or lose his life, he better spend three minutes sharpening his ax.”
(Spoken by New York Giants quarterback Y. A. Tittle.—ed.)
By Robert G. Allen
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax.
— ABRAHAM LINCOLN
Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale
By Zig Ziglar
New York, NY: Berkley Books
This supports Abraham Lincoln’s statement “If I had nine hours to cut down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my axe.”
Extraordinary Investments for Ordinary Investors:
Choosing the Best from the New Money Packages
By Wayne F. Nelson
New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Abraham Lincoln said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax.”
Project Management For Dummies
By Nick Graham and Stanley Portny
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
US president Abraham Lincoln put it well when he said: ‘Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.’
Lincoln’s Quotes and My Limericks
By Thomas R. Wallin
Xlibris Corporation (Xlibris.com)
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
(If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.)
Just like...measure twice and cut once…
Or a stitch in time saves nine…
Planning and preparation, even in a crunch,
Will always save time.
The Abraham Lincoln Blog
TUESDAY, MAY 25, 2010
Lincoln Never Said These Life Lessons
For example, one so-called “quote” presented on the “7 Must Read” site which Lincoln supposedly said is: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend four hours sharpening the axe.” Great advice, right? Preparation is key to success. Problem is, Abraham Lincoln never said any such thing. A simple search for “sharpening the axe” on the website of the Collected Works comes up empty.
The Basics of Hacking and Penetration Testing:
Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing Made Easy
By Patrick Engebretson
Waltham, MA: Elsevier Inc.
The guys who created Backtrack Linux are fond of quoting Abraham Lincoln who said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four of them sharpening my axe.”