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Pipehawk - a sort of how-to

Wild Rose

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The following is a series of images and explanations on some of the materials and methods I use for building a smoak axe aka pipe tomahawk.


The late 18th/early 19th century English style head was forged for me by Stuart Willis of www.swillis.forge.com. This is the second head I've had made by Stuart and I can only say they are top drawer – both heads have fit the Dunlap made handles with little fitting - just a 4.5 lb leather maul to smack it into place.


The forged head is made in the classic wrapped method with welded in bit and separate turned and brazed on bowl. Materials are 1018 mild steel for the wrap and 1060 HC steel for the bit. Stuart did all the work on this one including the file work and the turnings on the bowl.


For those who would like to know more about how such heads are made take a look at this link: www.wrtcleather.com/1-ckd/hawks/hawks.html


I received the head in polished, like new condition from Stuart and aged it before deciding to do this thread so therefore don't have a picture of it in the as received state.


The idea behind this piece is that of a fine quality eastern gunsmith made pipe hawk circa 1790 that later went west and had western Indian style deco added to the existing piece circa the 1830's.



The first image shows all of the parts I planned on using – as normal I wound up changing the plan somewhat as I went along:


1) In the background is brain tanned buckskin hide, pieces of which will be used as the base for the beadwork to come.


2) The handle is a fine curly maple pre-drilled blank from Dunlap Woodcrafts in Virginia. While I have made many of my own stems from scratch in the past drilling the hole is always a bit of a nightmare so these days I normally use one of these. For those who don't like to be "limited" by the pre-form shape of these, but want one drilled, R.E. Davis and Company sells a pre-drilled square blank that's also a dandy. Both companies have websites, although Dunlap does not list the stems on theirs so give them a call if interested.


3) Above the handle is a piece of horsetail that will get decorated and be used as a drop also called a banner.


4) On the right behind the stem is a piece of deer rawhide which will cover the grip area.


5) Just below the rawhide is a section of whitetail deer leg bone that will become the mouthpiece.


6) To the left of the head are the two parts for the brass end cap and the wooden clean out plug – in this case the idea for the plug is that it is to be a replacement for the original maker's plug.


7) The rest of the items are copper wire for wrapping the handle, brass tacks, glass pound beads (often erroneously called pony beads), brass hawk bells, gull feathers, and tinned iron cones.








In the next two images I have mounted the bone mouthpiece, scraped the wood to its final finish as was common to the period rather than sanding, , stained the wood with Aqua Fortis, and applied several coats of my own home made period type of real boiled linseed oil and resin varnish. Once done I added some preliminary aging i.e. some scratches, dents, and dings. I add these AFTER the finish is applied since that's how they would occur in normal use. In this case I also added some at this point to represent usage before it was decorated ala the western Indians.


The finish along with the scratches, dents, and dings was then rubbed back with fine washed river sand on a piece of dampened leather to smooth and round off the "sharp" edges plus to show some wear on the finish, adding another preliminary layer of aging. This rubbing back also burnishes/polishes the wood to a degree as would happen with use. I say preliminary aging since once the piece is completed I do the final aging which evens it all out and ages it as it would be when used over time.












Original pipe hawks generally used a buckskin gasket to make a good seal between the head and the handle. On this one I used a piece of braintan since it has good compression and it was handy. I've found the easiest way for me to add the gasket is to use a long, somewhat tapered piece as shown in the following image. Before setting the head I saturate the leather with the same varnish as I use on the handle – I have not done so yet in this picture.








An overall view with the head set and the extra buckskin trimmed away.








In this pic the rawhide grip has been added and carved and the buckskin backing for the beadwork is in place.








An overall view with the beadwork completed, three sizes of tacks added in a spiral pattern, and the brass end cap with cleanout plug installed. The beadwork nor the tacks have been aged at this point.








Here's a closeup of the head, some of the beadwork on the handle, the cleanout plug with beadwork, and the brass end cap. The end cap is made from two pieces – the wrap which is form fitted to the handle and then soldered to the egg shaped cap. The center hole is for the cleanout plug and the cap is screwed in place. The cap and beadwork have been aged.










Here's answers to some questions I've been asked regarding this build:


How did you dye the rawhide?


Depends on several factors but I have used regular leather dye – when doing carving on the rawhide I put the hair/smooth side out so I start by dying the flesh side right after tempering the rawhide when using leather dye. Tempering = soaking the rawhide until completely saturated then laying it out flat on a smooth water proof surface and letting the extra water evaporate off. After the rawhide is attached and carved I dye the outside.


I also use natural dyes such as walnut hull, coffee, logwood, etc. When using these I soak the rawhide in them to temper and dye all in one.






how are the rawhide and buckskin attached? Stitched?


They are both attached with a few spots of glue to hold them in place while stitching - real heated hide glue for the traditionalists, for the non-traditionalist white glue for the buckskin and super glue for the rawhide. The ends are butted together and sewn using the so-called baseball stitch (which can be documented long before the game) or the whip stitch.






How is the bead work attached?


The beads are sewn on. For the first two rows on the outer edges I use the return or spot/appliqué stitch as shown below. The beads used on this piece are French Old Time colors from Crazy Crow in size 8/0 pound beads and size 10/0 seed beads. Nominally with size 8/0 there are 8 beads per inch and with 10/0 10 beads per inch.


For thread one can use


Traditional: real sinew, cotton thread, linen thread, or silk thread which is the best for strength


Non-Traditional: Cotton wrapped poly button thread, nylon carpet thread, Nymo bead thread, or split Imitation sinew.








The upper stitch is the spot or appliqué stitch – the beads are strung on one thread and a second thread and needle tack them down every two or three beads.


The second stitch is the return stitch – go through four beads, back through the leather, and forward again through only two of the four beads, then pick up four more, etc.






For the center rows I just wrap a whole row of beads on at once and go back through the first two or three beads and then tack down to the leather. Continue on.


For more info on beading see: http://www.nativetec...d/glasbead.html






Do the tacks interfere with the smoke hole?


I trim the shank of each tack to length and pre-drill the hole with an an undersized bit to prevent splitting.


For those interested in pre-1870, solid brass,square shank tacks the only current supplier I am aware of is www.thetrunkshoppe.com These are VERY nice but two caveats – they aren't cheap and they are soft so one must be careful with them when setting them.


The tack used on this piece are the less expensive and more available steel shank, solid brass head tacks from Crazy Crow.






The end cap, two pieces, one the wrap, is that one piece that is actually wrapped around the cap or one thick piece with a hole cut out to fit the handle?








Here's a close up of the two pieces – if you look close at the left side on tip of the wrap you can see the soldered scarf joint. I've also butt jointed the tip and then soldered it together. The cap is then soldered to the ring to make the finished cap. Some original caps have an over hang and others are filed flush with the wrap. With a die setup one could make the cap out of one piece.








Here is the finished piece with some closeup shots. Some of the changes made from my original plan:


1) Rather than copper wrapping the handle next to the beaded sections I used 3/8" headed tacks.


2) I used ermine tails and buffalo hair tufts with tin cones on the drop rather than feathers.








Wish I could have gotten a better picture of the wood – there is an original pipe hawk handle that I have often tried to emulate the color and this time I came REAL close………..


















For anyone interested in doing a pipe hawk I can highly recommend the following book available from TOTW


"Instructions & Hints for Assembling Pipe Tomahawks" by G. & A. Gutchess



Chuck Burrows

Wild Rose Trading Co



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There have been lots of Hawks shown on this forum... This one is a really cool variation on a theme... That's for posting all the tips .... great info... this looks like it stepped right out out the history books. Very cool . Nice job on the hawk and the photos too ...Thanks again,biggrin.gif


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nice. what do you use to age the head?

Jake Cleland - Skye Knives


"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe."


Albert Einstein

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Thanks all and glad you enjoyed it.


Alan - Been too busy too post much these days still playing catch-up from last year as well as doing some other things to keep the coyotes from the door........


Jake - I use the bleach and gun cold blue method.

Anyway here are the basics: (this is an AGGRESSIVE etch):

1) Sand to around a 180-220 grit dependent on how deeply etched you want

2) Blue first with Birchwood Casey's Super Blue (not their Perma Blue) and while still wet rub it smooth with 4/0 steel

wool or a scrub pad. Most any kind of cold blue solution will work - the blue acts as an accelerant.

3) Immediately immerse it in straight chlorine bleach for about 2-15 minutes (the less time the less aggressive the

etch). It looks like a rusted nightmare when first taken from the bleach bath. Wash it in hot water with soap and baking

soda to kill the action - a scrub brush helps. I then sand with a fine Scotchbrite pad or 320 emory paper to get the color/look I want - if

you want it to stay real dark use steel wool. You can re-do as often as you want to get teh look you want.

If I want to make it look smoothed/worn as if cared for after the aging I'll buff with a fairly aggressive compund and then re-do the blue/bleach but only long enough to get the darkening effect.


When doing it on a finished knife here's how I do them (I usually age before assembly but sometimes...) - make a

vertical dip tank out poly pipe of the right diameter. File a couple of notches in the top edge to hold the guard

steady. Fill up with bleach leaving enough room for the blade to displace the liquid without overflowing - if need be

top off the bleach up to the bottom of the guard.

The nice thing is this is pretty controllable by watching your time. Bleach alone will work but can take several hours

dependent on how "aged" you want it to be. Not over done - ie without the aging pits this is good tough finish for any

using knife.

Once finished I off the used bleach - it will work a second time but is weaker and takes longer and is harder to control.

If you need any one on one help you can always call.

Best advice is go slow and test on a piece of the same steel - each piece of steel, even of the same batch is different or maybe it's how I hold my tongue biggrin.gif


The fumes can be nasty so use plenty of ventilation and a good mask with a chlorine filter.


Otehr methods I've used to etch are: boiling in vinegar, diluted muriatic acid, salt and hydrogen peroxide.


This method works good on any of the 10XX series and 5160, had trouble with 52100.


Also take a look through the knives and hawks on my site to see the different looks you can get with it. Rather than dipping you can also age only certain areas by applying the blue only to the areas you want. Then soak an old towel or rag in bleach and wrap it so that it touches those areas with some overlap. The method overall is very versatile and is worth experimenting with.

Here are some variations possible:





This is an example of the towel/rag method





Edited by Wild Rose

Chuck Burrows

Wild Rose Trading Co



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Guest JPeaspanen

Great tutorial! Thanks for putting this out there for everyone. I had one question - what do you use to add a patina to the beads?


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