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Viking age axe tutorial

jim austin

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I've spent the last month or so with Jeff Pringle doing some trials on Viking age axe forging. The first of these I posted on the New Work forum about a week ago. In my second and later tries I recorded the processes in pictures as well as I could. I would like to offer the following pictorial sequence as a "tutorial", as it were, of one possible way of forging an axe with numerous, mixed features of Viking provenance which lean toward the Baltic regions. Please understand that my trials so far do not conform to any particular piece or style but include various features that are currently of interest to me for technical, blacksmithing reasons. I usually choose features which seem most challenging to me at the time. Unless this piece somehow rings a bell with someone KNOWLEDGEABLE, I might humbly suggest the designation for this axe of "J.A. Style A" with only 2 known examples, both in West Oakland.


Please note: The pieces are photographed on a 1" grid.


The starting piece in this case was a chunk of 1018 (not pictured) which was ¾" x 2" x 4" and weighed 770 grams. This piece was fullered from the middle toward the haft side – the other half forming the cheeks and beard, giving the following raw forging:


3rd Baxe 01.jpg


The raw, fullered piece was upset to a square end on the haft side and straightened to give the following 2 views:


3rd Baxe 02.jpg


3rd Baxe 03.jpg


Note: the the haft-side cross section is 1" square where the eye-hole will be split and formed. You might also be able to see a series of center punch marks which will guide the split for the eye.


The next picture shows how the eye of the axe has been initiated by splitting and fullering (quite widely) so that a fairly round hole can be formed:


3rd Baxe 04.jpg


The side view of the early axe head shows that the later "ears" of the axe eye have been fullered wide with a hammer pein on the face of the anvil. I have hammered them from the inside with the outer surface of the future eye down on the anvil face. It is very important to fully widen the "ears" at this exact stage because it will be comparatively very difficult to do after the eye is closed.


3rd Baxe 05.jpg


The next view shows the eye scarfed and closed for welding. My eye-welding reliability took a quantum leap forward when I took the time to forge a very solid, conical, vertical welding mandrel which fit tightly into the hardy hole in my anvil. I have not missed an eye-weld on an axe since.


3rd Baxe 06.jpg


The next picture is a side-view of the axe head with the eye welded but the cheeks as yet unforged.


3rd Baxe 07.jpg


After that the cheeks of the axe are hammered out to approximately finished thickness with due attention to the profile of the axe (I like to forge the profile close). I will try to comment on some of the intricacies of getting the profile close with only hammer-work but I don't have any pictures for that yet. Please note that the weight of the forging has dropped by 200 grams to 570 grams at this stage, which includes trimming the blade-side straight (done with a saw). The trim line is visible on the first (vertical) of the next two pictures:


3rd Baxe 08.jpg


3rd Baxe 09.jpg


The next picture shows that the cutting edge side of the axe head has been hot-split with a chisel to prepare it for inlaying a cutting edge of 1070. So far I have used this technique on all of my axes and the full depth of the 1070 from the outer edges to its "root" in the axe body is generally about 1". On this piece the 1070 was forged to a cross section of about 1/4" x 5/8" (rectangular) and then brought to a sharp V on one edge to fit into the chiseled groove.


3rd Baxe 10.jpg


The next picture shows the finish-welded axe with its edge material. It has been ground and filed a bit to smooth the contours. You can kind of see the weld transition of the 1070 to 1018 in the color and texture of the weldment. Please also note the extent to which the edge has curved from the original, straight trimmed edge two pictures ago.


3rd Baxe 11.jpg


The last picture shows the mostly finished axe which has been ground smooth on the edge, normalized 3 – 4 times, hardened, and tempered to about 440 degrees F. The 1070 is clearly visible as the bronze-colored edge-section.


3rd Baxe 12.jpg


Hope you like.


Hello everyone, my name is Jim Austin. I am an axaholic and I have been sober for 20 minutes.

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That's a fantastic tutorial. Thanks for showing all the pictures on a grid - that really helps. I am not sure if you ever came across Mark Asperey's book "Mastering the Fundamentals of Blacksmithing" which is a very picture heavy and step-by-step oriented book on blacksmithing. Your post very much reminded me of it. Now, I will have to try to forge an axe, too :-)



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Well, Jim, you made it through all 12 steps in the program which is already a remarkable acomplishment from the purely clinical standpoint.

Unfortunately, this 12 step program is likely to have a counter-effect on your addiction acording to the experts.

I did some reasearch and there is no cure on sight but some knowledgeable individuals recommend to repeat the 12 step program as often as necessary to keep things under control. Please, do keep us posted on the results if you follow the advise and thank you for sharing.

Enjoy life!

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ooo very nice


looks like you wirewheeled an old artifact...


i'm curious about your mandrel...why vertical.. wouldn't it be easier to have a horizontal style like a bickern.....then you could set the weld by striking down instead of sideways ? or maybe i'm missing something

-do you have a pic of it..


or is that by chance how they did it way back


very interesting post... by the way of your work, your a good smith !





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Thank you for posting these- they're very informative. Can you also post pics of your eye cone/mandrel? That would be awesome.

Kristopher Skelton, M.A.

"There was never a good knife made from bad steel"

A quiet person will perish ~ Basotho Proverb

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i'm curious about your mandrel...why vertical.. wouldn't it be easier to have a horizontal style like a bickern.....then you could set the weld by striking down instead of sideways ? or maybe i'm missing something

-do you have a pic of it..


or is that by chance how they did it way back





I find that it is much faster to get the hot eye joint down onto a vertical welding mandrel than a horizontal one, and this is important when working on this relatively thin material which loses heat so quickly. In addition I find it much easier to move around the work and accurately place my early hammer blows on the scarf ends (first the inside scarf then proceeding to the outside scarf) which is important to thorough welding and blending out the weld seams. While sighting down the mandrel onto the edge of the eye I can monitor the process of welding in real time, although it is EXTRAORDINARILY IMPORTANT TO WEAR EYE PROTECTION when you put your eyes in line with the seam this way. Borax slag has a way of launching upward in line with the mandrel axis and ruined an expensive pair of prescription glasses (instead of my eyes) on my very first experiment with this technique. I was lucky about that. I now wear a full face shield and watch the welding somewhat off axis.


I don't know how Viking smiths might have performed such a weld. I imagine that they might have used quite a variety of techniques in different regions at different times. I hope that gives you a clearer picture.

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Excellent work!


I will try to comment on some of the intricacies of getting the profile close with only hammer-work but I don't have any pictures for that yet.


I was wondering if you could go into this a bit? What issues did you have with the "finish" hammer work? Any tips?




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This is a great tutorial, thanks for posting. Forgive me if this is a beginner question but, how did you do the hot-slitting of the blade to receive the 1070bit? Was it with a hand chisel or a hardy? If it isn't too much, could you go into detail?

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”

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The tools, man, show us the tools! I'd like to see a picture of your mandrill. And how you did the hot slitting for the 1070. Great tutorial, by the way. I will have you know that you just added to my list of "to do" things. Thanks!

No Thor, no hammer.

Know Thor, know hammer!

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Jim (et all)


I wondering why you specifically chose to split the peen end of your starting block, then wrap and weld? This as opposed to cutting down from the top with a slitting chisel, then drifting the eye open.

I had a chance to research Viking Age axes in the collections of a number of the Danish museums in 2008. This included looking at the excellent reproductions of working axes at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. The related project was to create a set of ship building tools for L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC (Parks Canada).



(Something on making the axes)



(Something on sources)



(a collection of axes in the National Museum in Copenhaugen)


Ok - the point is, although not always true, a good number of the VA axes I saw in Denmark (anyway) had thicker peens, often with square outside profiles. The eye shapes commonly were more D shaped than round. Many were more like a boxed in V shape. This suggests to me that most of the axes had the eyes slit and punched.


Now there is a good range of artifact axes, and some samples *do* have more round eyes and thinner, rounded back peens. You also indicated a specific artifact sample that you were replicating.


Although slitting and drifting does have its own problems (!!) I would suggest that method is 'more standard' for Viking Age Ages, really almost a characteristic of the age. The 'wrapped and welded' method looks to become more common into the later Middle Ages, and certainly becomes the standard for NA Settlement era.


Just wonderin'




website: www.warehamforge.ca
Blog : http://warehamforgeblog.blogspot.com
(topics include iron smelting, blacksmithing, Viking Age)

NOTE : Any posted comments may be converted into a future blog article!
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Hey Darrell! Sorry you couldn’t make it to smeltfest this spring...
The project was sparked by finding weld seams on the back of the sockets of period axes, which is interesting for a couple reasons - it is a mostly unknown technique, and it makes for very efficient forging of certain common axe elements while avoiding the short-grain weakness at the poll. The method outlined in this tutorial does not really preclude a thicker back, nor affect choice of eye shape, within reason. It also probably isn’t the most common way to make an axe in the period/area, but that is hard to quantify, not many people are looking for seams there, or would recognize them if they were there.
But now I’m wonderin’, do you have any archaeological reason/source for your suggestion that punching and drifting was the common method, or is that just your feeling based on the socket geometry?

Edited by Alan Longmire

Jomsvikingar Raða Ja!


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