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Viking age axe tutorial

jim austin

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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?



(Jeff: I was REALLY bummed out about missing Smeltfest too! Chance to actually meet you personally, and Mike has been absent the last couple of years as well. I'm of an age when finding when a tight band of brothers drifts apart is sad.)


On the axes:


I saw maybe 30 plus individual artifact axes in Denmark - admittedly inside the cases. The only 'back room' visit I managed was at the Viking Ship Museum, and although there were dozens in the tool room, these were all modern replicas, so at best they might inform a bit about overall form, but not necessarily production. These showed wonderful workmanship, most being made by a Scandinavian blacksmith who specializes in tools. (I was given a card, but of course can't find in in my notes!)

Now, I was mainly concentrating on form in my notes. I did take fairly large scale images of all I saw. In some cases the case construction allowed me to get 'edge on' as well as the more typical 'side profile' views. (At the risk of being too mercenary, check my disk "Exploring Denmark in the Viking Age" - http://www.warehamforge.ca/TRAINING/exploreVA/exploreVA.html)


So to answer your question Jeff, that opinion for 'mostly punched' is in fact based on a general feeling rather than detailed analysis. Many of the axes I saw had fairly heavy back peens, yet with thinner material at the sides of the eyes. As I mentioned, I was not seeing the V front to the eyes that seems most typical of the folded and front welded method. (What Jamie nicely called 'bow tie'.) As you point out, I did not specifically look for seam or grain lines. I can see that a healthy overlap on the suggested 'back split and fold' method in the tutorial would create both a thicker peen and distinctive lines. (Hint that I should go back over the artifact images maybe??)


The image is an 'edge on' view of the same grouping from the National Museum as seen in the last post.


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(topics include iron smelting, blacksmithing, Viking Age)

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It would be worth checking your photos, though often as not, corrosion obscures rather than reveals forging details, and many axes were worked skillfully enough to erase seams, unless the corrosion was in a helpful mood. :)

Axes haven’t gotten nearly the amount of attention that pattern-welded swords have, but there are a few archaeologists who have looked at axe construction during the Viking period. Notably, B.A. Kolcin (“Ferrous metallurgy and metalworking in ancient Russia” 1953) and Radomir Pleiner (“Staré evropské kovárství” 1962 and “Early European Blacksmiths” 2006) sectioned artifacts to look at how they were put together, though Kolcin’s sections are almost all taken from the business end of the axe. The majority are of ‘bow-tie’ or asymmetric wrap construction, though both authors mention punching in a couple instances.


A schematic drawing of axes by Pleiner, with this caption:

Fig. 22. Production seams on axes according to the upper surface.

1 - Belgium, 6 to 7 Century,

2 - Morley-Meuse 4th Century (center lap steel),

3 - Lezéville, hr. 200, beginning 6th century,

4 - Novgorod, 11 century. (Welded edge),

5 - Kent, 6 to 8 century. (Welded edge).

White: iron; spotted: steel. 1-3 after Salin, 4 after Kolcin, 5 after Antein.



A Viking age axe from Jutland


Pleiner XXa.jpg

A Viking broad axe from the SHM (http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/include_image_exp.asp?uid=330105 ), with brightness & contrast adjusted – looks like asymmetric wrap to me.


Edited by Jeff Pringle

Jomsvikingar Raða Ja!


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Pictures of Axe Tooling:


A number of people have expressed interest in the tooling used to make the axe in the tutorial. Besides general blacksmith tools this boils down to a set of mandrels for welding the eye and for shaping it. The first picture shows the vertical (straight) mandrel and the horizontal horn which I use in the first stages of eye formation:


2 Mandrels front view.jpg


The second and third pictures show the vertical welding mandrel in the anvil - also with an axe placed upside down on it:


Vertical mandrel in anvil.jpg Axe on welding mandrel.jpg


For scale the vertical mandrel is about 15" long and has a maximum diameter at the base of 1-3/8". I find this mandrel very useful for welding the eye since I can see the scarf I am working on and direct all my blows to weld it most effectively. I find it faster to drop the scarfed eye down onto the vertical mandrel as opposed to shoving it onto a horizontal mandrel (gravity helps). I can weld the whole length of the scarf without changing the position of the axe head, my balance or my footing so that the process proceeds as quickly as possible - very important for thin material such as the axe eye. As far as the power of the hammer blows goes, they do not have to be that hard for the welding process - in fact, at the beginning they need to be rather light, fast and well directed onto the ends of the scarf (inside first then proceeding to the outside).


The fourth picture shows the horizontal horn in the anvil.


Horizontal mandrel in anvil.jpg


This horn is useful in doing heavier hammer operations on the eye where a downward blow is clearly an advantage. It "sticks" very solidly in the hardy hole. If the eye needs to be thinned or the "ears" need to be extended a bit the pein of the hammer can be with this horn quite effectively.


The last picture shows an axe head with a short mandrel inserted in the eye along with a set of smaller mandrels:


Axe with  mandrels.jpg


These mandrels are useful when forging and refining the shape of the eye. The set is graded in size so that larger mandrels can be inserted in sequence as the eye grows. When refining the contours and cross section of the eye it is necessary to preserve the inner shape of the eye. Since the axe must often be turned to work different sides it is nice to have a mandrel which is both short and light. It can be turned easily, doesn't bang into the anvil as much in the process and isn't as likely to fall out as you turn the axe head. When working on the neck of the axe near the eye it is especially necessary to support the eye shape with a mandrel since it can be pinched almost shut even by blows which you might think were far enough away from the eye to avoid distorting it.


Anyways, hope you find this useful.

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Is this a great post or what... ;)


Jim, that is a fine hardy tool... i've just got a couple horizontal bicks for spears but jeez i'll have to try that


for the ears ..i just leave the drift in the socket and pull them out on the flat face of the anvil... but i can see the advantages of your method... no holding onto a burning hot drift


thank you for the pictures !


Jeff, I believe you must read minds... i was just about to ask about historical methods ...sorta of eerie :o


wonderful tooling




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  • 2 weeks later...

Regarding the little projection on the bottom of the beard, all we can do is speculate. It was definitely a decorative element, may have been used to help retain a blade cover, could have had some benefit in fighting technique. :huh:

Perhaps more importantly, Jim discovered that it is a naturally occuring aid in the profile forging of the blade, that helps keep the axe positioned on the anvil while forging on the top to push the upper point of the blade where you want it. B)

Jomsvikingar Raða Ja!


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Marvelous tutorial, and supplementary pix too. Funny, but I might never have thought of bumping up thinner stock to create enough mass to make an eye....I've always used thicker stock and worked the other way, but this actually looks like less work (and automatically creates the "beard", which is handy too). Thanks!


A Viking-axe-eye-related question: while I was studying up on the Mastermyr chest, I noticed several tools present that looked like drifts, and seemed to match some of the axe and hammer eyes as well. The heads "seemed" punched or slitted and drifted to me (and my loose reproductions are made that way, as well), but without the ability to look closely at the actual artifacts I can't really tell much. Can anyone confirm or deny this observation?

My hand-forged knives and tools at Etsy.com: http://www.etsy.com/shop/oldschooltools

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A few days ago I tried out a new "D" cross-sectioned mandrel for forming axe eyes in a typical Scandinavian style. I wanted to test two ideas:


1. Can a round eye be converted to a D-shaped eye by additional, simple hand forging.


2. Can a D-shaped eye hole with a thick back be formed by slightly modifying the forge-welding process which I have been using so far for Baltic style (round eye) axes.


The following two pictures show the results as applied to two test pieces:


Scandinavian eye forum pic 01.jpg Scandinavian eye forum pic 02.jpg


In the first trial (left side)I grabbed an orphan round-eye left over from a failed axe and I forged it down onto the new mandrel. It worked! That eye has an ID of 1" wide by 1.6" long. It doesn't have a thickened back because I was using a left-over round eye which had already been forged fairly even in thickness.


In the second trial (right side) I wanted to establish that the thickened back could be produced by the forge-welding approach to eye formation. Wanting to try the simplest thing first I simply overlapped the scarfs of the weld enough to get heavier material in the back. In the process I discovered that it was still best to form a round eye first and to weld it on the round mandrel. This was actually a surprise to me since I thought that the eye would be approximately D-shaped from the point where it was first closed until the eye was finished. But by the time I had opened, scarfed and closed the hole with a hand hammer it was already round and I had a gut feeling that it would be easier to weld it that way - plus I could use an existing tool (the vertical, conical mandrel) which already has a lot of general purpose applications. After that it was quite easy to finish the eye over the D-shaped mandrel and square up the back. As the picture shows I got a fairly thick back with the increased weld overlap. Now I need to back-engineer the proportions to get a bigger, more beautiful eye.


I hope that this encourages others to experiment with these and other processes for axe making.

Edited by jim austin
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Hi Jim


I'm not sure you have to improve the eye very much... by jeez, that one on the right is perfect


its good to hear about your discovery of reshaping the eye to D shape... normally i'd be abit leary to do it as my experience with hawks and redrifting the bow tie ones can lead it to split abit on the bit side, right where the weld is...

- but this makes good sense on the back of the eye, cause you can work the weld at the same time as you reshape the hole with a drift......


i'd like to try it forsure...


just one odd question.. is their any taper at all to the eye hole.. ..or is the haft just straight


thanks for the super info



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...just one odd question.. is their any taper at all to the eye hole.. ..or is the haft just straight






The eye hole is formed with a full length taper on the mandrel shown in these two pictures:


Sized mandrel side view.jpg



Sized mandrel edge view.jpg


The dimensions of the mandrel are 1" x 1.7" x 9.7" and it is forged from 4140. The eye holes are forged tightly onto it so that they taper with the larger eye opening at the top of the axe. I don't know if this is original but it seems safest in terms of axe function. It would be easy to change. Sooner or later I will cut this mandrel into two pieces and make one or two additional, mid-sized mandrels which are proportional in shape so that I have a progressive series of short and light mandrels which enable me to expand eye holes without using this long, heavy one.


Hope this helps.

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A wonderful informative tutorial Jim, thanks very much!!!! You are giving me axe lust again :D I've stickied this, it's awesome.

Let not the swords of good and free men be reforged into plowshares, but may they rest in a place of honor; ready, well oiled and God willing unused. For if the price of peace becomes licking the boots of tyrants, then "To Arms!" I say, and may the fortunes of war smile upon patriots

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Like everyone else said, this is great stuff. History with exploration and hypothesis testing. Love it. It seems there are multiple ways this stuff can be done. How many of these techniques were actually used (or rather, were there any that were not actually used?). It makes sense to me that different people/places/times would have used chisel-drift method and the scarf-weld method. (and a full wrap-around-overlap and a few others I can't think of).


Thank you very much for showing us all of this. It takes a lot of time to document, and we appreciate it.



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“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” E. V. Debs

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This is a great thread . Thanks .

one of the things it reinforces to me is a different attitude to materials . we come from a start large and forge it down viewpoint . where as most of the axes shown are made from small component parts and then assembled to make a larger product.

You have inspired me to make some more axes .

thanks Owen

forging soul in to steel



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Following the first two (similar) tries at axe forging which gave somewhat narrow beards I used a different approach in order to get a more deeply bearded axe. Simply put, I started with a wider piece of 1018 to "jump start" the beard. The initial dimensions were ½" x 3" x 4" and the steel weighed 770 grams. I marked this piece half way down the 4" length and fullered it from there toward one side to form a shank from which to form the eye. This shank had a cross section of 1.12" x .86" and was split 1-1/2" deep to open it for the eye. The split piece is shown in the following two pictures:


Note: The grid is 1"


Split side view 01.jpg


Split top view 02.jpg


The sides of the split were fullered to widen them for the "ears" of the eye and scarfed for the weld as shown:


Split, fullered, in hand 03.jpg


Split, fullered, isometric 04.jpg


The eye was closed in a circular shape for welding:


Eye wrap top view 05.jpg


Eye wrap end view 06.jpg


The eye was welded on a vertical, conical mandrel shown in the earlier tutorial, giving this result:


Welded eye top view 07.jpg


Ready to trim 08.jpg


The edge was trimmed (sawn) at the white line and split to receive a bit of 1070 as shown in the next three pictures:


Edge splitting top view 09.jpg


Edge split oblique view 10.jpg


Axe with inserted edge 11.jpg


This was subsequently welded as shown:


Axe with raw welded steel 12.jpg


Note the distortion of the beard as it was bent back from all of the forging at the edge.



Here is a detail of the 1070 / 1018 joint:


Edge view of welded edge 13.jpg


The axe was trimmed to a nicer shape and normalized a few times for hardening and tempering:


Finished weldment 14.jpg


The axe was then rough-ground, hardened and tempered to give the final product before sharpening:


Finished 15.jpg


The finished axe weighs 545 grams.

Edited by jim austin
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Keep the tutorials coming Jim!! You and Jeff's work has got to be at the top of the experimental archeology for the manufacture of Early period Norse axes.


The axes in this period ~900 - 1150AD are so varied in size [not to mention shape. Though the Type "L" and the Baltic axes are my personal fav.] and I practice using these in a martial art I do. The question that always comes up for me for the 2 handed axe size is: How long from the haft to edge should they be before they are TO long?, and how much cutting edge is really needed?


I tend to feel a good 7-8" length from haft to edge and ~6-7" long edge is about right. To much bigger, and they really get difficult to wield fluidly.


Having made these and many other axes, what size do you consider powerful, yet fast?


Sincerely, and Thanks,

Ted Bouck

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Hey Ted!

Although it seems like there is a bewildering array of axe sizes & types, there are some rules of thumb from archaeologists that help narrow things down. Kirpicnikov measured hundreds of axes (single-handed variety) from X-XIII centuries, and this is what he had to say, via google translator:


“The most important feature of many battle ax is not the form, but the size and weight… the handle, being, apparently, the same length (average 80 cm), it varied in thickness. Hundreds of measurements show the usual size of battle-axes (with some exceptions): the length of the blade 9-15 cm (3.5-6 in.), the width to 10 - 12 cm (4-5 in.) socket holes 2-3 cm (~1”) in diameter and weight up to 450 g. These measurements are repeated on special military ax types, but somewhat less weight (an average of 200-350 g)…In turn, finding such axes in the mounds of soldiers indicates their military function. In contrast to the military axes, dimensions of the working axes as follows: length 15-22 cm (6-8”)(usually 17-18 cm (7”)), width of the blade 9-14. 5 cm (3.5-5.5”), the diameter of socket 3 - 4. 5 cm (1.2-1.8”), the normal weight of 600-800 g. These axes are often found in the mounds of the peasant as an attribute of the male burial. Of course, there is no absolute dividing line between the size of military and working axes. Here there are deviations in both directions.”


Kolcin wrote about the weight variation between carpentry and battle axes:

“The first type, usually massive and heavy (average weight 850 g) – This is carpenter axe. The second type of axe is lighter (average weight 700 g) - this is the instrument of joiner, cooper. It most frequently adapted as a combat axe. The third type of axe was always logger’s. This type includes the wood choppers.”


If you look at the big Broad axes that were likely used with a longer handle, they are forged out much thinnner, so the weight is probably similar to the earlier axes. Your favored dimensions are about right, though it looks like weight was the primary consideration over exact blade dimensions. That is where the fast comes in, for the power you’ll have to depend on your arms.


Jomsvikingar Raða Ja!


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Jeff, that is a beautiful axe.

Let not the swords of good and free men be reforged into plowshares, but may they rest in a place of honor; ready, well oiled and God willing unused. For if the price of peace becomes licking the boots of tyrants, then "To Arms!" I say, and may the fortunes of war smile upon patriots

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