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Viking age axe tutorial

jim austin

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It is 1018 with 1070 edge steel, roughly 17x8 cm and 400 grams, the ash handle is 80cm long with a viking-style wrapped ring of brass wire.

Next, I'll be using wrought and/or bloomery metal (no more commercial steel!), trying to catch up on the techniques Jim has figured out for the Baltic axe sockets... B)

Jomsvikingar Raða Ja!


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After success on a few bearded axes with plain round eye-holes and langets I decided to tackle the complete Baltic axe-eye with a reinforcing back strap over the poll ("Helmdach" in German) which I had a chance to examine in detail from amongst the pieces collected by Jeff. The challenge was enticing and the original pieces were quite beautiful. The next couple of pictures show such an original:


Jeff\'s baltic axe.jpg Jeff\'s axe eye.jpg




This particular piece showed clear traces of scarfing and grain structure which seemed to indicate that the back strap was added as a distinct, separate piece with very interesting geometry. On the outside surface on the back of the eye, the strap had long bloom grain from end to end. On the inside of the eye apparent traces of scarfs suggested that the strap lapped onto the upper and lower (inner) edges of the eye. On reflection it became clear that if the back-strap was formed like a staple and was then clasped over the back of the axe-eye that it could be welded up pretty much like the original that Jeff had. The following pictures will hopefully make this process clear.


First I welded a round axe eye as shown in the previous turorials. Then I scarfed the inside of the eye where the strap would join it. This was done by hanging the edges of the back of the eye over the tip of the anvil horn and hammering directly downward to thin the edges from the inside. As in any structural forge weld such a scarfing procedure helps the strength and toughness of the weld. The following picture shows how the horn of the anvil was used:


Eye Scarf.jpg


Next a simple back strap was prepared with its long dimensions calculated to optimize the overlap of the scarfs from back strap to axe eye. The back strap has two types of scarf. One is used on the ends of the strap where they will overlap the edges of the axe eye. They are simply tapered in thickness to "match" the scarfs on the eye-edges when the back strap is folded and clasped over the axe eye. The other scarf is in the middle of the back strap where it will lap over the back of the axe eye. Here the long edges of the strap are thinned out so that they will blend in with the back of the axe eye as the forge weld progresses. The following picture shows the scarfed axe eye and strap (and an extraneous press die - right).


Dach Scarfed.jpg


The geometry of the back strap is completed by nicking and folding it to form the "staple" shape…


Dach Nicked.jpg Dach Folded.jpg


…which is then forge welded on the ends and bent open to receive the axe eye:


Dach Open.jpg


The open "staple" is heated and placed on the anvil in this orientation. The back of the axe eye is then set into the open arms of the staple and driven down so that the staple flattens out and clasps the back of the eye as shown here:


Dach Clasped.jpg


This assembly is tightened on the vertical mandrel with a few hammer blows, fluxed...


Schmall Fluxed.jpg


...and welded over a conical, vertical mandrel which gives the following results in the raw weld:


Schmall Weldment 1.jpg Schmall Weldment 2.jpg


Schmall Weldment 3.jpg


I had to laugh when this whole rickety, speculative forge-welding scheme worked on the first try. Grinding and filing were required to finish the shape of the back strap.


After this test piece (later made into a narrow axe) the next step was to try the whole sequence out on a bearded axe which the following pictures will summarize. In this case the back strap was simply nicked and folded into the axe-eye in an attempt to simplify the process. However the nick was a little too deep so the folded strap was weak and pretty loosely held during the forge weld, but it worked anyways:


Baltic Clasped.jpg


The eye and back-strap welded up as shown here:


Baltic Weldment.jpg


After the eye was finished the steel was set in place:


Baltic ready for steel 01.jpg Baltic with steel.jpg


The bit was welded and then the axe was ground and heat treated:


Finished Baltic Color.jpg


Here are a few more details of the welded eye:


Finished Baltic Eye Oblique Front.jpg Finished Baltic Eye Front.jpg Finished Baltic Eye Back.jpg


I hope that you found the tutorial informative..

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Utterly astonishing! :blink:


I think that old axe of Jeff's has proved to be the key to these things, that grain structure was a dead giveaway.


Forensic smithing! I love it! B)


Thank you SO much for documenting this, Jim. Once the pile-o-commissions is gone I'm gonna be trying this!

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Don't know if I can pull it off... but I have some wrought iron in the perfect size for one of these ^_^.


Great work.

Edited by Luke Shearer

“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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Jim, I am in awe! You and the other smiths here have certainly set the bar for making axes. I have only made three axes/tomahawks and feel totally inadequate now. :( Thank you very much for your work on this tutorial. Now it's off to mash some iron!

Troy Allen Christianson is NOT a "Licensed Bladesmith" so you may treat his posts with the contempt they deserve.

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a staple... wow


you make it look so easy ...with a nice weld

i can see that it came out perfect... but i know that musta been abit of a pain to set that weld..


excellent tutorial again.. !


thank you very much for the looksee




ps.. that just made my day

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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).

Kevin – As far as I have been able to dig up, the methods used in the Viking Age were the ones outlined earlier, mostly ‘bowtie’ wrap or assymetric wrap with a smaller percentage of the back-of-socket weld and slit-and-drift. For the hammer-axes there is evidence (from Kolcin) that they were made by welding two bars on the ends and leaving the middle un-welded to form the socket, however Pleiner illustrates one of them being punched & drifted.

I expect the slit-and-drift would only be used for axes that have a significant thickness to the poll, or late in the period when larger masses of homogenous metal became available and the short-grain problem became less of an issue. Most of the axes I’ve looked at utilized really coarse iron (as compared to the metal used for knives and swords) for the body of the axe, so splitting would have been a concern, but poking around various museum sites that have photos of artifacts you can find a few axes which have what look like short-grain fracture on the back of the socket, so just because a method may have been ill-advised does not mean it didn’t happen.

Here’s a really beautiful axe with a spectacular failure of the assymetric wrap method, from the SHM:


Gotland – back of socket welds



Jomsvikingar Raða Ja!


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Guy was off his game that day :D

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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  • 5 weeks later...



Fantastic forging process, I really appreciate it, moving that metal around !! Taking the time to share this with us is admirable, it will be helpful to many who want to experiment and move some steel around, thank you.

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For the last Viking Axe tutorial of 2010 I decided to go after the Scandinavian Broad Axe. I have been working on this style for a few months now and have a fairly standard process which the following pictures will try to show. As before I split and wrap the eyes and weld them on the poll. I have gotten very used to this technique and feel that it gives a strong and elegant haft-hole for a reasonable amount of work. Besides, I love forge welding.


Please note: The following picture sequence is compiled from a few different axe trials which used the same basic starting pieces and procedures but differ in slight details.


For the broad axe I up-sized my starting block of 1018 to about 950 grams. To wit, I cut a piece of 1-1/2" square stock 3.3 inches long (this turns out to have the same dimensional proportions as my starting pieces for hammers). I marked the block in the center and reduced one half of it to 7/8" x 1-1/2". The rest of the 1-1/2" square material was also flattened to 7/8" thick but allowed to spread wide and then tapered straight on the edges into a proto axe-form, as shown in the next three pictures:


Broadaxe tutorial 001.jpg


Broadaxe tutorial 002.jpg


Broadaxe tutorial 003.jpg


This form was marked and split on the eye-side to about 1-3/4" cut lenth:


Broadaxe tutorial 005.jpg


I calculate this split length for each axe individually (depending on the exact cross section) in order to put 2.5 cubic inches of metal into the axe eye. The two sides of the eye are opened out, fullered round at the crotch of the split and fullered wide to give enough material for the langets ("ears"). Remember that the width that you attain by fullering at this stage will pretty much define the tip-to-tip width of the langets in the finished axe.


Note: it is now my practice at this point to weld a handle onto the bit side of the axe to keep a secure hold of it during the fullering and welding process. I usually use about 18" of ½" square steel.


Broadaxe tutorial 006.jpg


Broadaxe tutorial 007.jpg


Broadaxe tutorial 008.jpg


The two sides of the eye are then scarfed for welding. Note: before this I slightly shorten the side which will wrap on the inside of the eye (by about ¼"). The side which wraps on the outside needs to be a little longer in order to keep the overlapping material of the two sides centered on the back of the axe. The scarfs are wrapped to a round form with a bit of a rounded groove where the axe eye was originally split (this groove will later center the narrow edge of the eye mandrel when the hole is reshaped).


Broadaxe tutorial 009.jpg


After welding a number of eyes I have concluded that it is best to fit the joint very tightly on the welding mandrel with matching edges from inside to outside. This encourages the weld to take quickly and leaves less cleanup work for later. This is the appearance of the finished welds in this case:


Broadaxe tutorial 010.jpg


Welded eyes side view.jpg


At this point the round-welded eye is ready to be forged onto the mandrel which is characteristic for the Scandinavian axe. This mandrel (shown on page 2 in this tutorial series) is 1" x 1.7" x 9.7" and is forged from 4140. It has a bluntly rounded front edge which will sit into the groove of the eye toward the bit. It is set with a few blows in the hot eye and the sides of the round eye are flattened down onto it. From this point the process is repeated numerous times with the forging alternating between flattening the sides of the eye and flattening the poll of the axe. The result will eventually be nicely rounded sides which follow the contour of the mandrel and a squared-off poll which is fairly thicker than the sides of the eye:


Broadaxe tutorial 011.jpg


To shape all of the langets simultaneously and give the axe a nice contour as seen from the side I use large, matching top and bottom fullers as shown here:


Fuller Eye 01.jpg


Fuller Eye 03.jpg


Fuller Eye 04.jpg


The fullers can be used in many positions to put some nice curves into the axe. Since their use tends to upset and buckle the sides of the eye hole it is necessary to reinsert the mandrel from time to time to straighten them out and maintain the exact shape of the eye hole. The next picture shows the roughly finished axe eyes after use of the fullers:


Broadaxe tutorial 012.jpg


It is important to remember that almost every shaping step performed on the eye increases its circumference. It will grow by small increments at first but the pace of growth will increase as the process progresses, sometimes at an alarming rate when you get close to the large end of the mandrel. It is good to "save" a couple of inches of mandrell length for later use.


After the eye is nearly finished the porter bar is trimmed off and the throat and cheeks of the axe are forged. When forging the throat of the axe thinner near the eye it is very important to insert the mandrel into the eye to protect its form:


Fuller Throat 01.jpg


The cheeks of the axe are fullered wide with the edges forged to take out bulges in the profile:


Broadaxe tutorial 013.jpg


As shown in previous axe tutorials, the front edge of the soft axe body is split to receive a bit of 1070 which is inlaid by the usual forge welding process. The next pictures show the inserted bit and a finished axe:


Broadaxe tutorial 014.jpg


Finish side.jpg


Finish top.jpg


The finished axe is 8" long, has a cutting edge of 6 ¾",weighs 650 grams and rings like a bell.


Happy New Year everybody!

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Wow! This thread just keeps gettting better.


Thanks for the great information and techniques.




"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly." -- Theodore Roosevelt


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Ok, this is the Type L axe of awesomeness!! Jim, thanks for your continued tutorials.


I need to start putting that "Dane Axe Training video" together!! [Meaning on how to use one in battle! :0)]


Best Regards,


Edited by Ted Bouck
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that is easily my favourite axe of the bunch... Jim, you rock !


what a powerful looking axe... timeless


i think your technique and quality of forging is very high.. this is exceptional work





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