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Viking age axe tutorial


jim austin

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That is sweet, but now I need someone to craft one with a hollow handle to use as a flask for those of us who imbibe a different spirit :D

Tim

 

Experience is the best teacher, especially when it's someone else's experience.

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In March I started to push the envelope on blade size - especially edge length. My goal was to produce some large-bladed but light "fighting" axes. This led first to an axe with a 9.25" edge:

 

9.25 inch right front oblique.jpg

 

This will be one of my production axes. As shown here it has been heat treated but not ground to a sharp edge. It weighs 685 grams.

 

Pushing further produced a heavy-edged axe with an edge length of 11.25":

 

11 inch monster right side.jpg

 

This axe weighs 790 grams.

 

In both these cases the key to gaining edge length was inlaying the 1070 edge earlier in the forging process when the edge of the body was still relatively short and thick (about 1/2"). This is more in line with the standard process of forging an inlaid-edge axe, and keeps the weld joint from getting too long and unmanageable. In both cases the steel bit was also forged to 1/2" thickness (specifically 1/2" x 1") prior to forging out one edge to a sharp wedge. In the case of the heavy edged axe the joint length was 5" prior to welding and I welded it 8 times (4 times each on both the right and left sides) to insure an inclusion-free weld. A noticeable feature of the early bit inlay followed by a lot of edge fullering and flattening is that the weld joint assumes a very wavery, watery character which I find attractive. Axes which are inlaid closer to the final edge thickness tend to have very straight weld joints.

 

Both of these pieces are forged close to the final shape prior to grinding. This is especially important with respect to the front of the blade where I want the forge-weld joint to parallel the cutting edge. For me this is an aesthetic hallmark. From the point of bit-welding to the final flatting of the blade the thickness reduces from 1/2" to 1/8" or even less. It requires very careful fullering over many heats to spread the mass of the blade to a close outer profile. Yet despite all of the attention required there are no tricks to the process. The key is to follow textbook blacksmithing, go slow on the hardest parts, and gather experience.

Edited by jim austin
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  • 4 weeks later...

Going back an axe for a minute, I went looking for the original Öland axe in the SHM collection and found three!

Historiska museets

22917:241A yxa

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/include_image_exp.asp?uid=28831

27296:6 yxa

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/include_image_exp.asp?uid=304656

25787

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/include_image_exp.asp?uid=239812

This one is the least rusty:

SHM25787.jpg

Jomsvikingar Raða Ja!

http://vikingswordsmith.com

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  • 2 weeks later...

Over the last month or so I have been experimenting with asymmetrically wrapped and welded axe eyes. This method seems to have been fairly prevalent in the Viking era based on recovered artifacts. Here is a copy of an earlier image which Jeff brought to this thread – a kind of "self-exploded view" of the method:

 

Gotland blown weld.jpg

 

The proportions of both the outer- and inner- contours of asymmetrically wrapped eyes include a fairly wide range of shapes. What I wanted to focus on was a kind of "universal" technique which could reproduce the most difficult-to-forge features found in some of these axes, but also be modified in simple ways to produce other proportions found in the langets, polls, eye cross-sections etc., of historical pieces.

 

To start with I drew up a list of what I thought would be the most difficult features to combine in a single asymmetrically welded axe eye. These included:

 

1) A very thick poll and proportionately thin side walls

 

2) Straight, flat faces on the sides of the eye and the poll – not the curved faces typical of my previous, light-weight axes

 

3) Sharp corners and straight edges bounding the faces around the eye

 

4) A large radius on the front side of the eye hole with a nearly invisible weld seam

 

5) Pronounced langets next to a fairly narrow throat and poll

 

All-in-all I wanted the welded eye to look fairly close to an eye which might have been punched and drifted. I also wanted to keep the required tool-set fairly small and avoid hot cutting if possible.

 

My early attempts all revolved around fullering flat material to obtain the differing thicknesses required in the poll, the side walls and the welded area. I then bent the fullered bars to pre-form the eyes and welded them – sometimes adding small wedges of metal to try to fill the clefts often left inside of the eye at the weld joint. These attempts all seemed kind of laborious and, given the features I was after, mostly fell short, as can be seen in these trial pieces: (These were the good ones. Interesting side note: no mandrels were used in forming these eyes)

 

smalller Various asymm eye trials welded.jpg

 

I needed to find a more direct and effective path to the eye and I got it by taking a more brute-force approach. In the next stage of the experiment I took a bar of 5/8" x 1-1/4" mild steel and simply bent the end around to give enough material for an eye and some overlap for a weld. I then forged the bent end over a piece of 3/8" x 1" flat mild steel until the weld zone was pressed together. The flat bar (i.e. mandrel) gave me a start on the eye hole. In the trial shown here I also inserted an upset piece of ¼" flat bar to fill the tapered void left where the eye closes down to the weld seam. This is the assembly before welding:

 

Asymmetric wrap trial pre weld.jpg

 

It has been squared up around the outside of the eye before welding. The advantage of this welding assembly is its relative heaviness (it holds its heat well during the weld). There are also no thin eye-walls to burn away in the welding fire (coke in my case) as there would be in a more fully-developed eye. I welded up the assembly over the base of my anvil horn to get this result:

 

Asymmetric wrap eye welded.jpg

 

In this particular trial I used a drift meant for hammer-head forging, so the eye came out as an oval slot instead of the D-shape which I should have done. No matter, I got the heavy poll, flat faces and sharp edges I was looking for. The langets were forged out on the drift after the welding was completed. I found out that you must never drive the drift tightly into this type of eye to enlarge it, as this is a pretty sure way of splitting the weld. The eye is enlarged by fullering (i.e. peening) the sidewall- and poll-material against the drift, thereby drawing it longer and wider. You will find that the tapered drift goes further into the eye each time that you do this. After a number of quick passes the eye will be large enough.

 

I finished this trial up as a small axe along the lines of a Peterson Type I axe as shown here:

 

Type I right side lorez.jpg

 

Type I rear top oblique lorez.jpg

 

Type I front bottom obliique.jpg

 

It will be excellent for splitting up kindling wood.

 

Clearly I have to do some work to develop this basic approach. I'll need to make a proper drift for the next trial and eliminate the ¼" thick middle layer for a better weld. I will also have to start with heavier material to make any sort of larger axe. That's where this is headed and I hope to provide more information soon.

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you are creating a one man anthology of axe making.......

its all good...

now find some wrought iron!!

forging soul in to steel

 

owenbush.co.uk

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Owen said it best,about the anthology,and i'd like to thank you,Jim,most sincerely for all this wonderful work.

I've not much to contribute and just have been reading all your thoughts on the subject with greatest interest.The very direction of your inquiry is extremely valuable,the questions and the reverse-engineering challenges that you pose.

I've not done much about axe-making of late(and without doing the thinking never works),but have come across some curious data here and there.Nothing too interesting,or worth posting about,more like some loose thoughts.

In reading some russian and other n.european resources relating to the restoration of historic woodwork/wooden buildings,i've come across some interesting logic as relates to the shape of an axe-eye,for one.I can't help thinking that at least some of the journey of rediscovering info about norse axes lies through the woodworking methods(i realise that you were joking when attributing that axe with the floral element to a worrior,but just couldn't help thinking how very like a carpenter it would've been to fancy a tool like that!).

There seems to be an ever expanding field of study of old wood joinery,the marks that the original tools being quite distinct and telling.

And,much of it survives in a number of subtle ways unto even today.

As a very loose example here's a(well-known) video of a couple of smiths making an axe.What's (to me)is very significant about it is that this particular tool is purposed specifically to a certain type of joinery.Which is attributable to specific region as well as the time period:

Again,just idle and humble thoughts,mostly just wanted to express my deep regard and appreciation for everything that you've done,and shared.

Thanks much to Jeff,too,and i still entertain a humble hope for a visa to the lower 48.

Best regards,Jake

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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Hey Jake!

I don't know that Jim was joking about the axe's warrior association; apparently the smaller, highly decorated ones were the fighting axes, the woodworking tools were heavier and less likely to get gussied up. ;)

What did you find out about the functional aspects of eye shape? I agree that there are clues in the geometry of the axe styles that can tell us how they were used & what they were designed for, and to really understand that we need to be using them to shape some timber B)

Jomsvikingar Raða Ja!

http://vikingswordsmith.com

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Darn it,Jeff,all's darkness on my end so far...I'm quite lost in a bunch of documents,most leads ending nowhere.(And really,other than an intense interest in axes and my command of Russian,i've not much going for me as a researcher...BTW,i've recently sent you guys a funky old paper on Ural metalworking 5000 years ago,i'm afraid that it leads nowhere-that mention of a match to the worrior burial/skull wounds matching the axe-blade cannot be tracked down further,plus the whole thing is pre-iron,copper socket-handled axes).

 

There's some renewed interest in old timberwork in Northern Europe in general,it's getting to be more in-depth.The sites in N.W.Russia,such as Kizhi monastery complex,are now under UNESCO auspices(of course,all those areas are the inheritors of the eastern,"Rus" part of viking expansion).Some stuff's coming to light,but precious little.Like i said,the study and classification of marks left on wood by cutting tools is underway,possibly allowing for some reverse-engineering studies.

Not too long ago the restorers reconstructed one funny-looking axe,very short-bladed,intensely wedge-like,with a concave-ground edge.Purposed to make a peculiar stroke within the confines of a round-notch.

 

Eye of a woodworking tool would generally need to admit less wood volume,but be more rationally shaped,streamlined with the shape+balance of tool.Only some very crude/general work axe can have a fat,D-shaped eye,especially without the counterbalance of some poll(that's how most russian village axes were shaped,unto the Soviet era).

The two crucial actions performed by woodworkers of the past were hewing(=planing),and splitting.Both would require as narrow of an eye profile as practical to forge,unto even the skewed to the one side job.

Also important is that area right in front of eye:We all know how difficult it is to refine,in woodwork,any extra concavity would not be very handy.

 

All in all,i see it as an extremely thorny issue:A worrior needed a well-balanced tool,so did a carpenter(imagine,how much longer the woodworker spent at his task,vs.the intense battle episode).The top of the blade steering upward,as in the Danish type axe is also usefull in clearing(crap doesn't snap back at you).The thickening of the edge,also seen in Danish axe,is still,today,employed in a German-type broad-axe,for balance...

 

I'm afraid that i'm not saying much here...And yes,trying to use different axes on wood,hewing surfaces especially,would be very educational.Splitting wide planks,as for lapstrake in drakkar const.,too,though wood or metal wedges were used in part in this.

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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Eye of a woodworking tool would generally need to admit less wood volume,but be more rationally shaped,streamlined with the shape+balance of tool.Only some very crude/general work axe can have a fat,D-shaped eye,especially without the counterbalance of some poll(that's how most russian village axes were shaped,unto the Soviet era).

The two crucial actions performed by woodworkers of the past were hewing(=planing),and splitting.Both would require as narrow of an eye profile as practical to forge,unto even the skewed to the one side job.

Also important is that area right in front of eye:We all know how difficult it is to refine,in woodwork,any extra concavity would not be very handy.

 

All in all,i see it as an extremely thorny issue:A worrior needed a well-balanced tool,so did a carpenter(imagine,how much longer the woodworker spent at his task,vs.the intense battle episode).The top of the blade steering upward,as in the Danish type axe is also usefull in clearing(crap doesn't snap back at you).The thickening of the edge,also seen in Danish axe,is still,today,employed in a German-type broad-axe,for balance...

 

I'm afraid that i'm not saying much here...And yes,trying to use different axes on wood,hewing surfaces especially,would be very educational.Splitting wide planks,as for lapstrake in drakkar const.,too,though wood or metal wedges were used in part in this.

You're speaking volumes Jake. Ultimately it's going to be hard to tell whether an axe is a tool, weapon, or both. I've seen some examples of the German broad-axes that you mention and I agree, they look just like the edge of a Dane axe. What are your thoughts on the "helmdach" like Jim showed earlier in this thread? What's its functional role?

Edited by Myles Mulkey
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Myles,like i said,i know so little that it's not even funny...In this case i can only pass along some internet gossip,for what it's worth(and i hope that these last few posts don't mess up Jim's EXTREMELY VALID thread here,and that it's ok with him...).

 

Someone i've conversed with on occasion,Bogdan Popov,makes it somewhat of his specialty to forge the very article,the "helmdach" style axe.

He makes a very special point of forging it out of one piece,for which he uses some VERY refined bloomery iron(at least on one occasion the material came from Mr.Fernando Nava.Bogdan warned me about attempting it with the crude,US Navy-grade wrought that i usually work with,not refined enough by a long shot).

The material is not the main issue,though.Bogdan holds a degree in history from Kiev U.,where he often works and teaches,and is a scholar of the archeometallurgy of his region.(Kievan Rus,as distinct from Novgorod(1000 km distant),was an agrarian culture very unlike the manufactury/trade-based,war-like,having much to do with the viking movements Novgorod).

Bogdan seems to ascribe the "helmdach" specifically as stemming from the needs/material avail.,working methods,et c.,of the agrarian commune culture of the Ukranian plain...Go figure!!!

Yet once AGAIN,i'm but name-dropping here.I have built a few log homes,participated in a couple of timber-frames(where the main tool was a 12" Makita planer,most traditional,i tell thee),and this is part of the reason why i seem to want to inject that devil's advocate's woodworker's view on axes.That,and my great love of axes,to which Jim and Jeff's great endeavor contribute hugely.Maybe i should just be quiet here,and listen.

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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Yes,Bogdan also made a very strong point of 1.,it being a definite compression-fit,and,2,how much extra support it provides for the haft.He seemed to've test-driven his helmdachs on the general,clearing-type jobs.Hafted them very long,too,uncommonly so,looked to me.

 

I must admit that i'm greatly puzzled by it all.Not sure at all how that extra support would contribute,but mostly,the puzzling ROUNDNESS of haft.What task can possibly require a round haft?Even the pick-axe handle is slightly oval...

(I've a splitting maul that i've welded a pipe into for a haft.That thing is a disaster-to keep it oriented correctly takes a significant extra effort,mental and physical both... :blink: ).

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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great tutorial and great bladesmith!

NEC SINE MARSIS NEC CONTRA MARSOS TRIUMPHARI POSSE(Appiano 146 a.C.)

 

 

www.americanknives.it

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I must admit that i'm greatly puzzled by it all.Not sure at all how that extra support would contribute,but mostly,the puzzling ROUNDNESS of haft.What task can possibly require a round haft?Even the pick-axe handle is slightly oval...

(I've a splitting maul that i've welded a pipe into for a haft.That thing is a disaster-to keep it oriented correctly takes a significant extra effort,mental and physical both... :blink: ).

Hey, someone who dislikes a round handle as much as I do!

:D

George Ezell, bladesmith

" How much useful knowledge is lost by the scattered forms in which it is ushered to the world! How many solitary students spend half their lives in making discoveries which had been perfected a century before their time, for want of a condensed exhibition of what is known."
Buffon


view some of my work

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have found the asymmetric wrap method for forming axe eyes to be fascinating and have turned out a number of pieces with this technique. Many of the original axes that Jeff has collected show clear traces of this technique so it seems fairly compelling to follow up on it to see what it can yield. One style of axe which particularly appeals to me, for which the asymmetric wrap method would be appropriate, is the Petersen Type L axe. I finished one up today (hardened and tempered it but not sharpened) and took a few pictures of it:

 

Mini L side.jpg

 

Mini L rear.jpg

 

Mini L top.jpg

 

This axe is 2.35" long, has a cutting edge length of 1.5" and weighs 37.5 grams. As usual, the body is mild steel and the bit is 1075.

 

Mini L in the hand.jpg

 

I was kind of surprised that it actually worked.

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That's fantastic,Jim!What a hand with a hammer you are-amasing... :o

 

Check these out,just for grins.(These are both real finds,from around Kiev,Ukraine,accompanying objects dated 9-11 c.c.)Nobody can figure out just what they are...Maybe you've gained an insight into this?! :ph34r:

130761952603006793.jpg

130769013317008875.jpg

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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Nice Pics, Jake. Antoine, I think that "toys" is a reasonable guess, and I would assume that a child given such a toy would be expected to develop skills with it. As for my own experience in forging a tiny piece, my intuition said that it was a good training exercise. My mind went through all of the usual steps in developing the shape and function of the piece and I was intensely focused on every hammer blow, but I used only a small fraction of the resources in making it. A slightly larger piece, such as in the pictures provided by Jake, would make a better exercise. On the other hand, a smaller piece (maybe 60% of the size which I just made) would make a far out piece of jewelry!

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