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Viking age axe tutorial

jim austin

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Jim,you are so incredibly careful,and competent,even in an exercise,you have my utmost respect.

Antoine,i don't think anyone knows what these are,it's anyone's guess:Toys?Toys with a training purpose in mind,as Jim says?Ritual objects,amulets?(Salesman' samples? :) )

But they're quite common in finds,surprisingly,and the context differs so widely that it's an open question.

This is where i've pilfered the photos:http://domongol.su/viewforum.php?f=1

Sorry to post stuff without reference.It's one of the russian amateur archaeologist' sites,and people write there asking for help with attribution of artifacts.

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

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Yes Jake, just a guess :)

They just reminded me of miniatures hoes I saw in a display at les Forges du St-Maurice near where I live.

Labeled as toys, they were very well made and as far as I could tell, using accurate construction techniques; just very small, about 2 inches.

But sailors also made miniature boats for churches as votives object to bring them and their crews luck so....

They are very nice.

Thank you Jim for taking the time to document your work so well, this post shows very nice work, impressive!



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Antoine,thanks,the boats reference is an excellent line of logic that tells us about the possible reasons for miniturisation of many significant objects,historically.


I'd also like to join you in thanking Jim for an insight into all this marvellous inquiry,the study,of axes.It's unparalleled,as far as i'm aware.


Jim,i forgot to ask the most important question:What attracts you and Jeff to the assymetrical wrap vs the symmetrical one?Have you guys any thoughts about the differences between these two?(Casual question,Jim,and only as time allows,as i know you'll tell us yourself all that's pertinent anyway,as your thinking follows through these processes).

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

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I recently fulfilled an order for a Type G axe from a customer in New Zealand. The customer expressed his interest to me about 2 months ago just as I was within reach of figuring out the asymmetric wrap technique for forming an axe eye. This kind of lit a fire under me to get it worked out, and the first result of this was the Type I axe I posted here a little while ago. The next step was to make a new mandrel to suit the forging technique. I made the mandrel with broad, flat sides to assist in drawing wide langets. The axe for the customer is shown in the following pictures:


Type G side.jpg


Type G top back oblique.jpg


Type G blade left front.jpg.jpg


Type G bottom back.jpg


Type G bottom front oblique.jpg


The axe blade was about 8 5/8" long with an edge length of 5 7/16" and a weight of about 900 grams. Again, the body was of mild steel and the bit was of 1075. Thanks for looking.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Here is another Type M axe which I forged recently. This piece was forged from the same starting piece as the Type M which shows up on page 7 of this thread. In this axe, however, I put more material into the heavy edge and it changed the overall shape of the blade. With less material apportioned to the thin section of the blade it came out with more dramatic curves as the blade was drawn wide. This was a difficult piece to keep under control during the development of the profile of the blade. The shape of the edge went through some pretty weird contortions mid-way through the forging and for a while I wasn't sure I could save it (it was W-shaped at one point). I definitely had to dig myself out of a few holes with slow, methodical forging to get nice curves.


Type M side view.jpg Type M top oblique.jpg



The axe is forged from mild steel and 1075. It has an edge length of 11.1" and a width of about 9.5". Its weight is 790 grams.

Edited by jim austin
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incredible, leaves me speechless!

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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I thought I would go into more detail on one possible procedure for welding an asymmetrically wrapped eye. I just tried this out again to get some more practice on this version of the technique. The goal was to produce a larger Type L axe. I began by forging out a bar of 3/4" x 3" mild steel about 6" long and welding a handle onto it. I then marked off 2.5" of the bar to forge down into a straight tang with a cross-section of 0.60" x 1.5" which was 5.6" long (after a small trim in the length). In the side-view you can see that the wide section of the bar was stepped down to the tang-width in a short taper. Two views of this form can be seen here:


Type L 001.jpg


Type L 002.jpg


Notice in the edge-view that the thickest point of the material is at 6" from the end of the tang. This is a very important feature since it defines where the end of the tang will be positioned after it is bent around in preparation for forge-welding.


The tang is then bent a bit loosely at 180 degrees so that the end of the tang is positioned as mentioned:


Type L 004.jpg


Type L 003.jpg


At this point a good heat is taken on the bent tang, a mandrel (rectangular cross-section 0.43" x 1. 12" with rounded edges) is inserted into the cleft and the tang is flattened onto the mandrel in the power hammer. This impresses the cross-section of the mandrel into the bend of the tang as shown:


Type L 005.jpg


The effect of this step is to begin forming the axe-eye in two ways. First, it leaves a void in the doubled tang-material (later to be forge-welded). This will replace slitting a hole in solid material in order to start the eye. Second, it begins to widen the material at the eye which will help to form the langets. This can be seen here:


Type L 006.jpg


Pay special attention to the fact that the end of the tang coincides with the thickest part of the body of the axe (refer to the previous edge-view). During the forge-welding this is very important since you will be delivering a lot of blows to this point to seal the weld where the tang blends into the body - one of the hardest things to accomplish during the weld. If the body of the axe is not left extra-thick here it will end up being too thin after the weld is done and it will not be possible to obtain a wedge-shaped axe with flat sides.


Now for the tricky part. The proto eye-form is re-opened to expose the interior of the eye:


Type L 007.jpg


Type L 008.jpg


This allows a lot of work to be done on the eye from the inside. For one thing the side-walls of the eye can be forged thinner on the anvil face using a set-hammer. This willl simultaneously increase the width of the eye and form bigger langets. Perhaps more importantly the material at the ends of the eye-hole toward the blade can be upset with a narrow fuller to give sharp corners which will seal together when the eye is welded and thereby eliminate the cleft which often forms at this point. This can best be understood in the following pictures where the eye has been re-closed:


Type L 009.jpg


Type L 010.jpg


The next step is to weld the eye. I do this in a freshly prepared coke fire. The heat must be run carefully in order to get the heavy body of axe ready to weld at the same time as the scarf-end of the tang. I use a heavy hammer to weld the joint and take 4 - 6 heats to complete it. I pay a lot of attention to the outside of the joint where the end of the tang blends into the body of the axe. When performed properly both the outside and the inside of the eye-weld will become almost undetectable. Here are some pictures of the completed eye-weld:


Type L 011.jpg


Type L 012.jpg


The eye was finished with a mandrel to expand it to its final shape and dimension (the same mandrell as used on the Type G axe shown above). The blade of the axe was forged out and the bit was inlaid in the usual way to give the following result:


Type L left side reveresed.jpg


Type L top rear oblique.jpg


Type L top front oblique.jpg


The axe is forged from mild steel and 1075. The edge length is 5.25", the width is 9" and the weight is 905 grams.

Edited by jim austin
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another beauty!


I love how the welds are seamless ....


i would have thought that you'd have trouble lining the eye up with center of body.. due to the added thickness on the body than the tang (weld area)....


but then, you do make this complex forging look easy... i'm sure it wasn't an issue


again, wonderful work




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Before I head to Ashokan I wanted to mention that my first DVD tutorial is now available (51 minutes). It covers the methods that were developed on pages 1 - 3 of this thread (the split-and-wrap method of forming an axe-eye). It is described better in the topic "Forging a Viking Axe: New DVD" in the forum Books, Videos, and other Media which you can link to here


Small Front DVD cover.jpg Small Back DVD cover.jpg

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Hey everyone,

I’ve watched this DVD, and it is EXCELLENT! The video is sharp, clear and well-lit, and Jim’s commentary calm, accurate, and complete. No critical steps are left out like you see in many “how to” videos, where “...and then a miracle happens”. Having taken Jim’s axe-making class (see result below), this video includes everything we learned and more, and serves as an excellent refresher each time I watch it. Kudos to Jim, his patient and skillful striker, Pavel, and the film-making crew. Get it – the price is a bargain for the learning you’ll gain.


Student and hobbyist blacksmith, no other affiliation...

P1050154 sm1.jpg

Edited by phiba
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  • 2 weeks later...

Jim Austin gave me a copy of his Axe DVD while at Ashokan and I have to say that it is really well done. Mark Aspery helped with the filming and it is clear, complete and very professional. Jim put a lot of effort into making this tutorial so that all stages of forging are shown, tooling is explained, technique demonstrated completely. I highly recommend getting this DVD from Jim. Wonderful.

Don Fogg

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  • 2 weeks later...

One of my recent efforts has been to develop a step-by-step procedure for forging a smaller axe which could be done without resorting to power tools - using only a striker and traditional blacksmithing tools. Besides making a good tutorial (online and DVD) such an axe would be great for demonstrating to audiences at blacksmithing conferences and the like. Getting back to demonstration blacksmithing is one of my goals starting from mid-2012 and is something that I haven't done in well over 10 years. The following axe is in the size range that I am trying out:


Type L with Khoftgari.jpg


This piece was done with the asymmetric wrap method shown above - albeit in a slightly more typical and simplified form which gives a thinner back (I should have a pretty good tutorial after I work it out as a demo in the upcoming months). It is forged from 5/8" by 2-1/2" mild steel and has a 1075 edge. The edge length is 5.5" and the width is 8.4". It weighs 550 grams.


Next to it is a test-piece in which I overlaid fine silver wire onto mild steel in the Khoftgari technique. This technique has fascinated me since the days of my apprenticeship in Bavaria. What with Jeff beginning to research and use precious metal inlay and overlay techniques on his blades in recent years I got bitten by the bug again and began to dream of axe blades detailed in silver as in some of those beauties preserved from the Viking past. I started to experiment with different ways of cutting the ground for Khoftgari and trying out various ways of applying the silver. Cutting the ground is the hardest part if you're teaching yourself, but I got it to work using everything from chainsaw files (used the wrong way) to box-cutters (anything that can raise a burr is a possibility). The most important thing for the silver is for it to be thin (.010 dia. and smaller) and very soft. From there it is a matter of imagination and dexterity in getting those tiny wires stuck to the ground.

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Jim, if I didn't like you so much I'd hate you! :lol:


I say that both out of envy for your axe skills and because I've spent the whole day doing large silver inlay, so seeing that beautiful tiny khoftgari makes my head hurt... :wacko:B)

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  • 2 weeks later...

It occured to me that the mini-axes might be grave goods, stand-ins for the full size items when you didn't want to send your loved one into the hereafter with the family's one good axe. Just a possibility, though the idea that they were practice pieces is also appealing, since they are made with the same techniques as the full-size ones and they are a little sloppy, at least the two I've handled were a bit slap-dash in the making.

And to more directly answer Jake's Q about the wrap style, visual and physical examination of dozens of Migration and Viking period axes from Scandinavia and the Baltic/Russian areas as well as clues in achaeology reports and on-line museum images have shown (where ascertainable) that assymetric wrap construction was the most popular method. It is a pretty efficient was to make an axe eye, and it allows for drift-less fabrication, which somehow didn't show up as a possibility with the other construction styles... ;)

Jomsvikingar Raða Ja!


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  • 5 weeks later...

I finally got the Type L axe shown above overlaid with fine silver wire. In the end I realized that all the samples I was doing were merely postponing the inevitable. By the time I started on the axe, though, I had settled on using a high speed steel "knife" to cut the ground and formed all of the lines free-hand (no straight edge guides as I had tried a few times). The first picture shows the partially finished left side of the axe steadied in a vise along with the high-speed steel knife and the brass pushing tool used to set the silver wire onto the ground. The handles of the tools are stabilized duct tape.


Khoftgari closeup.jpg


The axe head near the overlay has been brought to about 400 degrees F to clean off any residual cutting oil (used while cutting the ground) or any cloth fuzz from blotting it off. The silver wire is 32 gage (.008 dia.) and annealed dead soft. The brass pushing tool has a flat face which is about 3/32" dia. and roughened a bit by tapping it against the face of a file. The brass tool is used to squish the silver wire onto the ground as the design is followed. The ground cutting knife is also used to cut off the silver wire when a line terminates.


When the entire design is filled out in silver wire it is planished with a small, polished hammer, then annealed to soften the silver and burnished smooth. At this point the steel is usually darkened to a temper color which contrasts nicely with the silver. I believe that there are a lot of contrast possibilities to try out and I have only just scratched the surface. Here are the results on this axe:


Dad axe right face.jpg


Dad axe left face.jpg


Rear left oblique.jpg


The effect of the slightly-raised, brightly burnished silver over the flat, dark steel with its weblike traces of ground is very vibrant. Silver overlaid on steel this way has a unique depth and brightness which is both tactile and eye-poppingly visual.


At this (my) entry-level of sophistication the overlay technique is not too difficult to manage (man, I sure would like to take that class by the Georgian fellow in the Netherlands this coming February!). It's definitely something you can do at home (I suggest a mounted vise in the kitchen or family room) and have some fun at. Once you get the techniques going you will soon be more concerned about the design - at least that's where I'm at. Sketch, sketch, sketch...


I gave this axe to my dad last Saturday for his 80th birthday.

Edited by jim austin
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