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Viking age axe tutorial

jim austin

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Jim, outstanding! After reading through the entire thread again, it's hard to resist jumping into the shop and making an axe or twenty right now B) The overlay adds a whole new dimension- love it..Thanks for the brilliant tutorials!



Not all those who wander are lost. -J.R.R. Tolkien

-Shards of the Dark Age- my blog
-Nine Worlds Workshop-
-Last Apocalypse Forge-

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Good Day to all


Perhaps I missed it, but I didn't see any mention of the Youtube video of Jim forging the Viking axe. It's 12 1/2 minutes long and the video part of the article Mr. Austin did for ABANA's Hammer's Blow magazine.




Fair Winds

Gerald Boggs

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  • 11 months later...

Reopened this thread as info came in Jim might have some more info for us, VERY COOL I CANNOT WAIT!!!!

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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  • 1 month later...

Jim, I just got a copy of youe DVD in the mail the other day. Absolutely brilliant. You made it look easy. I showed it to a few of my buddies out here and may have got a couple more people interested in the world of smithing. Well done, Jim!

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  • 3 weeks later...

It’s been just over a year since I last added an update to this Viking age axe thread. In this time I’ve been focused on refining the forging procedure for asymmetrically wrapped axes, which I plan to make the subject of my next tutorial DVD. In preparation for the DVD I made about 40 axes in order to try out different approaches to asymmetric axe forging. The goal was to find a procedure that could best produce the following “ideal list” of features in a Viking-style axe eye with fairly simple tooling:


1. A thick poll and thin, symmetrical cheeks

2. Long langets (especially on the underside of the eye)

3. A weld joint with no obvious seams inside or outside the eye

4. A relatively short weld-joint lap combined with symmetrical placement of the eye within the finished axe body

5. A weld seam strong enough to withstand the substantial transverse forging later required to shape the profile of the axe


In addition I wanted to be able to forge the eye nearly to its finished shape by using basic blacksmithing techniques that would have been common in the Viking age (especially drawing and fullering). The procedure I settled on is an asymmetric variation of a classic, symmetrical axe forging technique which I believe was often used in the 18th century. John Rigoni recently posted the symmetrical technique for his handsome English Hewing Axe which is now pinned in the Show and Tell forum.


In this tutorial the axe body will be formed from a piece of hot rolled mild steel which is 0.75” x 2.5” x 4.5” (on the mid-line) and weighs 1070 grams. I think of it as a proxy for a compact chunk of bloom that a Viking blacksmith might have started an axe with.


Note that the square card is marked with a 1” grid (black lines).




On one side the cut is slanted at 7 degrees. The slanted face will become the bit-side of the axe and is split in the middle with a saw or chisel to a depth of ½” for later insertion of the bit. To the slanted side is welded a handle of 5/8” square steel about 20” long, which is clearly marked R and L to denote the right and left faces of the axe blade (I have reusable handles with welded letters). This is VERY important in knowing how the piece is oriented in a deep fire (especially - knowing which side is facing the tuyere-blast). In my opinion a welded handle is the last word in control of the axe as it is being forged and welded.


About half of the material on the free end of the work piece (right) is forged out to a straight shank with the dimensions 0.6” x 1.625” x 4.75”. The end of the piece attached to the handle (left) is tapered down from the original cross section on the bit-side to the shank cross section (leave a little material un-forged on the bit-side to avoid narrowing the finished piece).




At this point it will be useful to get an overview of the eye-forming steps as a kind of road map of what’s ahead:




The end of the shank is then squared and beveled as in Figure 1. I always wrap and weld the eye onto the right side of the blade. Doing this in a standard way is valuable in controlling my welding procedure – i.e. knowing which side weld joint is facing the blast. The side of the shank that wraps to the INSIDE of the eye has the sharp edge of the bevel. This sharp edge forms the weld scarf – a very important concept is structural forge welds. Accordingly, the sharp edge of the bevel is forged on the right side of the axe.






When the bevel is finished the shank is measured and marked for the fullering required to form the eye. The fullering process that follows is the most crucial step in forming an excellent axe eye and must be done precisely to attain symmetry


Starting at the sharp edge of the bevel the top edge of the shank is marked with four lines at the dimensions shown in Figure 2:




The narrow edge gets marked so that the lines can be projected down either the right or left sides of the shank. The outermost lines are projected with a small square down the RIGHT side of the shank. The right side forms the inside of the axe eye and the matching faces of the weld joint. The middle two lines are projected down the LEFT side of the shank. The left side of the axe forms the outside of the eye. Fullering the middle pair of lines forms the outer edges of the poll.






All four lines on the sides of the shank are marked with multiple, heavy center punch marks to make them easy to see when the shank has been heated for fullering.




At this point the shank is heated and fullered on alternate sides as shown in Figure 3. When fullering under the power hammer I use a “marking wire” which is simply tool steel rod a little over ¼” in diameter. When fullering with a striker I use a similarly dimensioned normal fuller.









In these pictures you can also see that the shank has been fullered about ¼” narrower on the lower edge. This will preemptively counter the widening that occurs as the eye is forged, and help achieve the (my) preferred form in the finished axe.


When the first fullering is done one edge of each groove is beveled with a set hammer toward the cheek of the eye as shown in Figure 4. This will help prevent cold shuts when the cheeks of the eye are fullered to thickness.






The cheeks of the eye are now fullered to thickness while simultaneously widening them to form the characteristic langets of Viking age axes (the resulting cross section is shown in Figure 5). This is done in numerous passes over the edges of the anvil with a longish-edged fuller as shown here:












Fullering is alternated with flatting to smooth the surface of the cheeks. When the cheeks have the right thickness and width (about 0.2” thick and 2-5/8” wide) the cheeks are measured and adjusted to equal length with a little corrective fullering. This is very important in order to achieve a symmetrical eye in which the edges of the weld joint match when the eye is folded shut.


When the fullering of the eye has been finished the edges of the inner shoulders can be upset to help the eye joint to close seamlessly when it is welded. This is done with fullers from the inside of the eye as the axe is held in a vise.









From here the eye is closed over the horn of the anvil with many light and balanced blows. This must be done carefully with a lot of corrective work to insure that that eye closes symmetrically with straight cheeks and with the inner edges of the weld joint matched. Care must be taken to avoid forming tight creases inside of the eye by the poll.













The eye joint is now ready to weld. The whole axe body is buried in a large, clean fire (I use coke) outfitted with a voluminous air blast. The coke is retained by a loose brick wall about 8” high that I build in a U-shape around the fire pot (bottom draft). In order to heat the joint evenly on both sides it is necessary to direct the blast onto the large blade section (by the handle) for a while to preheat it before bringing the joint to a welding heat. Flux the joint with (preferably anhydrous) borax at an orange heat. The weld will probably take 5 -6 heats to complete, including blending the scarf in. Make extra sure to seal both sides of the joint. If the tapered scarf it is not properly welded its edge has a tendency to open up, especially at the corners, when the blade is forged thinner. The seam inside the eye must be very well welded to withstand being reshaped on the mandrel.









Here is a Youtube video showing an excerpted version of the eye-welding process:



Note that during the later part of the welding procedure the throat of the axe is forged narrower and thinner with a fairly rounded hammer over the base of the anvil horn. This is the time to finish the throat, taking care not to fracture the new weld with heavy or prolonged transverse forging. Always follow a few transverse blows with flat, welding blows to insure the integrity of the joint.


After the eye is welded it is shaped on a mandrel. I have used the same mandrel for the last couple of years on nearly all of my axes. It is shield-shaped in cross section. It is about 9.5” long with a circumference of 3” on the small end and 4.5” on the large end. As viewed from the side the mandrel tapers from 1.7” wide to 1.2” wide in its whole length.




It is important not to drive the mandrel into the eye too hard (which can rupture the weld) but rather to shape and enlarge the eye by forging on the outside of it. When working on the cheeks of the eye it can grow at an unexpectedly fast pace – especially later in the process. It is important to leave some mandrel length so that the eye is fully supported by the mandrel to the very end of the process.


The langets are shaped with the peen of a light hammer as shown in the following pictures:






As the edges of the langets are forged they are upset and bent out of true with the eye and must be continually corrected on the mandrel.


When the forging of the eye is finished the handle is cut off and the blade is forged out for inserting the bit. During this process the axe body is gripped through the eye with tongs. The thickness of the blade is tapered to about 3/8” on the edge that receives the bit, and the upper and lower edges of the blade are dressed to a straight taper. The front edge of the body, which was split ½” deep when the blank was first cut is now forged out to a fairly sharp chisel taper. Only the split material is tapered. The tapered section comes out to about ¾” - 7/8” wide. It is then reheated and opened up with a chisel to receive the bit.


For the bit I use 1075 steel that is 5/16” x 1” in cross section and about 1” longer than the cleft in the body. I forge a sharp edge on this piece, leaving a band about 3/8” wide un-forged. The sharp edge is cut with teeth that will hold it in the axe body for forge welding (this was shown earlier on this tutorial thread on page 6 as reply #109). To insert the cold, toothed bit into the warm axe body set the bit on its back on the anvil or a heavy table and drive the axe body down onto it. Follow that immediately by flattening the tapered cheeks of the cleft tightly onto the bit. This all has to happen very quickly for the tiny teeth to survive being driven into the hot cleft.











I trim the excess length of the bit off flush with the axe body to make the assembly easier to move in the coke fire while welding it.




At this point I re-weld the labeled handle to the axe - this time to the poll – in preparation for welding the bit. The R and L labels on the handle enable me to accurately alternate my welding passes between the right and left sides of the bit.


To prepare the forge for the weld I again completely clean out the slag and fines. Almost the whole axe is buried in a large, clean coke as done previously for the eye. I weld the bit in about 6 passes during which I alternate between the right and left sides of the weld. The first passes are done at the root of the cleft and subsequent passes are done closer to the outer edge of the cleft until the scarfed edges of the cleft are blended into the bit material.








After the welding is finished I normalize the axe blade at least twice to help strengthen the welds before finish-forging the blade. This is done with careful fullering and flatting to spread it to the desired thickness. I often use water on the anvil face to help release scale from the face of the hot axe, thereby reducing pitting in the blade.




During this process the upper and lower edge profiles are forged to maintain clean curves. The finish-forged axe will look something like this:








This view shows the placement of the asymmetric joint in a rough-ground axe:




From here the axe is normalized, heat-treated and ground. A thorough round of normalizations (I normalize 3 times) will help keep the bit from warping during the quench. My axes typically have edge lengths of 6.5” – 7.5” and weigh about 750 grams when ground. Here are a few recent pieces:










In conclusion I’d like to note that the goal of this work was to make an idealized axe based on some of the most beautiful artifacts that have survived from the Viking age. That said, many historic axes were forged as utilitarian tools or weapons without the high degree of geometric regularity or finish that we have gotten used to seeing in industrial products. Axes such as these can be made by leaving out or altering some of the techniques that are outlined here, and easing up a bit on the tendency toward rigid geometric perfection. Of course many different axe forms can be achieved by using different starting pieces and forging to different proportions.


Happy 2013!

Edited by jim austin
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Wow, thanks Jim! Great tutorial and explanations of the process. I just started an axe the other day, and it's taking on a similar form. I'll be trying out some of your techniques for sure. Thanks again for taking the time to document the process so well!



Not all those who wander are lost. -J.R.R. Tolkien

-Shards of the Dark Age- my blog
-Nine Worlds Workshop-
-Last Apocalypse Forge-

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What a fabulous body of work Jim


coincidently, ive made an axe recently with the full bowtie method and had thought that it was unnecessary to make the bowtie fully symetrical as you are simple growing the area need to be welded.


my thoughts were also revolving around the speed of production that this method allows when working in wrought iron-like/bloom iron metal ie softer and also with the fibrous nature of the matierial.


well done Jim!

Onen Hag Ol.

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I love to see all this.

Elegant in process and result.

are you still working in mild steel/ steel

I would love to see these in wrought iron, having said that I would love to see mine in wrought too!

forging soul in to steel



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That looks like a ton of fun! And that group pic is just "wow" :o/>

I have always thought that one man of tolerable abilities may work great changes, and accomplish great affairs among mankind, if he first forms a good plan....

- Benjamin Franklin

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Thank you all for your comments and encouragement! It's good for me right now since I'm in the midst of a long slog to film the DVD tutorial on this process and I'm feeling a bit of burn-out.


Owen: I haven't got to wrought yet, but I will soon. I thought I would make the point that forge welding works just fine in mild steel, which almost anyone can easily get. Some people have the notion that forge welding only works well on wrought iron, and I didn't want this to be an obstacle to trying these techniques out. I'll soon be working in wrought as I have an order for a large Type M axe in this material. Wish me luck (and a reliable source of wrought iron).


Rich: The funny thing is that a most of my regular, paying customers have no interest in axes. But maybe someday.

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Just a thought... I have purchased wrought from Wisconsin Woodchuck / Old Globe Reclaimed Wood in Superior WI. They have tons (literally) of wrought, good prices and are very accomodating. I would guess that Judy might send a sample of their wrought for you to try if you talked to her about it.


Anyway, like I said, just a thought.


Here is the link:





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i just reread this thread, and it has inspired me, again, to rush into the forge and make some axes :lol:


i think this is one of the greatest threads on this forum.


now i was thinking about these miniature axes, adn i thought, wouldn't it be possible that these were made by aprenticces (hard word :unsure: ) by making a small version they would learn all the skills needed in making an axe, but without using 900g of good expensive iron.


just my ideas on this, because the skillto make axes like this does not come at once, it must be practioned, and as jim showed us, no better way to train than making miniatures.

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  • 4 months later...
  • 1 year later...

Hope I'm not necro-posting too much (this thread rocks!) but I just wanted to toss out this Baltic viking axe which has been added to my collection which I bought specifically because of the failed weld. Not certain that it brings anything drastically new to the discussion of the historic construction, but it's, due to the split apart, real easy to get good dimensions and measurements from












Justin "Tharkis" Mercier


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  • 1 year later...

Wonderful axes ! I love the reinforced edges on those three.


The best preserved axe in my collection still has much of the original surface remaining and you can see the character of the steel without cleaning (i've only got a couple of axes, mostly I have spearheads)





the weld line is only barely visible on the bottom of the socket



Edited by Justin Mercier
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Justin "Tharkis" Mercier


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Alex,thanks,these are some wild photos...Especially the ones in post # 195:Was that axe etched?(FeCl?Nital?(Хлорное железо?Азот?)...

The diversity is wild...Is it known why such stark variance in C-content(i presume that's the contrasting factor..)?Is it common,for similarly-dated objects?

Thanks again,and yes,if you have more photos,it'd be great to see as much as would be possible to post.

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

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Rather than clutter up the end of Jim's tutorial, why don't you start a new thread about your collection of original axes?


Замість того , щоб захаращувати кінці підручника Джима , чому б вам не почати нову тему про вашу колекцію оригінальних осей ?
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