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Be sure to pay attention to the sides as well as the front. Again, this prevents wobbles.






Chances are one side of the eye is pinched in more than the other, so remove wood to account for this.




Don't forget to check it from the bottom too.



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After I posted the pile of hawk heads I've been working on I got several requests for a tutorial. I've been meaning to do one for years now, so last Saturday I took the camera out to the forge and do

Start at the eye. This is because it's the hardest place to get it to stick. It is VERY important not to touch the eye with a hammer from now until you're ready to drift it out at the end.   Flux

The edge is still around 1/4" thick, so now is the time to start shaping the head into its final form.   Since this one has to have a straight lower edge with a notch, I start by forging the notch o

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You will have noticed I have not cut off the lathe spur marks on the top and bottom of the handle. That's because the handle takes a fair bit of abuse with all the hammering during fitting.


Once you have the head within 1/2 inch of the top, decide what you want the top profile to look like. You will need about 1/4 inch of wood above the head to allow for shrinkage over the life of the hawk. A flush handle is one that will eventually wobble up on the blade side, which will either break the handle or make the head fall off. The lathe spur marks from Dunlap's blanks are around 1/8" deep, so take that into account as well.


I decided on a domed top and rounded bottom for this handle, so when I got it within 1/2" of the top it was off to the bandsaw to rough in the profile while removing the lathe spur marks.






You can of course do this with any saw. Before I got a bandsaw I used a cheap coping saw. It's just easier to keep things aligned with the bandsaw, not to mention faster.


Now, it's time to refine the domes. Files and rasps are fine for this, but the KMG with a fresh 60 grit belt followed by a fresh 220 grit J-flex belt on the slack belt attachment is a lot faster. Set aside belts for use on wood only. Used belts will just burn the wood. Slower speed is better. I don't have a variable speed setup, but I do have three-speed step pulleys, so it's on the lowest speed.













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Now to customize the handle profile. Since this is a western-style hawk, it gets a couple of stepped accents. The central step was often used by Native Americans as an attachment point for a beaded or quillworked drop.


Back to the KMG with a 60 grit slack belt followed by 220:




Mark where you want the steps to be and cut 'em in.








From this point on it's all hand sanding. Use the scraper to refine and sharpen what needs it, then sand. I like 3m Sandblaster brand paper. It doesn't load up. I go through the grits from 120 through 400.

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Once you get to 400, dewhisker the handle by wetting it down with a water-soaked paper towel and dry it off with a propane torch with a flame-spreader tip, or over the forge. The steam produced will raise the broken grain from sanding, leaving a "whiskery" texture. Sand it back smooth and repeat if needed until the grain no longer raises.


Next, burnish it smooth with #0000 steel wool. This will leave a glass-smooth surface.




Now you can stain the handle however you like. I use Aqua Fortis, or ferric nitrate reagent stain, because it's an established historical method and also because nothing makes the curl pop like a reagent-type stain. The nitrates react with the tannins when heated to really reveal every bit of figure the wood is capable of producing.


I describe this in that thread about pipe hawk handles* I mentioned earlier, so I won't go into much detail here. It's also a busy process so I couldn't get photos, not wanting to get ferric nitrate on the camera. I'm prissy that way. EDIT: (* After re-reading that thread I noticed I did not in fact describe the ferric nitrate process there. If you're interested let me know and I'll do it again.)


Here it is immediately after staining and sanding/burnishing back smooth:




Now I applied boiled linseed oil, another traditional finish that accentuates the grain, giving it a chatoyance like tiger-eye. Tried and True brand oil finish is excellent for this, being nontoxic.






Not lively enough under the shop lights? Let's see what it look like in the sun!






The oil is still wet here, but once it's cured and hand-rubbed and topped with wax it will look like this forever. B)

Edited by Alan Longmire
misinformation, sorry!
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Is it done?




Could be, but let's add some brass tacks for an 1830s frontier feel, eh?


The tacks are too long as supplied, so we'll need to trim them and use a small drill to start the holes. This is a #61 wire gauge drill that will snap if you breathe on it, so a hand drill is a must.








In that photo above, you can see the first tack in place and the hole drilled for the second.


Here it is in place.



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A few more tacks for a total of seven and NOW we're done.






Note that once the tacks are in the head cannot be removed. That's why they were the last step in this particular build.


Total time from start to finish, approximately 24 hours spread over three weekends. The handle still needs another coat of oil, and once that's cured the whole thing will get a coat of car wax.


Thanks for following along, and fire away with any questions!

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Great WIP-what grade of curly maple did you get? I have a few handles waiting for heads and haven't tried staining them before, will have to look up your suggestions. Also, I got a tomahawk drift and since then have wondered how you gauge how deep you drift. What's your method for deciding how far to go? The farther down, in theory, the less work on the handle? Or can you actually overshoot and open the head too far?


Thanks for putting the work into this-I vote for sticky status.



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Read it again, most of the answers are there. ;)


The short version:


1. Dunlap's grades are rather fluid, but these are the $25 to $30 undrilled blanks. Ask Wayne or Daniel when you call for the presentation grade. Exhibition is up to $50 per, but it is very rare.


2. Read what I said about wrapping and drifting. If your welds are excellent it shouldn't matter in theory, since Dunlap's handle blanks are sized to the drift's largest axis. Theory being somewhat different from the collective reality, try to stretch the eye at your own risk. You can with a slit eye, but a welded eye will usually fight you about it. Get your handles before you make the heads, that way you can measure the handle and mark that size on the drift with soapstone or silver Sharpie. Go a bit larger when you wrap, the eye will shrink when you weld it up.


3. Sam stickied it a few days ago. :P

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Well clearly I need to pay more attention.... ;). Should've figured you all were way ahead of me on the sticky-I kept clicking it from the main page. I also should have been a little more clear on my drifting question. I'm thinking more of the slit and drifted hawks. I have some Damascus blanks I welded up and plan on drifting the eyes. The sharpie on the drift is a great idea to get me in the ball park. I'm sure mine won't be nearly as good as yours, plus just low layer, hand welded billets. But, still good fun to try. Thanks again for all the info you take the time to post-this is another to bookmark.



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For a slit-and-drift, just mark your drift at the right size first and make sure you don't make the slit too long. If you use the TD-1 drift and Dunlap's handles you can't miss by much anyway. If you make your own drift and handles, well, you have to pay more attention. ;)

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  • 4 weeks later...

If it helps, Ive always found that a slip of 1 1/4" ends up nicely with the TD-1 drift..

Please Alan don't think Im trying to hijack your great thread..i just thought id share that and a pic for the sake of info on the slit/drift method..

marked with a cold punch first(on both sides)


Slit thru both sides and meet in the middle..You'll always be straight..


Edited by KYBOY
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Use a tape to get the OD of the drift, figure your slit length as a little less than half that measurement. Closer to half way if working narrower stock slightly under if working thicker stock, to allow the wall of the eye stretch as it is forged thiner. And as Alan said for the wrap don't' use the drift to stretch the hole forge out the wall then SHAPE the hole with the drift by driving it in and pushing the material down to that shape.

Edited by Matthew Parkinson
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  • 2 weeks later...



I just received my tomahawk drift and handle from Blacksmith depot. I have a perfect piece of 4140 that I think will work great as the strap for the body. I have w2 or 5160 for bit. What is best for the bit?


Also I am not sure, but I think my 4140 would be better suited for a large hand axe. Not a double handed ax but something bigger than a tomahawk. Should I use the tomahawk handle or try to shape out a more traditional hatchet style?

Edited by Brandonbuford
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W2 it will be.

I guess my question is more related to how big of an ax/hawk can a tradtional handle support? Just curious I guess. Anyway, I am excited to try out your tutorial for real. I have enjoyed the straightforwardness and simplicity of the instructions.

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That's a hard one to answer. I have seen many 18th century axes with up to a 3lb head on what most people would consider way too small a handle. Like, 1" x 1/2" x18". Hickory will let you get away with a tiny handle, curly maple will not.

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  • 2 months later...

Thanks, Kirk, happy to help.


An update on this project: If you read the whole thing you'll remember this hawk was the first of a commission for twenty ( :wacko:! ) matching hawks. I have nine of them done as of today, eight of which appear below:




I make a simple loop hanger for these from a short bit of 1/4" mild steel. The client called me last week and asked for a special favor for two of these which are intended as gifts for a husband and wife. He wanted a hanger that would display both hawks crossed. I rattled around in my head for a while, then came up with the perfect (to me, anyway) solution:


hawk rack.jpg


The heart was forged from 18 inches of 3/4" x 3/16" mild steel, which stretched to 24 inches after all the drawing out. The hangers are 1/4" mild steel rounds attached with brass rivets. The one on the right in the picture sticks out an inch further than the other one, allowing the hawks to hang free without touching the wall or each other.

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You have been very busy Alan!!!!!! Great work you are doing on those!

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