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Viking Axe & long handles / why?

C Craft

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I don't see it as a war of words at all, we're just offering opinions based on personal experience. I don't think anyone is actually getting worked up about anything. B) Glad you found those smilies, too! :lol:



Speaking of opinions, Jake: Those Dane axes are not single-bevelled side-axes, they are double bevelled with a centered eye. Fact not conjecture, I've seen enough of them in museums. This doesn't mean you couldn't pare with them, it just requires a slightly different technique.


And Tom Latané told me Havard Bergstrom told him somethihng similar, except the axes were Norwegian. These are quite a bit different than "viking" axes, of course. BUT the surviving originals have four foot long handles, usually curved oddly, and always intricately chip-carved, see below for a bad photo of a bad photo I took at Tom's axe class two years ago.






All respect to all. :)

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Thanks,Alan,for clearing this up:i was never certain about those museum Dane axes.


Likewise,thanks for reiterating this bit of data from Tom,et al.I remember reading about it when ya'all went of to that class,and tried to file it in ye olde brain.

It is very curious,the request by the State that the peasants/burghers forge and keep an Axe,(of all things),as a weapon...

(for,begging to differ with Derryll,i believe that the axe is much harder to forge than many a more effective weapon such as a crude,shmesser-esque sword,say...(maybe i'm just less than talented at the axe-forging...:).


I seem to remember that these axes and events in question were circa 15th cent.,is that right?


That specific bend in the haft i do see occasionally,in strictly woodworking axes,here's one example(Swedish goosewings):





Mr.Craft,it's ok.:)


The origins,the history of an axe are very(disappointingly) little studied.We may ALL be very surprised yet,in a number of ways.


Not being a professional scientist like Alan,i can afford to postulate (an admittedly biased :) view;especially since it enjoys a less-than-popular appeal.

Simply,that the trade of woodworking was responsible for the developement of the,say,8th to the 12th c.c. axes,that were then used as weapons at times.But that their mechanical qualities are engendered by the nature of the wood itself(i need it badly in some other logical sequences having to do with my woodworking life...:)

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

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The Government (The King) didn't require the axe, but it was one of the options. Early 17th century (I think) If you visit the Museum web site, you can run the page through Google translate. The link has been posted before, but here it is again.



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The original Norwegian text about the axes, from the museum link above:

I landværnsbolken i Norske lovbok fra 1604 står det at folket hadde plikt å forvare fedrelandet i tilfelle angrep utenfra. Det går
fram av loven at på bakgrunn av eiendom og sosial posisjon så skulle bonden stille med øks, spyd, teszak, langbøsse og armbrøst.

My translation (as a native Dane):

According to the Norwegian Lawbook of 1604, the farmers had the duty to protect the country from attacks (national guard).

Based on their property and social status they had to arm them selves with either axe, spear, teszak(?), musket, or crossbow.

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Jeppe,thank you for the translation(teszak is a crude single-edged straight "sword",poorman's version,not much of a challenge to forge).


Hm,17th c.,a little later than i thought.


The only (well substantiated)axe-like weapon that i'm aware of,during the Middle/Late middle ages is the Russian "berdysh".Originally an infantryman's weapon(late 14th c.),it progressed to serve as a shooting-rest in later years,ending up in the 1600's as a ceremonial palace-guard acutrement.

(Strange how if an axe-like principle was indeed in common usage around the end of the first millenium,that all traces of it disappear entirely in the later middle ages,while all sorts of strange and primitive weapons like the mace,say,are so clearly retained...).






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

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Hi seen that three Late Viking axes were found in Ireland last year. Dating from the late 11th C to early 12thC they still appear to have there shafts surviving. My google foo in low as I can only find images or very brief description of these. Not quite sure how they have dated these (dendrochronology?) as the forms look like earlier pieces.

Here is a link to the Dublin museum scroll down to item 10



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Very nice Andrew, haven't seen those before.

They could be dated either directly or indirectly through the context in which they were found.

They were found in a boat, so that could be dated by dendrochronology if the shafts could not.

It is also possible to use a method called carbon-14 dating or radiocarbon dating.

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I'm going to creep out on the limb here, and cite Jeff Pringle as my primary source of the following opinion.


These broad, sweeping edges are more typically found in grave sites, with other weapons, while the longer short-bit axes that look more like an adze width blade were associated with other tools, suggesting a preference for them for wood-chopping vs. fighting.


That said, of course any axe can serve multiple purposes, but if one is asking about the "primary intended function from the maker" then that's how I understand it. I'm entirely willing to be proven wrong,.. and for the moment, this opinion is limited to these two archetypes, not talking about specialty tools like framing axes and such.

The Tidewater Forge

Christopher Price, Bladesmith

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I am really unbelieving of dating an axe head to a 75 year age range. Carbon 14 dating is poor at defining recent age ranges. Multiple samples might be able to give a range of less then 150+ age range single sample would probably cover 300+ years. Dendrochronology based on the boat they were found with gives a time of deposition not manufacture. I doubt that there is a good dendrochronology database for cherry in the shafts but there would probably be not enough growth rings to date these anyways. I think oak needs at least 25 rings to be dateable.

What is everyone's thoughts on of cherry as a axe shaft? Would it cope as an axe shaft? Or just be decorative?

Stylistically these could be in at least a 250 year age range.

I have looked through images from a visit earlier this tear to the Dublin museum and found another couple of board axes with a presumambly original shaft. I have no idea if these are real or for display.

Though other axe heads are displayed without shafts.

It might be how the axe and shaft survived but both shafts taper out into quite short shafts. How much was lost??



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Cherry would be passable for an axe haft, not as good as ash but better than oak. And I must disagree about the accuracy of C14 dating of recent things. Here in the US we regularly get +\- 50 years in that age range with AMS dates. That does fall off the closer you get to around 350 years old, though.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Being a software developer, I practice Google-fu for hours everyday, and it paid off in regards to those 3 axes found in Ireland last year. The first video is the curator discussing the axes. He even pics on of them up out of the water and shows you how thin it is and how the head is attached with a wooden wedge. Viking-axe porn for sure... :P

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  • 3 years later...

Probably everything has been said before, and I know this is an old topic, but in case somebody is still wondering and turns this up in a search for instance: Certain viking age/early medieval axes are definitely pure weapons (both find contexts and physical shape tell us this). The three axes from Ireland are perfect examples: they have no "hammer", the blade thins right in front of the eye (and is really thin, as has been pointed out) and has the characteristic thickening just behind the edge. A tool axe from the same period would likely weigh 50% more (or even more), even while having a shorter edge (and probably a shorter blade). 

There are a few finds with preserved handles from Norway as well, showing that weapons of this kind had longer handles than tool axes. 

Vegard Vike has published some descriptions and discussions of this kind of weapon axe. 

With less well preserved examples one might sometimes not be able to tell the difference just from a photo of the side of the axe, the ridge behind the edge and the lack of hammer might be obscured by rust/loss. However, looking at the thickness or rather taper of the blade would show you what it is. 

I dont know much about earlier or later axes, there might be blurrier lines there. In the late viking age and early medieaval period there is no doubt. 

One picture of the irish axes where I highlighted the typical weapon axe features, and one illustration by Vegard Vike of a beautiful axe found recently in Norway. He wrote about it in english here: http://www.khm.uio.no/english/research/collections/objects/01/langeid-broadaxe.html 

corrib-axeheads 2.jpg

langeid øks.jpg

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Imagine my surprise when I opened the forum this morning and seen this old thread staring at me. Thanks for the link erlend, and the cad drawings. Very interesting read and helps fill in a few holes in my knowledge of the subject!! 

C Craft Customs ~~~ With every custom knife I build I try to accomplish three things. I want that knife to look so good you just have to pick it up, feel so good in your hand you can't wait to try it, and once you use it, you never want to put it down ! If I capture those three factors in each knife I build, I am assured the knife will become a piece that is used and treasured by its owner! ~~~ C Craft

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On 2/8/2018 at 11:17 PM, erlend said:

In the late viking age and early medieaval period there is no doubt. 

Erland,with all due respect,but i beg to differ.I personally have a very great deal of doubt:)

The "hammer"(i presume you mean the "poll"?) is a non-issue,all sorts of axes to this very day are poll-less.

Likewise the lack of mass forward of the eye.It can simply be an expedience.In forging and axe it is often Much easier to omit that feature;it takes quite a bit more work to create/maintain it.Again,many a tool is constructed that way.

The thick,massive edge,clearly delineated from the bit,has been (and even still is today,see Finnish Piilukirves)a standard feature on many a Swedish,Norwegian and Finnish axes.It was commonly used in forging a hewing axe.(afterall,it's such a natural consequence of an overlaid edge...).


The longer haft is,indeed,an odd feature.But here too there's more questions than answers,and that goes for both contending ideas,as one may say that as a weapon a haft of such length is preposterous.

However,the evidence of such long hafts is scant,and numbers 2 or 3 examples(the last i heard,i may be out of currency).

And  in theory a haft somewhat over 4' in length can be used to hew while standing a top of a hefty diameter log....


And that last,the U. of Oslo experiment is ,frankly, heartbreaking for me:Beautiful,totally correct and responsible reproduction,and in the end,after SO much honest work,an anti-climax,this strange,inconclusive silliness with a piece of meat...Right there on the level with the common run of yahooism  seen on Utube...:(


Thanks for your thoughts,but again,(most respectfully),but i'm not sold on the idea of those Petersen Type M being weapons.

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

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