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Viking-style Battle Axe WIP

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Good morrow, fellow smiths. I present for your consideration my first attempt at a small (one-handed) battle axe in the Viking mode. If I did my research right, this should be something like a Petersen type C axe, though I'm not going to try to claim historical accuracy on this one because the eye shape is a tomahawk-style teardrop, and because it's made of one solid chunk of steel.
I documented the whole process so that those of you who know more than I do can critique it, and hopefully it will of value to those of you who are looking to get into axe-making.
Anyway, without further ado, the pictures:

Starting off. For the love of Weyland, get fresh steel bar stock if you can. Forging a jeep axle into a rectangular bar by hand is terrible.

The blank. It weighs about a pound and a half, and is about 1x1.25x4.5" (don't quote me on that, I forgot to measure it). I've upset the lefthand end a bit to give me more flare for the beard. I also tried to keep the top side of the bar flat while upsetting, because I want a much greater curve on the bottom than on the top.

Starting to punch the eye. In the past I have slit the eyes, but I have found that punching gives me tidier ends on the eye. This punch, as it turns out, is actually too big for my drift. I usually start punching/slitting on the top side of the bar, because for whatever reason the side of the hole that I punch first seems to get larger than the side I punch second.

Hole and slug.

Opening the hole. Usually right after this I will start using the drift to do most of the eye shaping, but I knew that my eye hole was too big and that it wasn't going to take much forging to size it, so I moved on to forging out the bit.


After getting the bit profiled, I drew out the langets a bit on the horn of the anvil. You can use the drift to do this, too, but the drift cools the axe head very quickly and shortens your forging window. I try to do as little work as possible with the axe on the drift. Also, if you're not careful, you can get teh axe head stuck pretty solidly on the drift as it cools. It's bad, m'kay?

Final sizing of the eye, and doing the last bit of tweaking to make sure the blade is square to the body and handle.

Profiling with files. I wanted a sort of filed finish on this one, so the vast majority of shaping was done by hand. Also, my grinder is not set up in such a way as to allow me to grind the large flats of an axe like this.

The axe head ready for heat-treatment. I eventually decided to trim a bit off the edge towards the toe to improve things aesthetically.
The eye did get a little wonky because the drift wasn't quite big enough, but I managed to compensate with some creative filework.
Stay tuned for part 2: Making and fitting the haft.

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Handle making starts with a billet that I split out of a hickory log. I split it and roughly square it off before I start shaping it. In this picture I have drawn the profile of the axe handle on the billet, and I'm sawing almost to the lines to make shaping it with an axe easier. I don't have a band saw, so I'm doing it the hard way. :D

Beginning the shaping process with the axe. All of those sawn pieces come off pretty quickly.

Roughly profiled. Next we work on the contours.

Start contouring at the eye, because it's the most important part to get right.

Ready for rasping and fitting.

I start refining the eye end of the haft with a drawknife and scraper. Once I can get the head onto the haft, I proceed to use a rasp for the rest of the fitting.

Just another inch or two to go! After the axe is as far down the haft as I want it, I cut a slot for the primary wedge. Frequently I only use one wedge, but with this axe, I needed two, because the eye flares both side-to-side and front-to-back.

The funky criss-cross wedges. Note the excellent grain tightness and orientation in the haft. :D

The finished axe:

The knot in the middle of the handle was not apparent when I started working on the handle, so I worked it into the aesthetic. I soaked it with thin-viscosity superglue before oiling the handle, and testing indicates it probably isn't going to be a problem.


Axe fax:
OAL: 20"
Edge: 4.5"
Materials: Jeep axle (I've heard that they're 4140 or similar; whatever it is, it holds a good edge and takes a beating), pignut hickory handle
Head length: 8"
Head weight: 15 oz.
Overall weight: 1.5 lbs.

I'm curious if my dimensions are in the ballpark for historical accuracy. I think my handle might be a little short, and I think the head might be a bit long and/or heavy; if anybody has thoughts or information on that aspect, I'd be very interested to hear them. I think I did a good job on the blade, anyway, because it will actually slice pieces off of soda bottles and jugs in a full swing. It is not a good wood cutter; the edge is so thin that it doesn't really throw chips. It also makes a sweet "shink, shing" noise when it hits stuff. The little kid in me is highly entertained.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and as always, questions, comments, and critiques are all welcome!

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I don't know a lot of the history of the axes, but I will say you have some excellent forging skills.

Good work.

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3 hours ago, Don Abbott said:

I don't know a lot of the history of the axes, but I will say you have some excellent forging skills.

Good work.

Thanks, Don! Means a lot to get a compliment like that from another smith.

2 hours ago, Kris Lipinski said:

Personally I prefer a bit thicker balde , but in some cases that thin cutting part may be useful. For sculpting in wood i.e.

I am in complete agreement, Kris. The axes I make for woodwork (like the one I used to shape the handle in those pictures) are much thicker at edge than this one; this one is most definitely on the "weapon" end of the axe spectrum.

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yeah, I think thin is best for weapons.

I am NOT an axe expert (axpert?). never made one, but you make it look pretty easy.

Did you make or buy your punches and drift?

I am honestly impressed. Good work There is such a huge variety of things you can do from here. Thanks for sharing so much of the process. I need to make a camp axe/hatchet for me and the Boy Scouts.


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2 hours ago, Kevin (The Professor) said:

Did you make or buy your punches and drift?

I bought the hawk drift that I ended up using for this project. I forged the long, narrow drift I have used to make four or five working axes myself, since I can't find anybody selling them. Punches and slitting chisels I have also made myself, with varying degrees of success. 

3 hours ago, Kevin (The Professor) said:

I need to make a camp axe/hatchet for me and the Boy Scouts.

 With your bigass forge you'll probably have a much easier time of it than I do; pretty sure punching the eyes takes me twice as long as it should because my leetle forge just doesn't put out enough heat for these huge pieces of metal I'm feeding it. 

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yeah, I made a Viking-style sword and a pweld langseax with a forge just like the one you have, and then I upgraded. Next forge was small but better, but I put too much insulation and refractory in it, so it did not heat properly. Finally, I bought the Chlli forge, and it almost scared me the first time I ran it full out.

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On Sunday, May 07, 2017 at 6:18 PM, Chris C-S said:

@Adam Betts thanks for sharing this. It a good build WIP. I will use it for inspiration when i can get back to the forge. Thanks. 

I'm glad you got something out of it, Chris! If you haven't already seen it, Jim Austin's axe tutorial thread is also worth checking out. It was quite inspirational for me when I began this process. 


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8 hours ago, Adam Betts said:

m Austin's axe tutorial thread is also worth checking out.

I hadn't seen this until now. Thanks for pointing me to it. :)

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