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Forging a Broadaxe

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Hello all!

It's been quite some time since I had the chance to get on here, and I must say that I've missed the company. Over the last year or so I've been in and out of the states and working out of a historic shop in the CA state parks district when I can. For the better part of that time, I've been working my way through forging a collection of tools to process and frame timber (so far a few axes, an adze, froe, a few large slicks, and others) which I will post sometime soon. The next project of the lot is a broad axe, and although I will use this thread as a WIP, I have a few questions regarding starting stock size.

Looking around at historic examples, the weight ranges from around 3,5-5 pounds and an edge up to 12+ inches. Because I'm working solely by hand, I wanted to start with stock vaguely close to the final dimensions, making it out of three pieces. One for the eye, folded and welded to the second piece which comprises the larger body, and a third for the edge. Looking at a period 1850s axe in the shop, the poll is roughly ,75" thick, so I will use either that or 1" thick by 3" wide stock for the eye, forging the cheeks out of it and leaving shoulders on the blade side to transition into the body. For the body, I have a 3" by 3/8" bar (and another 1/4" thick if that works better) to cut a piece off of, probably in the range of 9-10" or so to account for the shape change from forging bevels and blending welds.

My question for those of you with more experience than me is- does this make sense? The weights don't seem right in spite of the material dimensions. I won't be losing much weight from grinding because, with the exception of the edge, it will be all hammer finished. Or maybe my weight estimate is off? I think that with the size of material I would be starting with it would come out closer to 8 pounds, which seems excessive.


All the best,



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8 pounds seems reasonable :) I used one like that for making beams. The key is more using the weight of the axe and not your arms when working.  The length I dont know about, I always keep my hands fairly close to the axe head for more control

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Good to see you around again, John!

I have wrestled with this as well, and have yet to actually make a modern broadaxe, but I arrived at about the same idea you have.  I think by the time you forge the cheeks thin enough (less than 1/4" in the eye) it will have lost a lot of weight.  I have made a broad hatchet or two using a couple of different techniques.  Think about Jim Austen's asymmetrical wrap method as one possibility to keep the transition between eye and blade the proper thickness.  The only other real tip I have is to steel the edge early on, before doing a lot of drawing out and beveling.  Even if you scarf the heck out of it that's a difficult weld line to make disappear.  Pull the scarf to a sharp edge on both steel and iron, and leave the cutting edge and body fairly thick at the joint.

I might try making the eye first, then steeling the body, then shaping the body, then finally welding the eye to the body.  But that's just me.  Good luck with it!

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Thanks gents! That sanity check helps a lot. I hadn't considered the asymmetric wrap but I really like the idea. I might be making two of these, one for the shop and one for me, so I may try both if the first doesn't work out. Good idea with the welding order too, I had some problems with the adze I made because of thickness and geometry. 


Thanks again!

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  • 3 months later...

So this took a bit of a hiatus due to accidentally tripping a breaker somewhere in shop trying to use a chop saw a long while back. It took a lot longer to figure out where the problem was than anyone thought, then I had to leave for a while, and the comedy of errors combined their powers to shelf this project...until today!

This is without doubt the heaviest thing I have ever worked on, and the forging was equally formidable sans power hammer or press. All in all, it was an extraordinarily productive day and I'm about ready to sleep for a week :rolleyes:


Where I left off, this bar for the eye was about 3/4 of the way cut through, the other side being scored across to both edges. Instead of trying to repeat the debacle from a few months ago, I used a hot cut instead and sledged my way through. The thickness is 3/4" by 3" wide and I think I used maybe 12" in length, but I'll have to go back to the pictures from when I first started to cut it. Also months ago I centre marked all the spots for the shoulders, which didn't show up on this photo, but I have all the maths from that somewhere too, and when I find it I'll post it.


Hot cutting is wonderfully fast and fairly clean, although the not-square edge became a slight problem in the second bar I cut for the body which I'll get into later.


Because I'm working mostly by myself with the occasional striker on a top tool, I had to think through how I was going to address all the pieces of the puzzle. For setting shoulders, I used this hot cut/butcher that has a straight, almost chisel grind on the cutting edge. It makes it extremely easy to get a square shoulder and a taper into the section that will be forged down. After using this to mark the lines, I could register it against a sharp corner of the anvil and do the rest there with half faced blows.


This is the rough shape, noting the asymmetric eye. There are a few historic broad axes in the shop circa 1850 or a little earlier that I'm referencing for some of the dimensions, and the working length I came up with for the curved side is 3,5" and 3" for the flat side of the eye. 


There is also a drift (poking out in the bottom left corner of the picture) which I used to find dimensions. Using a piece of wire, I have a sort of story stick with all the important measurements. One side has two bends, one bit for the long eye, one for the short, and on the other end I have the overall length marked from one cheek to the other (both halves of the eye plus the width of the poll). 


After a bit more cleaning up and evening out the thickness of the eye, it's time to move on to the body piece.

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This time I did measure! Although I think the thickness is actually 3/8 based on what I wrote a while ago in the first post in the thread. Because it needs to start as the thickest part of the body and a lot of it will be thinned out, I cut it short of the final length by about 2".


In order to account for the change in shape, I marked both sides before forging anything. Namely, how far to forge in the taper that will make sense in a minute. In short, the two top corners will come down to form a lenticular shape rather than rectangular. In the middle, it will stay straight for the eye to weld onto, tapering down to give it extra length without so much extra mass.


I heard once that if you could sit on the anvil for lunch, you weren't working hard enough. Now I know what that means...


Forging this shape was trickier than I expected, mostly because of how unwieldly it is. Getting the corners to drop down without jutting out in a weird fish mouth situation was easy for the first side because I could stand it on end and just hammer it away, but due to the slant it wasn't as easy for the other side. This is also where the hot cut issue came in. Because the edge was slanted, getting a nice line was difficult because the upsetting in the corners from forging down the width accentuated the thinness in the middle. Eventually I just got it really hot on the end and hammered into the piece using its mass as its own anvil. 


To get the thing to stay together long enough to weld it, I'm going to use a pair of rivets. Originally I intended to use our cool mechanical drill press, but there weren't any sharp drill bits close to the shank diameter of the rivets. So instead, I punched all the holes.


They are a little off kilter, but the rivets virtually disappear when welding, which is neat. The two things I am concerned with while doing this are that all three sets (one for each side of the eye and one for the body) match up, and that the body lines up with the shoulders of the eye pieces when the rivets are in place. To do this, I made the first two holes on one side of the eye, used that as a template for the body, then flipped the body over and used that for a template on the second half of the eye. While I could have folded the eye over and used it for its own template, I decided to leave it flat for now so I can go in with a top tool and true up some of the lines prior to welding. In order to guarantee the holes were aligned, I used the template side to mark the first hole in the next piece, then punched it all the way through. Once it was able to accept a rivet, I dropped one in and aligned it for the second hole. That way. the spacing cannot be out of alignment.


And here is the lot of it at the end of the day. There is a double distal taper forged into the body piece as well as a pair of opposing tapers that go from the eye out to the edge, then from where the eye overlaps with the body backwards towards the centre of the eye. Hopefully I'll be able to get into the shop sometime this week to weld it, clean up the geometry, and weld the last piece on for the edge. 

Cheers for now!


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I think that will work!  And I know what you mean about the corners.  Trying to speed the process is how I came to write the "how not to use a sledge hammer" thread in Shop Safety.  :lol:

Doing a big axe in a coal forge is fun, isn't it?  

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In spite of only having used solid fuel for the last few years, I almost forgot how much I enjoy it after the brief interlude to the east coast :rolleyes: Propane is good and all that, but coke is great! I'm really excited to (hopefully) have a few extra days this week to do some more heavy forging, hopefully sans sledge-hammer-inflicted incidents...

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John, it's really great to see you back and at it.  This is one heck of a project, and you are THE MAN, for taking it on. I am very stoked to see this come together.

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Thanks Josh! It's good to be getting some solid time in the shop again, even if it is sort of an anomaly with the work situation.

I had another day to work on this beast today, and I'll preface this with I learned an incredible amount on how these things were likely made sans modern equipment. That caveat becomes necessary because I'm probably going to start over. This one is not necessarily a goner, but there are enough small things piled together that I want to make a more deliberate approach at the construction.


First was folding the eye piece and getting all the holes aligned. It wasn't too bad of a process, but I did need to forge down a small rod to use as a follower, hammering the tapered end through the holes to force them into alignment. Once one side of the pair was straight, I pushed the rod out with the foot of the rivet to take its place, threading it through all three layers.


Once that rivet was in place, I did the same thing with the second set of holes. This one was the trickier of the two because one of the holes on the eye side constricted slightly while getting the surface back to flat. But, with a bit of persuasion and tapering the end of the rivet slightly (long enough that it would be cut off later) it went together nicely.


Now, where the problems really began. Getting enough heat through this much material was extraordinarily difficult. The size of the firepot in the forge I was using is not large enough to really accommodate this wide of a surface, and because it is also so thick, I had to worry about burning off the thinner bits of the eye piece. So naturally, it was quite a long soak, a literal mountain of coke, and repeated flipping over to get both sides hot enough that the middle piece for the body would reach welding temps all the way through. 


I think it took around two hours from when I lit the forge to really get up to temp and set the first of the welds. Because of this, the layers of scale falling off the steel were by far the thickest I have ever seen, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 2mm :blink:


Thankfully the rivets did their job splendidly and held it all together long enough to set the welds, one side at a time because of the size of this thing. However, the time and temperature working in the fire caused some of the eye to thin down to precarious dimensions. Specifically, near the corners where the eye meets the body. This is most likely due to the thinness of the material and it heating up much more rapidly and staying at those temps longer because it doesn't have the thermal damper of the body piece against it. 


In an effort to stop the damage and repair the weakened metal, I forged a narrow wedge cross sectioned bar to stick in the void, then welded it in place using tongs to pinch-weld it together. It looks gross in the above picture because I was in the middle of trimming off the excess that held it in place while heating, but it looks a little bit better now. Without a way to hammer on that geometry, however, it's about as good as it's going to get for now, but is structurally sound and will be hidden entirely by the handle anyway,


So here is the thing with the welds set. There isn't really any blending at this point and it needs a lot of shaping, but the next thing I want to talk about is the eye geometry. I learned a lot about how not to preform eyes for this sort of axe, and I'll bring you along on the journey of what and why I'm ultimately going to start over (at least with the eye, I might hot cut this one off and save the body). 

First, the opposing shoulders thing used in symmetric eyes (as more clearly explained by the last picture of the first post from a few days ago) is not conducive to having an asymmetric eye. I thought I could overcome this by being careful with how I set up for the weld, but it did not work that well. The corners tend to buckle rather than accept a gentle curve needed to form the D shape that the handle will have at the eye. The poll section was lopsided and almost impossible to correct after it was welded to the body. Also, there is little to no margin for error with regard to the lengths of the two sides of the eye. In spite of measuring, the top piece came out too long, and so the poll tended to want to roll downward in order to give the bottom section more material. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but then the radius of the curve on the round section is still far too large. 

Second, having a flat back that smoothly transitions in plane to the back of the eye is difficult to achieve with this sandwich type weld. That bit of steel underneath wants to have the blade centred on the eye, and coupled with the asymmetric eye makes for some really funky forging. Meaning, it is not easy to forge on both sides of the weld without having a lot of overhang (the entire eye) off the edge of the anvil. While this is not as much of an issue for two or more people working on it at once, for one person it is unruly being so heavy and so incredibly hot. The radiant heat that this put off when welding was unbelievable!

Third, not having the eye fully shaped and locked in that geometry by a weld somewhere along the seam means any future shaping runs the risk of splitting it back open due to the relatively heavy deformation required. Since the seam was not perfect, there is also a bit of a channel shaped void in there. Originally I was going to come back with a chisel and cut it clean a'la Jim Austin, but at this point I have figured out how to avoid the problem altogether for the next one.

What this all means going forward is this- a radical redefining of the eye geometry and processes in shaping it. I'll post a sketch eventually that will better explain the differences, but until then I'll try and do it with words. First and foremost, I'm doing away with the hard shoulders. This was the main source of all my problems. For the poll end, I'm going to have a swept taper that curves down into the cheeks so that the thinnest part is in the centre, then thickens again towards the body. Likewise for the body side, I'm going to have the same radius, but more severely on the top half. This way, the pinched D shape or flattened teardrop thing is easier to manage with respect to keeping the back side flat. Next up is the junction with the body. I thought about doing it like an inserted bit where there is a V groove on the eye piece and a matching taper on the body, but I don't particularly like this for two reasons. First is then having two thin pieces on the eye that I have to get a large/deep welding heat on, and the other is how to match everything perfectly in such a way that it seats right but the transition above and below the eye into the body is not thinned. Third (I lied, there are more than two) is that it does not solve the problem of having extra material on the back side from the eye that needs to go somewhere in order to make it flat again. While that's not the worst problem to have, I found that it is most cumbersome at the corners where the eye flange is thickest. So what to do then? I think the answer is going to be weld the entire flange of the eye, then forge a step on the back side somewhere along its length that the flat body piece can lap weld into. This way, I don't have to worry about having to heat the middle of something so huge, instead likely using two forges to separately heat the two pieces, then drop tong/jump weld them together. That leaves the eye geometry in tact and leaves the weld with a more or less plane surface that requires no additional forging to blend and relieve excess material. Once that operation is done, the rest is (hopefully) relatively easy. Welding on a high carbon steel bit is not too difficult because only the edge needs to be hot, and that will certainly fit in the forge even if I have to do it in sections. 

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts and see if there is something else I am missing that will make the next round more successful. 



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My heart goes out to you for your valiant effort...I can tawdally relate ,as i've put myself into this very situation many times...

I've much to say on this subject,however nothing that'd materially help,i'm afraid. It's just the nature of the beast-we're barking up one tough tree-WAY overextending(or trying to)the capacity of a "one-armed" smith... That i see as the main problem;i know you've some historical examples there(btw,would be great to see some),one must be very careful in judging those to be made "by hand",it can be tricky to tell.And of course even among those obvious ones no one could say now that the smith didn't have 2-3 strikers on it with him,which would make a World of difference...

I'm personally more taken with the European patterns,as Americans mechanised the process early and in a no-nonsense manner,but of course the two are not clearly separable,and i have seen a few clearly hand-forged American pattern broadaxes(generally in a 7 to 9 lb range).

Those have all been of a "box" construction:The poll was a separate chunk welded in between the cheek pieces,sometimes so cleanly as to put one in mind of it being done last...However,fairly major weld flaws are usually quite visible on all such objects,as the heat range and all the other factors could not be maintained over Such mass/area/et c.

From the older,European tradition we see that the eye was often welded closed First,and only then welded to the body in a skew-weld,not cleft as you're trying to do.That broke up the process a bit,making it easier to control and heat...(we had a discussion with Alan,eons ago now,about that very thing becoming a special decorative feature on the German goose-wing pattern,that weld-"lip",actually accentuated and worked up into a decorative ridge in finishing).

That reminds me that the sequence,of course,is also crucially important,and i'm with Alan as far as the steel edge would be better welded on before the assembly with the eye...

Unfortunately all i have for photos at the moment is the one old(-er,early 1900-s)broadaxe known to be forged by hand that i recently looked at in the museum collections.I'm not sure what happened there at the poll-whether an extra piece was welded in-but you can definitely see how the guy struggled with all the factors that we also face....The weld-seams alone tell the story....

My friend close by owns an 1800-s strictly American pattern in an 8-lbs range where you can also see the traces of that awful struggle....I'll see if i could take photos of it (once again...just can't find the right file...).

Keep up the struggle though,man,it's a tough proposition,but noble,and worthwhile!!!!






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About the poll specifically:What became the American broadaxe is essentially the Kent-pattern,one of the most common types in the British Isles.

The poll on those was always Very massive(probably for technical reasons,as a balancing and added-mass feature).

So,i think that you're right in thinking of diverging from a one-piece pre-form(which seems to be a later method,more dependent on industrial power).I think that originally most of these were welded up as a laminate with a chunky poll inserted in between the separate thinner pieces forming the sides of the eye.

The rounded back of the inside of eye is a feature formed by making that weld...(i've actually managed to accomplish it a time or two).

It's appropriately orients the direction in which these welds run into the shear plane,as the tool is used,and so makes mechanical sense(as well as making it a bit easier on the smith as well).

I can only hope that any and all of my mad disjointed ramblings help,vs cause more confusion and consterrnation...


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What Jake said.  :lol:

I think where yours started going a little off was when the open end of the eye got too thin.  When you're doing an inlayed weld like that, thin cheeks and a squared edge on the inserted piece will almost always cause problems.  That one Jake posted a pic of shows how thick it needs to be to get that to work. 

I also agree with him about the lap weld rather than the inserted weld, which is what I was trying to say earlier about an asymmetrical eye, but it didn't come across properly...Make the eye as a with thin cheeks and a heavy poll on each end, and the side that will joint the edge then gets a steep bevel forged in to match a similar bevel on the blade body.  By steep I mean maybe an inch long for a 1/2" thick eye and body.  The trouble with this is you need two people, one to hold the eye section and one to hold the body section to get them to stay lined up on the anvil while welding.  A rivet could work if you can manage to drill the holes with the two pieces clamped together, but punching would be too difficult (for me, anyway) on a beveled edge.  If using two people, it would be a good idea to somehow key the parts so they only fit one way and can't slide sideways on each other.

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If you want to do the inserted weld thing, here are some pictures of how Tom Latane did it for a 17th century Norwegian axe with that separately welded socket Jake was talking about:

Norwegian axe 1.jpg

From bottom center counterclockwise you have the socket with lips, the body with edge upset and steeled, the body with the inside of the eye and a little shelf to fit against the socket formed, the two welded, and the finished axe.

Norwegian axe 2.jpg

And here is a closeup of the back of the body showing that fullered part that will become the front of the eye and the lip that will keep things registered with the socket during welding.

Norwegian axe 3.jpg

This is what the socket and body look like assembled, but before welding.  Note the thick cheeks on the eye! 

This one is a normal axe with the steel centered, but Tom also made a broadaxe out of one by steeling the side of the body and forging the eye/body transition flat on one side. 

These were all taken at the class where I nearly chopped my finger off with the sledge while forming the socket.  Since I was there and wanted to learn, I hung around for the rest of the class and took lots of pictures.  The following is more for Jake than John:


This book is not a how-to by any means, but it does have pictures and drawings of some of the most unique socketed edge tools from Austria and surrounding parts of the old Austro-Hungarian empire you will ever see. 

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Thanks,Alan,for all this extremely valuable data...(man oh man,but is all that stuff complex...surprisingly so...).

Separate thanks for the lead on the book,and yes,in that photo of different stages from Tom's class,those two quadrangular-ish punch-marks Seem to always be specifically applied to the weld boundary....(almost like a "proof-mark" of sorts...and yes,we're talking Germanic forging traditions here,but they of course have hugely influenced most of N.European ironwork,and American eventually also).

Yet another difference we may have with the smiths of long ago may well be the very nature of the alloys themselves.In much of remaining video materials(that 1920-ies Wira factory film a good example of that),the welds appear to be "stickier" in their very nature.

Alan is absolutely right about those extra hands being probably indispensible in the process,but aside from that,the very nature of the old alloys' Weldability seems to've been different.

(Or so my black,envy-filled heart tells me....mea culpa...:(

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Thanks folks! Much appreciated for the information, and I think I have a solid idea now on how to approach the construction. I hadn't thought of doing a sort of hotdog in a bun type situation for the eye, that makes a lot of sense. And doing a stacked poll too, much better than drawing out cheeks from something 3" thick :rolleyes:

I always wondered how those sockets were done like in the top of that post, Alan, thanks for that! And also that book, I was looking everywhere for historic examples of forged decorations, but I didn't know what to call it in a search and came up with some really weird things... I think I'll reattack this in the next few weeks and try and recruit a few strikers to make things easier!

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