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Unusual Axe Construction (Old Japanese Hatchet)


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I’ve been delving deeper into Japanese metalworking lately, and recently I ended up with this axe head. No clue on the age or exact provenance, but it appears to be wrapped rather than punched and drifted as is now the norm, so I figure it’s somewhat older. The way it seems to be put together is different than anything I’ve seen, so I figured I would post it to see if anyone is familiar with how this might have been done. 
 

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It’s pretty small, only 600-700 g by my guess, and it’s 15 cm long, and 2.2 cm thick at the poll before the mushrooming. 
 

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It may be hard to see, but it looks like the metal from the poll and cheeks wraps around an insert at the front of the eye and then meets back together? At first I thought it may be an asymmetric wrap, but there is a seam visible on one side of the eye on the top, and the other side on the bottom. The weird thing to me is that there doesn’t seem to be a bit welded in for the edge, but it’s generally hard to tell what’s going on there. It seems like the weld may be slightly asymmetric with one of the cheeks also serving as the bit. It seems like if that were the case, this would use a lot more high carbon steel, since it makes up the whole perimeter of the axe. 
 

It also seems like this would be tricky to forge. If I were making it, I would probably forge the inner wedge

to a point, isolate the poll, weld the wedge on, do the fold, then weld, but I have no clue if that’s how this one was made. Anyone have any experience/knowledge about axes like this? I hope to make one like this in the future, and any insights are appreciated (and hopefully someone else finds this neat too!). 

 

 

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Sorry but I'm gonna blow smoke and it wont be helpful. As I'm sure you know Japanese and European blacksmithing developed independent of each other and there are differences in methods that came out because of different thoughts.

 

The reason its put together weird could be a lost or specialized technique that made this axe fit its intended role. The way its put together could also depend on when it was made as you have to sometimes work with what you got and if I remember correctly preindustrial Japan did not have large amounts of good iron. From what I remember reading on ironworking development in Japan Japanese iron deposits were of low quality and rare compared to Europe. This is part of the reason along with Chinese influence arms & armor developed the way it did in ancient Japan. The mystical ness and techniques of forging the steel for a Katana are there because of this supply issue. The folding was both homogenizing but also remove slag impurities. 

 

As for the cheek also being the bit it is a possibility as most Japanese cutting implements were dual steels in a chisel configuration. I know there is a chart somewhere that names the styles for swords on steel configuration for welding but non swords I believe we predominantly weld a high carbon piece onto the top/side. I cant see any of the weld seams in the pictures but I never could see fine details in photos. Is it possible there is a hidden seam on one side where the piece to do the wrap was actually two pieces one high and one low? 

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There's been all sorts of ways of welding up tools.  The only way to get any idea of just how an old piece was welded, is to put it in the vinegar for the night.  I did that to an old belt axe and it was welded up from at least three pieces with the edge piece laid along one side. 

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What both of the previous guys said.  I see those weld lines around the eye.  I'd be very surprised if the steel went more than an inch back from the edge, knowing what little I do about Japanese tools.  They tended, with woodworking tools, to use the bare minimum of steel necessary.  I'm betting at least five pieces, maybe more, and it's going to be hard to tell about the main body.

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Hmm, I'll have to think about this. I would love to figure out how this was welded up, but I also want to keep it as intact as possible for the shape/few traces of original finishing (it looks like pretty much the whole thing was ground/filed smooth at some point). I don't have access to a ton of tools at the moment, but I do have some files and mold makers stones, which I have found bring out weld lines reasonably well. Would polishing up the bit where the original finish has already been hit with sand paper from the looks of it reveal much? It seems like I could potentially tell if the bit is set in or lap welded on. From the top, it looks like it could be an overlay, though I don't know if that's something you would do to minimize steel use.

 

Alan, out of curiosity, are you imagining more of a "stack" than a fold with a 5+ piece construction? It seems like it could potentially be hard to get those sharp internal corners with a fold, though there also isn't much poll to speak of, and it seems like it would be a tricky setup if the poll/cheeks were three different parts. The image below has the lines that are clear in person but not in the photo drawn in, and I can only with any real confidence say there are two pieces but would not be surprised by more (like maybe the bit is lap welded on to the bottom side in the photo).

 

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Is the idea with a long vinegar soak to do a fairly deep each all over to reveal the weld lines? It's tempting because I am curious how this was put together, but also do also like it as a "study piece" in it's current condition too. The details I originally cared most about related to the eye, but I could presumably take all of those measurements and then do higher impact detective work about the welding. 

 

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Disclaimer: I know nothing of what I speak.

Looking at that last photo, this is how I would approach this project.  There are three pieces. The first piece makes the poll and the cheeks with enough extra to continue significantly past the front end of the eye, only one side is shorter than the other (call this the poll strap). The second piece forms the front of the eye and is sandwiched between the extensions of the first piece (call this the plug). The final piece is the bit and this is lap welded onto the short cheek, the center plug, and the long cheek.

Process: Form the  poll strap into a U-shape with a nice square inside turn at the poll. Form the plug as a wedge with with a nice square backside and an even taper to a point. Set the plug in the U-shaped poll strap to outline the square eye. Weld the cheeks to the plug. You should now have a welded eye with a sloped front formed by the short cheek, the plug and the long cheek. Overlay the bit steel in the slope and weld.

 

Axe technique V2.jpg

Edited by Joshua States
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how would one go about putting a video on to here? i have quite a a few i took in Japan 2019 of a smith making his version of this axe, i also have the etched axe that shows the process quite well.

 

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Ok ill sort it this weekend, he was an awsome smith in his 80's looking kike a little old lady and working a 200lb+ spring hammer. the really neet thing is that he has a steel insert in the poll to help shap it into a swuare.

 

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