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Questions about axe forging

Anthony Reid

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I recently added a 33lb anyang air hammer to my shop and have been working toward some projects that I was disinclined to attempt when I had to do everything by hand. One of the things I've been interested in pretty much forever is axes I've made a few tomahawks over the years but now I'm turning my attention to proper axes. This afternoon I forged out this tiny hatchet head . It started as a 2x3x3/4inch piece of 4140  which I punched and drifted with tools I made for this project . My main issue was with the eye the punching went ok except that my punch seemed to stick in the part and took some work to free a few times and ultimately bent the punch. Also I wonder if my punch to drift size ratio is off? It took many heats to get the eye to even a small hatchet eye size. Is there a rule for sizing a punch to a drift for optimal ease of forging and a clean finished eye? I have included pictures of the tooling I used so if anyone can see an issue I missed or can recommend anything I much appreciate it. The repeated heats to drift the eye caused me to loose quite a bit of material to scale so that by the time I had ground the head I had gone from around 1-1/3lb starting stock to 0.8 lb does that seem excessive or about right? I would like to make a couple more of these mini hatchets and then attempt some larger axes so the more I can get figured out now the less frustrating it will be later  


So to sum up:

1)is there a rule of thumb to scale punch size to drift size for axe eyes?


2)What size/shape of punch or slitter do you use? And do you drive it by hand or with a power hammer or press? (I would like to be able to do this with my power hammer but having only about 6in between the dies limits my tooling options)


3) how much material is typical to lose to scale and finish grinding?( I tried to forge close to finish dimensions but there was some trimming to flatten the top and true up the bit profile)








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I typically figure out the punch-to-drift ratio by trial and error, depending on how much I want to eye to stretch.


As for the punch itself, you have two issues going on here: Your punch doesn't look particularly tapered, and you didn't say if you were using any lubricant. I see that's a Brazeal brothers-style punch, in that it cuts as well as punches.  With the Anyang, you should be able to complete the punching in one or two heats. The punch needs to be very tapered to work well.  Lube of any form is good. Coal dust, graphite, nickel-grade anti-seize compound, or actual forge lube, in increasing order of effectiveness.


This is the good stuff:  https://www.anvilfire.com/sales/blacksmith-supplies/forge-ease-3512/ Using this will astonish you.  Your punches, drifts, and stamps will go twice as far per blow. At $14.95 per pint, which you then dilute with water to make a quart or more, it's very cost-effective.


For the eye shape you're doing, I'd use a slitting punch rather than a slug punch.  Use a hot work steel for these, like H13 or S-7. Quench in forge lube every three or four blows. I use a short S-7 slitting punch under a treadle hammer and typically take one or two heats to get through 1" square bar. It helps to drill guide holes with a slitting punch, as a 3/8" hole will give you a nicer (and easier to achieve!) flat back to the eye than a sharp cut.  Last time I did a bunch of slit-and-drift eyes, I was slitting 1" square in one or two heats, and drifting it (including drawing down lugs at the sides) in five or six more heats. Coal forge running rich (aka piled deep, billet in the top half) to reduce scale. 


Your loss to scale suggests an oxidizing forge atmosphere. 


Here's a thread I did on doing the slit-and-drift method on bearded axes:




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Thanks for the info Alan, you may be right about the forge atmosphere I had it running about like I do for Damascus with a bit of dragons breath out the front of my ribbon burner forge but I did have my air gate a bit further open than usual. (I built a diverter blast gate between the blower and the ribbon burner) 


Do you have a picture of your punch /slitter ? Drifting that hatchet eye from essentially a hammer eye punch hole to a 1.5x.5 axe eye took probably 10 heats ...it got quicker when I figured out how to do it at the anvil rather than using the post vise as a bolster but it was still slow. 


I was cooling my punch in beeswax and occasionally using charcoal dust to lube the punch so that could have been a big issue too. 

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