Saturday, 12 January 2013

Socketed Side Axe

I have been thinking about traditional forms of the axe used in timber framing and log building, one of the quintessential types is the “Side-Axe”, so called because it allows the user to stand to the side of the timber or beam and hew without having to use the tool awkwardly as the bit (blade) is orientated at an angle to the shaft.

Many of the older style of axes are exciting works of iron that show millennia of evolution and improvements to design. There are other methods of production that I want explore that involve many delicate process’. The most important thing to understand about the design of older axes is that they are made of Wrought Iron, not steel and as such the grain flow of the material needs to be considered before an axe can be made.

I’ve made this axe using an altered form of the asymmetric wrap that Jim Austin has been exploring in his research on Viking methods of construction; my own research has shown that this technique was widely used in axe manufacture until the modern age and the advent of homogenised, low to zero slag alloys which can be worked more directly with punching and drifting methods as the material wont splits apart under these stresses.
This image shows an excavated Early modern broad axe with an exploded asymetric wrap on the eye. I have taken this image from the Portable Antiquities Scheme website.


The stock I began with was around 5 feet of 20x 50 mild steel, the end of which was upset on a block on the floor to thicken the stock further in anticipation of the forming a wide Bit later on as the axe I have made is also of the “broad-axe” family having and edge length just over 6 inches.

Upsetting is done whilst the stock is still long and very heavy to allow more force to be delivered in each strike.

(Apologies, I have no video editing skills or software so all of my films are Very loud! But then again, so is my work…. You have been warned!)  


Seven inches are measured and then chopped off and marked up with a centre punch.


I also forged this tool, called a butcher, to help making the early defining cuts.
The Butcher is a hafted top set normally struck by a helper with a sledge but can be used by the smith if the work is held between the legs.
A series of fullers and flatters are used to pull the steel in the desired direction.


This is neatened up over my stake Anvil which has sharper edges

This neatened piece is measured to check symmetry and then folded over and welded onto itself. The faces that are welded to each other are over thick to allow multiple welding passes to ensure a thorough bond.



Before the weld is completed, the axe is held vertically and the butcher is used again to fiercely cut through the weld I have just set, this pushes the mass of the axe forward but also upsets the area of the weld, thickening it again so it can be gently worked at welding temp to finish.


Once the eye had been mostly welded, the eye was trued up with a large tapering square mandrill.

Square eyes are more common on older styles of working axe and in my opinion allow for simpler fitting of a haft.

Finaly the high carbon edge was inserted and welded in, the form was forged out with fullers and flatters and left to normalise before being rough ground and hardened.

The head was ground on the reverse side and the black scale was treated with beeswax to protect against rust.
This axe head is for sale
I am making some more working axes in the coming weeks as well as some more decorative and embellished styles using a range of techniques. I am available to make specialist axes of any kind, please contact me either here or though my Facebook page here-

Monday, 7 January 2013

The Golden Bough

In the churchyard of a rural, former mining village in south wales, there are some ancient yew trees. All of which pre-date the late Norman, white washed church by some millennia. Amongst them, however, there are two great, writhing trunks of particular distinction.


I say two trunks, as they are in fact one tree as genetics have revealed. There is also written accounts of the tree being several feet closer together in recent centuries and even one and the same in the more distant past.

 This single tree has also been shown to be at least five thousand years old. At least five millennium.
At the birth of human metal working this tree was potentially already ancient, at the coming of the Iron age this tree was at least two and a half thousand years old, it stood through the coming and going of whole cultures, whole languages, the raising of Stone Henge, the fall of Celtic Europe.

At the time of Rome, this tree was already three thousand years old; it has stood through Dane and Norman and Saxon invasion. It has seen virtually all human technological development from stone to silicone and continues to thrive as a vast and healthy specimen.  

These trees were highly revered for the majority of British history for their longevity combined with their toxicity as a potent symbol of the duality of life. I hold them in awe as a vast singular point of contact to our own human history.


It is quite an amazing thing.

I promise there will be more usual images of metal and fire soon!


Friday, 4 January 2013

Handmade Axe


This axe head was made in the “bowtie” method out of mild steel and an inserted bit of carbon steel.  After hardening in water, the edge was sharpened and polished. The edge was not etched to show the insert, rather the steel has been allowed, in use, to reveal the gently undulating grey-white line that is characteristic of this most traditional method.

This axe has no particular form; rather it was made to demonstrate the method. Modern steel is homogenised and generally without flaws and inclusions. Ancient steel was the opposite and it is with this in mind that various techniques for producing the eye on hafted tools were devised (JIM), Whilst not strictly Ancient in the same way as the Asymmetrical method explored by Jim Austin, The “bowtie” uses the same principals, that is, awareness of the grain direction of wrought iron. The un-welded head is forged symmetrically, with the appearance of a bowtie, hence the name. The shape is then folded over onto itself and welded with the bit inserted.

I gave this axe head to my second family for Christmas and I’ve spent some time over the last few days producing a haft from the foraged Oak on the mountain.

The axe has been hand hewed with an old pattern axe (the head of which was made in the same bowtie method) paying attention to the direction and preference of the wood grain. Observing the timber in this way produces a stronger haft if there are some small knots and burls in the same way as a bowyer making a traditional Yew longbow.

The timber has not been sanded; finished or sealed as yet; if it was in constant use then timber would be sanded down, refined and sealed with beeswax and linseed oil.

The journey of this axe has been enjoyable as it has revolved around ancient techniques from the forging of the head to the gathering of materials and tools used.