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-


  1. Fantastic axe! I work alone as well and understand it is no small feat to do this without a striker. My strikers are too little to help yet. I look forward to further posts on your adventure into the world of axes.

  2. Thanks very much Troy,

    I actually work with my father but its too much to ask him to strike all day! i have worked for other companies around the uk which really opened my eyes to the effectivness of proper striking.

    I have a sword to make now but i will get back to axes asap as it is a passion for me.

    Thanks again

  3. Hello,
    So then the chief rational for an axe with a drifted eye is that the modern billets are less sensitive to directional stresses as they are being forged to shape and so no concern for structure is warranted, if I understand some of what you have written up there, which is interesting to me.


    Don Wagstaff

    1. Hi Don, yes thats right. modern steel wont split apart when punched, but the older style, slaggy materials could easily do so, so the welded methods were used to avoid this.

      thanks for looking


  4. Hi Josh,
    You know, I'm just looking into the history of the Swedish Hjärtumyxa which, even though a Norwegian design, was most recently made from a billet and not a strap. Persson claimed it was because that made a stronger axe. I take that claim for what it is worth nothing more to be clear. But concretely you have me wondering now if this was always the case with the Hjärtum axe and if not when did they start doing it like that. But thanks for pointing that out about the newer steel, only thing is I'm afraid it will now be hard for me not to associate it from here on out with plywood.


    Don Wagstaff

    1. Hello Again Don, I was not aware of that pattern of Axe, so thank you for sharing that with me.

      those are indeed made from a single billet, and may have been made in that way for a very long time as Scandinavian steel production has been very advanced for a long time indeed.

      In history it is only ever safe to assume that all methods have been tried at one time or another, so im sure you could find precedent for a similar styled axe to the Hjärtum being made with the welded eye method as well as the punched method.

      in a modern context of high quality steel, observing the wrapped eye method for axe production is really academic as the method does not produce innately better axes.

      and it is certainly true to say the a punched eye could be stronger than a welded eye but the forces needed to break either (if they are properly formed) I would suggest are beyond normal human strength.

      thanks for your thoughts.

      all this talk of axes makes me hungry to make more and further develop my understanding.

  5. Hi Josh,

    I hope that I haven't diverted you from your course. I have appreciated your responses so thanks for that. Oh yeah, nice work too.