Thursday, 14 November 2013

Large Bearded Axe

A friend came by the workshop a short time ago to look at collect a froe and a hook knife, we also discussed making an axe- something about a kilo, double bevelled and bearded.

At around the same time, this video did the rounds on Facebook showing a wonderful axe forge in Maine. If you care about our lost industrial heritage or the skill the human is capable of do yourself a favour and watch this video. Take a moment to meditate on the thought that that firm shown represented not only their endeavours and experimentations in tool making, but actually the culmination of two and a half thousand years of research, material and process development.

 There is an old anecdote that I will paraphrase (butcher) here, which perhaps hints at what I’m trying to say.

“A person enters a workshop and watches a potter/blacksmith/carpenter making a beautiful bowl/scroll/joint and says

 “Wow, that was incredible- how long did that take you? Ten minutes? Half an hour?

The maker responds

 “20 years”. 

The point is that in craft, every single movement and action is the product of all the maker’s combined experiences leading up to that moment. Whilst someone could learn the same task in a day they would not be able to understand and implement it with the same nuance as the time served craftsperson.

In a similar way, the traditional crafts are building not only on your own experience but also your craft forbears and thus-

“How long did that axe take?”

 “Two and a half thousand years”

  One of the many interesting details of this video was how they were “steeling” the edge of their axes with a horseshoe shaped bit, wrapping around the softer iron body. I had read about this technique and seen it illustrated before but actually seeing it implemented inspired me try this method out as an experiment.

So, we begin with a piece of steel.


The start weight was around a kilo, I was expecting some loss from forging and grinding, but also we would be adding weight with the steel edge.

This initial piece was forged and “upset” to form this "L" shaped piece.
The edge steel was forged to give this cross section

The body of the axe was cleaned and the edge rounded to present a better face for welding.


The edge steel was formed into the “u” shaped stock that mated well with the mild steel body.


The two pieces were brought together and fitted tightly before being brought to higher temp and having flux applied before the final welding phase could begin.


And now an apology…..

I forgot my camera! So there are no pictures of the middle moments where the eye is formed using the “asymmetric method” and forge-welded together. So yes, sorry about that.
Must. Try. Harder.
The best I can offer is this image of the body before the eye was formed, showing where I was going to divide the stock up.
And then suddenly……

So this is where we arrived- something hefty at about 1100 grams with a true razor for its 7 inch edge and a neat beard.
Regards the “overlay” method for the edge- I found it easier to implement once the stock was prepared. I will think more about this on following tools.
Thanks for looking.