Sunday, 23 February 2014

Gogmagog (The Giant)

I have a friend and now repeated customer who lives in the heart of rural wales. He keeps coming back to me with proposals for interesting projects. Most recently he asked me to make a really big felling axe, around 7 lbs.

 Most modern axes used for forestry are between 1.5 and 3 lbs, with the large Gransfors “American felling axe” coming in at 3 lbs- so 7lbs is quite a lump.
I should add that a 7lbs axe is not a “fantasy” axe. There were many manufacturers from before the age of the chainsaw who made felling axes of 7 or 8lbs- I’m sure there are examples out there of even bigger axes made for serious work.

I’m always excited by projects that are outside of my current experience.  Attempting something dramatically different to what you have done before forces you to work in a different way. With an axe this large every aspect was more difficult with factors like the radiant heat setting fire to my hammers and top sets, the large weight held in tongs making moving the work more tiring and awkward, the large surface area being forge-welded needing particular care to avoid inclusions and again the size of the piece being larger than the flatter on my power hammer.

I have over the past few months been working exclusively with welded eye (as opposed to punched eye) techniques for producing my axes, mostly using variations on the “bowtie” or symmetric wrapped method where thick starting stock is divided either side of the centre (which becomes the poll) the two thinner projections from either side are folded forward and welded together to form the eye.  Because of the size of this axe, I decided that the wrapped method was not the way to go, instead I wanted to use a method I had read about in Jim Kauffman’s “American Axes” which described forging two separate halves in symmetry then welding them together with the edge steel as a third piece. The benefit of this method would be the good access to the interior of the eye, allowing it to be carefully formed.

I had tried this method once before with a nano 2oz  axe and it worked well. So, I was keen to get on it- it also meant that fifty percent of the axe was being heated whilst the other was being worked, this makes sense with large pieces of steel as it takes much longer to work and you can only work so much before it is too cool.

The starting stock was two pieces of plate, 20x 120x 75mm. These were marked at the centre then an area 30mm across was marked out off-centre, this division is what would become the eye, if it was marked out centrally, then you would have an even amount of mass either side of the eye, meaning that the point of balance of the as yet un-steeled axe would also be in the exact middle of the stock. This would be ineffective as the stock will be forged out, redistributing the weight, causing a hafted axe to droop in the hand as it would be “bit heavy”. To compensate for this and also to move the point of balance (hereafter referred to as POB) forward to the first quartile of the eye, the stock was divided thusly.

Because the material was too wide for my power-hammer ( I currently only have the one block which is divided into a fuller and a flatter.) we had to work the metal traditionally, with striking and the use of “top-sets”- firstly fullering to divide the stock then set hammers and flatters, all interspersed with direct hammer work, manoeuvring all about the anvil. It is a pleasure to work like this with my father, it is too noisy and too quick to talk between blows, so cat calls, shouts and yelps signal stop-an-go, heavier, faster, slower- I wish that there was enough work for us to forge like this often, which is why I so enjoyed this chance to have at it.

Heres a quick video which is, as usual, very noisy!

Once both sides were fully worked, they were offered up and found to match together well. Here they are shown with my Gransfors for scale. We begin to get the impression for the scale.




The internal faces were ground clean to give the welding the best start, they were brought together with the steel inserted. The piece was then brought up to heat and welded under the hammer.

Loudness abounds, man.

After the welds were set, it was a case of pulling the steel into the right shape.


Here it shows the point of balance being the front of the eye, as anticipated.

Here’s hardening.

And here’s finished.

The customer was really keen to haft it himself so he felled an ash tree and cut a piece a few weeks before the axe was ready and dried next to the stove, weighing it each day. When he received the head and the haft was ready he put it together and sent me these pictures. The haft is 44 inches long and weighs a few pounds itself.

I think the axe finished up beautifully, it has great character and presence and cuts beautifully too. I’m proud of this piece but also grateful to have been given the chance to work in a new way 


Gogmagog is a giant from British mythology, given the size grandeur of this axe and its Celtic Locale, I started calling it ‘magog from an early stage in its life.

It seemed to suit.


  1. Keep coming back to re-read this. Excellent work Josh!

  2. Beautiful work man! Would love a beast like that myself. Whereabouts in Wales was this friend based Josh? We're in Hay on Wye, just on the border near Hereford. Luke

    1. Hi Luke, This went to Carmarthenshire.

      I've made a bunch of big axes since this one, but mostly around 5lbs. I visited the customer recently and saw this axe again and I was surprised at just how massive it felt....

      Im on facebook By the way if you would like to get in touch

      search for Joshua L Burrell, artist metalsmith.