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The Making of an Axe

If you're looking for an axe to use in bushcraft, woodwork, reenactment, or even to have at the house should the need for one arise, Oaken Moose Trading has you covered. We pride ourselves in forging our axes the old way; resulting in a tool certainly not found in any hardware store. 

The Steel

To make a quality axe head, two types of steel must be used. For the bulk of the head, mild steel is used and kept relatively soft to allow for the best possible shock absorbance and overall durability. The edge, however, is made of a hardened high carbon steel. The result is a strong, durable axe head with an edge holding (and easily sharpened) blade. 

The Forging

When we forge an axe at our shop, we use one of two methods. The first is to begin with a block of mild steel, forge it into the rough shape of the head, and open the "eye", where the handle is inserted, by means of punches and drifts that start small and gradually reach as large as the handle will be. The edge is then split open with a hot cut (chisel) and a piece of high carbon steel is inserted. This is forge welded in place, and the rest of the forging is largely cosmetic. This method is used mainly for axes with a large profile, such as felling and splitting axes. The second method is to use a flat bar of mild steel, forge its opposite ends into the axe blade's general shape, and fold it in on itself. Both sides then meet, and a piece of high carbon steel is inserted to be forge welded. Following this route avoids the use of punches altogether, as the eye creates itself in the folding. A drift is used to perfect the eye, so that the axe's future handle fits properly. 

Hardening and Tempering

Hardening and tempering an axe head relies on ensuring the correct heat has reached through the piece's core, not just the surface. The high carbon edge is hardened by heating to critical and quenching in oil. The rest of the axe is tempered by heating to what is widely considered a bright red color throughout, and left to cool. Because of the shock forced onto an axe's head, it doesn't take long to determine if the heat treating process was done correctly. 

Grinding, Sanding, and Polishing

Not much grinding is done to the bodies of our axes, as we put a lot of time into the forging process to be sure all of the shaping is complete by hammer. This is not only quicker but also results in a structurally sound piece. After heat treating is complete and the shape is correct, our axes are usually hung just above the flames of our coal forge for a few seconds and beeswax is applied to the surface. This gives it a nice texture and appearance, as well as protecting against rust. The bevels are ground by flap disks and belt sanders, and are finished by hand. 

Handles

Our axe handles are carved out of either hickory or ash, varying axe to axe. We begin with a bandsaw to cut the profile, and switch to a drawknife to take it from a square shape to a round one more recognizable as a handle. Palm knives are also used to finely carve the handle, before finishing it with sandpaper. A finishing solution is applied to the handle after the fine sanding, depending on customer preference.