I love making and using axes, however sometimes it’s a little hard for one person without the use of a power hammer or press, so I don’t end up making as many as I’d like. The method I’m about to show you is really great for a one man shop. It’s nice because unlike the standard “wrap around” eye this axe still has a poll (the back part of the axe) which balances everything, both physically and aesthetically.
This is a very small hatchet, the whole thing weighs only 1 pound making is capable of the most precise work.
The materials are wrought iron from a 100+ year old wagon tire, and brand new 1084 high carbon steel.
The first thing is to mark everything out. You want to decide on the length of your pole and measure out from the center of the bar the length of the pole in both directions. In this case I want a 3/4″ pole so I found the center, center punched it, measured out 3/4″ on both sides and marked that.
You also need to decide how large you want your eye. This is probably dependent on the size of your drift. There are formulas for determining this, but what i do is just measure the diameter of the drift and divide by two. From your last markings measure out the however far the diameter of the drift was divided by two, do this on both sides.
It’s important to leave enough material for the drift to just sort of ease open the eye. You don’t want to stretch the material (especially with wrought iron, but we’ll get to that later) because it’s already pretty thin, and your hole will not be as nice and consistent.
Next step is to draw out the cheeks of the axe. This will be the inside of the eye. Between the first and second set of markings from both sides is where your eye will be, drawing down the cheeks in this manner is much easier than trying to draw them down on the drift. Having pronounced cheeks on an axe really help when it comes to fitting a handle, it allows for much more wood to metal contact.
Use a ball pien, or a rounding hammer for this. I guess you could use a small cross pien, but the ball just seems like a good way to do it. If you’re working wrought like I am here be sure you’re only hitting the iron when it’s very hot otherwise it will split on you. This happened to me on the cheek, but being wrought it’s extremely easy to weld back together. Just heat, flux, and tap back together.
The next step is to flip the bar over, opposite the side you just forged, and cut half way through in the dead center of the bar. This will be the outside of the axe.
Fold the bar in half. Be sure the wrought is real hot when you do this otherwise it will snap in two, which wouldn’t be a problem really, this method just makes welding easier.
As you can see, the cheeks aren’t exactly the same. This isn’t a problem, as I’ll be profiling with a file or grinder later. Just a little extra work to reward the carelessness.
The next step is the welding, weld the pole together, then insert your high carbon for the cutting edge and weld that in place.
There really is not any magic to it just heat, bush, flux, heat some more, and weld. When I first started blacksmithing I was so intimidated by welding that I pretty much never tried it. One day I was frustrated that I couldn’t weld, so I went out to the shop and welded up a bunch of steel, since then I’ve had no problems. I really think that the biggest obstacle that a young smith has is themselves.
Not to mention wrought iron is about the easiest thing to weld on the planet.
After it’s all welded up it’s time to drift the hole. No secret to this either, just drive in the drift almost all the way on one side, flip it around and do the same on the other side. This creates an hourglass shape which allows for a very good fit with your handle. If you’re making a tomahawk, or a different sort of friction fitted tool, only drift from one side.
Next start forging, use dies available (hammer faces, anvil parts, etc.) to move the metal in the direction you’d like. Always work at a very high heat, a little lower than welding temperature.
As you can see here the blade end of the wrought started to split again, no big deal. It’s easy to weld back, and in this case I’ll be trimming the edge a little bit anyway.
The axe is all forged out now, time for profiling, and stamping my mark.
Even with the heavy forging done to the high carbon steel, the grain will still be too big because of the multiple welding heats. The cure for this is to heat it up to critical (which is non magnetic for 1084 being that it is eutectic) and let it slowly cool. Depending on the rate of cooling it is either normalization, or annealing. I usually triple normalize my work prior to hardening. Again this reduces the grain size making a more durable tool that obtains and keeps a better edge.
After the normalization cycles the blade is heated again to non magnetic, and quenched in warm oil. Then it is tempered 3 times with a torch. An oven works well, even using the fire to temper is fine. The key is doing it multiple times.
Here is the head all sharpened up and ready for a handle.
For the handle I choose some nice straight grained shagbark hickory from my property.
A good axe needs a sheath
This is a very nice mini hatchet. It’s great for fine detailing work. Being only a pound it would be a great tool to bring hiking.
If you’re interested it can be purchased here.