torvalshank

Making my first axe; questions about wood?

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Hello! So many beautiful axes in this thread, I feel completely humbled by all of the artistry. 

 

I am working towards making my first axe. I still have to make my drifts before I can do it, but hopefully soon after that I'll be starting. I had a couple of simple questions though; at least, hopefully simple questions.

 

One, how many sizes of drift do you think I need? I have a slit punch that I made, but I am curious if I should do a 1/2, 3/4, and 1 inch drift, or if just a 3/4 and a 1 inch will do the job? Wouldn't be difficult to make the extra one, but I'm just curious what the experts think. I am leaning towards making square drifts for my first ones; seems like it will be easier to carve a square handle than a round one. 

 

Two, what type of wood do you prefer for your handles? I have 20-some wooded acres, so I imagine I have access to just about any kind of tree that grows in Southern Indiana, and I would like to source the handle material from something locally here on my property, and carve the handle myself. Even if it does wind up far more "rustic" than intended. :) 

 

Three, starting material. For ease of use, I thought that I might just pick up a 4" piece of 1x1 steel at the local warehouse. Rather than trying to forge my first hawk out of scrap that may require more work, (and skill,) I thought I might start with something simple and then move on to making them out of other things. I don't want to over-complicate my first one.  

 

I appreciate in advance any responses to this question, and I hope that I am not over-reaching with a project of this size at my current level of experience, (or lack thereof.) 

 

 

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As far as wood for handles... several threads have dealt with this before.  Pecan, Hickory, Osage Orange, are ideal.  Most Oaks, Elms, Persimmon, Ashes, are excellent.  Maples are pretty and abundant but brittle.  Hackberry (Elm family) is also ideal... strong yet flexible!  Mulberry is pretty good IMO!  Locusts are usually quite good as well!  I don't know much about most of the understory woods (Dogwood, Redbud, etc.) but I would expect some of them to be good!  Surely you have many of these to choose from!

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As far as what steel to use, don't use mild steel from some place like Lowes or Home Depot. Use a mid- to high-carbon steel and temper the edge harder than the head, make that springier. Use the better steel so you will have a usable, working piece in the event the axe turns out satisfactorily.

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I like bois d'arc (Osage) for most any handle that is subject to continuous hard use. Hickory is also good - although a lot of it depends on the particular tree for any species.

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I do have an enormous mulberry tree hanging over my deck. Might try a handle out of that, just because I won't even have to put on shoes to get it... ;) 

 

I will locate some hickory; 3 out of 4 replies mention it, it seems to be a good consensus. 

 

As for the steel, I imagine that the typical hot-rolled stuff probably won't be that good then, if I'm wanting a slightly higher carbon-content? 

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general run of the mill hot rolled is most likely to be A-36  not worth the effort to forge for a blade.  5160 is often available and will make a good axe

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Just to be clear, the finish -- hot-rolled vs cold-rolled -- is not important, just the alloy (1045, 5160, etc). If you're buying new, hot-rolled will (probably) be cheaper (if it's offered in both finishes).

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And the specialness of cold rolled disappears the first time you get to forging temp.  When buying "mild steel" you used to get 1018 or 1020 if you bought CR and A-36 if you bought hot rolled but now they are producing A-36 both ways.  You of course can buy any alloy either way if you are willing to pay.

 

Now as to wood---have you asked the oldest craftsman you can find what they used to use locally.  Those 90+ guys might be happy to take a sit down and talk about the old days.  I've learned a LOT that way and ran across some very good tips on finding equipment.

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Not being a bladesmith guy I'll leave the steel to the guys who are.

 

The wood though is something I know a bit about. Whatever species you choose the roots will be the stronger part of the tree. YMMV of course, I'm only familiar with the rule of thumb for making  handles and heavy use wooden implements from field expedients.

 

It's from my kind of, sortta survivalist guy days. I was never part of the "movement" but have loved post apocalyptic stories since I learned to read and have never liked the idea I'd have to just wait for somebody to rescue me in an emergency so I read and experimented. Lots. It's another reason I like blacksmithing if I need a thing I can make it or make the tools to make it.

 

Frosty The Lucky.

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Pecan is sold as hickory in the hardwood trade. Ash is the wood of choisce northern europe, and shaggy bark hicory is the wood if choice in the us.
This doesn't preclude any of the other woods sugjested. Give them a chance.

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Well, yes Pecan IS Hickory... but not all Hickory is Pecan!  Lumber guys can't easily tell the difference... they sometimes market both woods as "Pecan-Hickory"... which wood only exists in lumber yards!

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Alexander Weyger's book recommends apple wood for handles used for digging implements.  I've had excellent results with hickory.

 

Based on the stock dimensions you mentioned it sounds like you want to make a tomahawk rather than an axe. 

 

If that's the case I can say that throwing axes benefit from a pick-axe style handle where the handle is smaller than the eye of the axe.  It makes it tons easier to replace when broken.  Teardrop or rectangular handle holes keep them from rotating.

 

If you're headed for carpentry type hatchet's you might want to make the drift fit standard hammer handles. That way one drift works for both projects!

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Not being a bladesmith guy I'll leave the steel to the guys who are.
 
The wood though is something I know a bit about. Whatever species you choose the roots will be the stronger part of the tree. YMMV of course, I'm only familiar with the rule of thumb for making  handles and heavy use wooden implements from field expedients.
 
It's from my kind of, sortta survivalist guy days. I was never part of the "movement" but have loved post apocalyptic stories since I learned to read and have never liked the idea I'd have to just wait for somebody to rescue me in an emergency so I read and experimented. Lots. It's another reason I like blacksmithing if I need a thing I can make it or make the tools to make it.
 
Frosty The Lucky.

It's my understanding that Frosty is something of an expert on surviving wood. (My dad outran the birch that tried to jump him instead of taking it on head on.)

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Thank you for the advice. Averaging the opinions from this thread, I think I'll be searching out some hickory trees, and some 1045 steel. I'll post my results when I'm done. Hopefully. ;)

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Yeah, s'true I wore the crown for a while.

 

Frosty The Lucky.

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In Balkan we ussualy use Hornbeam. ITs strong tough  and good wood.But its hard to cut it. Second i would use dogwood.

I would use ash too if i dont have other woods. Here in stores you can see beech handles offten on tools.

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Hickory and ash are both very good for handles and they aren't too expensive, either.  Other woods such as osage or yew are good as well, but are expensive and hard to find a straight piece.  Mulberry is closely related to osage, but it is cheaper and usually straighter.  Elm would probably work well too.  I personally prefer hickory, as I have had some trouble with ash breaking in the past.

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Torval, where are you from in Southern Indiana? I'm in Evansville! 

Also, I haven't had access to a lot of different wood options. My first three axe handles I carved from a 2.5x2.5in red oak hobby wood that I grabbed from Home Depot. They seem to do alright, and take a decent stain/oil. I just hit it with a draw knife and carved it to shape. 

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Traditionally they used air dried wood for handles not kiln dried as kiln dried is a bit more brittle.  One source used to be pallet's; though I don't know if they are still air drying the wood for those.

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