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I Forge Iron

Steeled edges, Drop forged and Hand forged Timelines


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I have been trying to find out how I can tell the age of various axes by the way they were made. For example, I read that the Bessimer process was invented around 1855 and by about 1870 the process had been perfected, thus making it cheap enough to make axes of all steel. So my assumption then was that if the axe has "steeled" edges then it must be pre-1870. But then I ran into some problems. Apparently manufacturers were making iron axes with steeled edges up until about 1930!

Okay, so now I am really confused. Why would some of the largest axe manufacturers like Collins Axe Co. and others still use steeled forged axes when it was apparently cheaper & easier to just drop forge it entirely of cast steel?

It is the timeline here that I'm missing. Are there any conclusions I can draw concerning the date of manufacture of an axe by looking at the way it was manufactured? If it was drop forged can I say it was at least this x date or after? Yes, I know how to tell whether the axes have been steeled and no, I don't want to spark test any antiques axes. I realize these are general conclusions I am looking for and not absolutes. :confused:

Thanks a lot,

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I think you're forgetting a couple factors that affect how quickly new technologies are taken up, namely Machine upgrade costs, transportation costs/availability, and sheer stubbornness to new technologies shown by people not wanting to take a risk. Even if it was cheaper, they would have had to look at how much they would save and how quickly the new machine would pay for itself versus the cost of replacing their old equipment and how old the equipment was. If they were ready to replace the machine, they also had to factor in the availability of steel versus iron depending on where the factories were. The cost of transportation of things can really impact what materials and methods you use. Of course, as many of us can attest to, there is the general feeling that my way is better and I'm not going to take the risk on a completely new technology until my neighbor has thoroughly tested it first.

On the methods to determine the difference, I'm not too sure how to do it without spark testing or possibly polishing a spot clean of rust where it won't be noticable and acid testing it. As for the time line, you'd have to check individual manufacturers and see when they changed them.

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The Davistown Museum Handtools in History Series

Volume 6: Steel and Tool Making Strategies and Techniques before 1870
Volume 7: Art of the Edge Tool
Volume 11: Handbook for Ironmongers A Glossary of Ferrous Metallurgy Terms
18th and 19th Century Toolmaker Information Files
Collins & Co.

According to their 1921 catalog, tools bearing the mark "Collins & Co., Hartford" is used on their most premium products whereas "R. King," "Bx Swift," "Bv Wise" and "Charter Oak" are used on their budget lines of products. At this time, they manufactured over 1,100 products. It also purports that shoddy imitations of their products have been manufactured in Germany with their exact mark and the marks "B. Collins," "D. Collins" or "H. Collins" were made by other American manufacturers. The "Legitimus" crown and arm logo arose in response to these imitators. In September 1833, the Hartford banks demanded an immediate payment of the company's debt, which effectively reduced their worth to nil. Ironically, this may have been a substantial break for the company considering it caused a massive buy-up among consumers of their products as many feared they'd cease to be manufactured. In 1864, a steam engine was installed in the factory and the production of bayonets began en masse for Colt, Sharpe Rifle Company, and Springfield Armory.

additional reference citations
The Davistown Museum Axes Bibliography
Klenman, Allen. Amoskeag Ax Company of Manchester, New Hampshire.

* "Amoskeag continued to grow until the Underhill Company bought them out in 1879. This made Underhill the largest edge tool maker in New Hampshire, with 90 full-time axe makers. Because of the wide acceptance and the popularity of the Blodgett Tools, all Underhill labels and advertisements included the statement, 'Successors to Amoskeag Ax Co.'" (pg. 130).
* "The year 1889 saw the incorporation of the huge 'Axe Trust' -- The American Axe & Tool Company of Glassport, Pennsylvania, whose idea was to convince 15 of the largest makers in America to join together with the aim of cutting costs and controlling the market. So, in 1890 they convinced Underhill to close and move their machinery to the huge new factory at Glassport. Of course, the Underhill names and labels would continue to be made and sold by American Axe & Tool Company." (pg. 130).
* "This continued until 1921, when the Kelly Corporation of Charleston, West Virginia, purchased American Axe & Tool and moved it to their 20-acre property." (pg. 130).
* Figure three in this article notes: "This is an Amoskeag broad axe. It is remarkable for being one of the earliest of all cast-steel axes made." (pg. 129).

The Davistown Museum Complete Bibliography
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Uneducated speculation, Trying to think as a workman that is set in his ways:

It seems that the slow change to all steel tools might have been costumer driven. Under an apprenticeship system, the student would learn from his master that the only "good" axe was one with a laid in steel bit. The wrought head gave toughness, while the bit could be sharpened and the blacksmith could re-lay the bit when it was worn. This, he was told, was the standard of a quality tool. The use it up, fix it, wear it out mentality of the time may have gone against the logic of an all steel tool. It would also seem to the workman that as the blade was sharpened beyond the hard portion of the bit the workman might notice that the blade would no longer hold an edge, this may have caused demand for the older style even though there was a "better mouse trap"

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