Broadaxes

I throw out a simple proposition for consideration, which is to say, what I am about to share is not to be confused with a claim or conviction, necessarily. We look at our broad-axes with a degree of wonder, I’m sure of it, no matter the style we prefer the big hewing  axes have a particular attraction to anyone with an inclination for axes beyond the sheer pointlessness of cutting down trees with them,  in the first place which stems, I will claim, from the sheer dimensions involved along with the potentials inherent in possessing and using one.

The tiled mosaic gives some ideas of the variations involved but I will dial in on an even narrower sub-set to the exclusion of the double bevel and in particular the reinforced double bevel of the Swedish or in some cases Finnish axes and consider only the thin bladed single-beveled ones in relation to use and maintenance. Which gets me to the point following on from the last posting-up which addressed blade deformation.

You wont notice this deformation in the examples from the tiled mosaic and that’s because I have done away with these for the most part by reestablishing a fair-arched cutting edge but deformation is a fact of contention at the intersection between man and his broadaxe. The specific deformation I refer to is the wave blade or the development of a flattened section through the center area – the belly – of the blade which can even progress to the point of a dip. And it is a sneaky and pernicious progression which can surprise you all at once when you had not noticed it before. How else to explain it being there?

Why? That’s the important thing to establish long before we can begin to consider what we can do about it. And I suspect that gets us back up to the beginning  paragraph of the current posting-up. It’s related to the very thing that stimulates the interest in these axes to begin with; Expressly our fascination. But that’s not good enough. It’s not good enough to say, ” If you want to not get that dip in through there you should learn to eliminate desire in your life.” That just wont do for us sentient beings.

The axes form their attraction for many reasons. One might be as I write it above its impressive presence. This must or certainly is likely to come at a cost a cost which I locate generally in the blacksmith or the producer of the tool. No easy piecemeal thing to hammer out one of these and yet that wouldn’t even be the most demanding part. Once he got the composition to form, and hardened he has to make it functional through the annealing process. Easy enough, or not, up to a certain physical point, but then you get into what we have before us and it is a different matter, we can say even it’s the stuff that separate man from the boy, the joker from the clown or in less moralizing terms the skilled from the truly skilled even gifted.

Johan Jonsson
The quintessential smid, one representative of all or as Plato puts it, the universal ideal.

But what an axe user is very likely to get his hands on and go at it with could just as well be one of those products off the hand of the less than fully gifted. I always think maybe this is the difference between the (broad)axe from J.B.Weiss out of Vienna or the Fuchs bros. out of Cannstatt, or many others named and un-named, that is, the skill imparted to the blade, through the mind and being of the smid, surely well trained and with the years of experience, and yet more, if you were to ask me, and that more is coming out of a tradition of such skill and knowledge necessary to make that blade one of consistent quality, meaning hardness and durability along its entire length. Lets be honest and put it bluntly, the truly good broadaxe is a difficult thing to make, not everyone who can hammer it out can also ensure that internally it’s up to a necessary standard, and what are the consequences to those of us who so much use and love these axes? You guessed it, that central area, improperly annealed  is relatively soft in comparison to the extremities at the toe and heel sections meaning not only will it not hold its keenness – due to the many factors which any reader can imagine for him/herself –  but when even the skilled and knowledgeable sharpener proceeds with constant and necessary maintenance of that blade consistent material removal will be a matter of a contrived self delusion when and if it gets done at all. And so the honest sharpener will inevitably come at some point to the realization that that dip is there, it will only continue to develop despite any and all efforts and the axe has a certain limited functionality.

What I am trying to get at is the following with which I end this posting-up. Not all broadaxes are created equal despite appearances.

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33 thoughts on “Broadaxes

  1. ot course not, you are right. Just how come the middle of the blade “softer” than the toe and heel, I don’t get it

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  2. The consistency of the heat treatment process. Explain it for example how you would ensure the toe out there and the heel down there are held concurrently at the same temperature as the center. Explain it in light of heating source concentrated in an area of, I make a guess now, 10cm2 or even 20cm2 when you are managing a blade surface of potentially 42cm2. I think your explanation will come down to the very variable of smid + skill/knowledge which is my point after all.

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  3. The process of heat treatment: point one bringing the steel to the critical temperature accompanied by quenching. Two, annealing or giving toughness or resilience to what is, post quenching, an overly brittle, utterly useless material and finally equalizing the strains and tensions internally constructed throughout the process. Difficult to isolate any one of the interrelated stept but in general this in the conventional meaning of heat treatment, as you put it involving so many things occurring in sequence.

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  4. someone with experience will controll the process so as to equalize the spreading of the heat in the masses and get the right temperature in the right places. Consequently I see more risk to get hotter at the heel and the toe where there is less mass than in the middle, but who am I to say ? I’m no pro such as Bernard

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    1. It’s why I narrowed scope to zoom in on the breitbeil with thin blade with minimal mass as you put it. Once removed from the fire there is an almost immediate drop in temperature making it a challenge to control. It would take a Bernard to to do it right I’m sure of it because he has worked on swords.

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  5. Even with a thin bladed breitbiel, the central part of the blade has more mass than the ends. A fairly common method of tempering an ax is to harden the edge by quenching just the edge, then let the residual heat from the eye and thicker part of the blade creep out into the brittle hard edge. The tips of the blade receive this heat last, meaning that the center could well be softer, having had the tempering heat in it for a longer period. It’s tricky.

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    1. Nice explanation of the tricks and subtitles to it John. Thanks, it makes me imagine the skill involved along with the risks inherent and then the likelihood that every now and then it is bound to go amiss despite the good effort to in the end come away with the perfect edge.

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    1. Maybe with a further disclosure I can help to guide some impressions or incorrect assumptions.

      As we all know I have been the last time diligently refurbishing a classic breitaxt coming out of the Austrian highlands. Getting into a usable order I have fared out the arch of the cutting edge, lapped the back-side and established a bevel for this axe. In the work on this last one, it was easy to grasp that as I filed away there a variation in hardness along the length of the bevel existed, the central section being relatively soft followed in hardness by the heel and toe, the toe being particularly hard. To me this explained fully the origins of the wave form the cutting edge had taken on in the hands of previous users. Of course I had to wonder what the future would hold, going forward, as Obama would say it.
      Now, Martin, Marc, anyone wishing to pipe in, go ahead, with my encouragement.

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  6. Good point Ernest, however if I ever come across such a sexy axe at an affordable price (rare as hens teeth here) I shan’t be worrying if it has a soft belly.

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  7. different preliminary observations may be necessary in order to discuss seriously the subject : is this axe a monosteel product or is it a classical fire welded high carbon steel edge on a softer material ? because hardening such differently concepted tools may involve different processes and different criteria of judgment ?

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  8. That is important for sure and I have gone entirely on the assumption, because of its age, place of origin, style and quality of the forging that the edge is a separate welded-on component. Direct evidence is not so obvious to my eye, as with the timmerbila after the repair by Bernard. Still, in my subjective experience of filing the edge, its center differs from the ends regardless of the nature of the construction or the different forging techniques involved. These things we can account for separately from the hardness of the edge steel I think. That is to say mono-steel, compound construction the goal it surely consistency regardless. But thanks for bring the topic into the realm of serious discussion. I had only half intended to go there myself.

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  9. yes still the difference could meet other explanations if the case would be of a gradual hardening, well just and idea

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    1. But when you see this deformation on random axes, say for example eby.de (I was just looking there recently at breitaxt) doesn’t it seem plausible that the reason lies in the hardness of the metal along the cutting edge?

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  10. I don’t say you’re wrong, if you feel the middle of your axe edge softer than the tips, surely it is. I have difficulties with accepting that pro axe makers would not satisfy the requirement of a good hard steel edge tool they make on everyday basis

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  11. I can’t start the confrery of Good Fellows With Axes alone, your coming would definitly be an important impulse to the embodiment of the idea

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  12. French authorities are harsher and harsher with migrants for every day that goes. But if you’re a brave heart, that would make us three with a new disciple, Yvan the teribble. Who is as much as we are of an anti-conformist hard to live with individual…

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