Todd Makes a Hewing Axe

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Todd Hughes makes axes, hatchets & knives in his forge and had promised to fire it up and make something so we'd see how it's really done. The raw materials for the hewing axe that Todd chose for his demonstration were a piece of wrought iron wagon-wheel tread, a file, and a scrap brush hog handle. And fifty cents worth of coal.

Todd started with the wrought iron head,

which he made by stacking one short piece of iron between two long ones so as to avoid the need to pierce the head for the eye


Then Todd closed the eye by forge welding the two sides.

The next step was to spread the cutting end in preparation for adding the high carbon steel cutting edge. The cross pein hammer creases the work so that it spreads out when the creases are hammered flat.

Here Todd is cutting the flattened end of the old file, using a hot hardy with surprisingly gentle blows so as to avoid banging the head of the hammer into the sharp edge of the hardy.

Todd is clamping the chunk of old file onto the body of the axe. Note the white particles of borax flux. The flux is essential to prevent oxidation of the surfaces about to be welded together and also dissolves the more refractory iron oxides tso that they will be expelled from between the surfaces by the pressure of the forging blows.

After applying borax flux to both parts, Todd forge welded the high carbon steel edge to the wrought iron body of the axe and then spread the cutting edge with more blows.

The high carbon steel was next trimmed with a hot chisel.

And placed back into the forge in preparation for annealing.

Which Todd accomplished by placing the red-hot axe into a bucket of ashes.

The next step was to do some offhand grinding to bring the axe to its final shape. The high carbon steel cutting edge gives very bright and highly branched sparks on the grinding wheel; the wrought iron barely sparked at all in comparison.

Todd heat treated the annealed axe by quenching just the cutting edge in hot oil (long story about a drowned rat skewered by the hot poker used to preheat the oil and which smelled like french fries omitted here so as not to alarm the squeamish). Todd used the residual heat from the still-hot head to temper the cutting edge.

Here's the heat treated axe awaiting sharpening.

Todd has his own makers stamp, which is a heart with an "H" inside, as seen here both on the head of the axe and also on the end of the stamp.

The final product.

Todd is one of only three smiths making tools like this with forge-welded cutting edges.

Here's a close-up view of the resulting scarf joint between the wrought iron body (whose slag makes the many streaks that give the iron its fibered appearance) and the tool steel cutting edge.