this is a project that was in my head for over a year. Over a year ago I got this old rusty axe that someone used in his garden as an all purpose tool from splitting wood (ok) to breaking stones (not cool).
So ever since I got this rusty, dirt covered thing I wondered if I could give it a new life. The idea formed that I could attempt to sculpt a viking style axe out of this lump of steel. Up until recently I wasn't sure how to approach this task. I thought that it should be possible to do a lot of the work with an angle grinder and various discs. For the more refined work I could use my bench grinder and 1"x30" Belt Grinder.
Without further ado let's get to it!
Step 1: Assessment
My first step was to look closer at the axe head and identify areas that needed work before I could move to make a design.
Overall there was a lot of surface rust and pitting over the entire head. Furthermore there were bends and nicks in the blade area. The backside had been used as a hammer and showed some mushrooming. One side had a relatively deep touchmark from the manufacturer that I didn't wanted.
Worst of all the entire axe was very unsymmetrical shaped (no pic) which was visible from a top down view.
This all led me to conclude that I had some major stock removal ahead of me.
Step 2: Removal of the Old Handle
This was an interesting one:
The first part was fairly simple, I used a saw to cut of the majority of the old handle.
The next part was expectantly difficult though...
I started this half expecting for the handle falling out of the axe heads eye but no that didn't happen...
In the end it took me two hours of chiseling, hammering, drilling and prying to remove the contents of that axe head eye.
Of course you wont see any of those struggles in the video :D
Step 3: Rust Removal
As with most restoration projects I started this with a bath in 25% white vinegar to loosen the surface rust and dirt. A toothbrush was then used to remove a lot of that loosened rust.
Step 4: Design Time
I did have a rough idea of what I wanted to make and had drawn some sketches. Now it was time to apply those ideas directly to the object.
The initial sketch was made with a pencil, which can be easily removed. Once I had a design and was happy with the curves etc. I followed the pencil lines with a silver paint marker. I found that silver paint works on almost every surface and is better visible than black or white paint.
Step 5: Rough Shaping
Now it was time to grab the old angle grinder and make some sparks!
It was a lot of sparks and dust to be honest and even though I used a spark bucket my entire shop was covered in a layer of dust (an unpleasant mix of metal and abrasive from the discs).
I started as I start every metal stock removal with a lot of relief cuts trying to get close to the design lines ( but not too close). The tool of choice was a fresh 125mm (4 1/2") cut off disc (I think this one was 1mm thin).
Once all relief cuts were made I followed with a mix of cut off discs and grinding discs to remove the material. This was one of those moments were I wished I had a metal cutting bandsaw (most axe head bodies are made from a mild steel whilst only the cutting edge is a laminated piece of toolsteel).
This process took me approx. 1 hour in total and is probably one of the less efficient methods (but hey you got to use the tools you have).
Step 6: Fine Shaping
As I said in the beginning the belt grinder attachment from Multitool Products has been a true game changer for me!
In combination with a 40 grit ceramic belt I was able to quickly shape the axe head to my liking. I started with the contours which I had rough shaped before and cleaned up the lines. This was followed by shaping the cheeks (sides) and blade of the axe.
Step 7: Polishing and Prepwork
Once all stock removal was done I switched to a surface conditioning belt (which is very similar to the scotch brite pad you might use to clean your pots and pans). This leaves a very nice satin finish on metal surfaces.
I also sharpened the edge with a 1200 grit Trizact belt and used a rotary tool with a scotch brite bit to clean the inside of the axe head eye.
The final step was a thorough cleaning using acetone to remove and remaining dirt and finger prints.
Step 8: Engraving
I decided that I wanted this axe to become my contribution so I went and downloaded a skull drawing to use as a template.
Before I started engraving I wrapped the entire axe head in masking tape. This had three reasons first of all I wanted to protect it from scratches, the tape helps keeping the engraving bit on course and last but not least (since I was so clever to sharpen the axe already) protect me from cutting myself.
I wish I had a Dremel but unfortunately all I have is an old rotary tool from the discounter. I had to experiment a little with different shaped heads and settled quickly on a small ball shaped diamond bit.
This was my first time engraving on metal so I took my time going really slow and tracing the major outlines.
As I wrote above the tape does a great job preventing the bit from moving outside the established lines and scratching the surface.
Once I had all major lines engraved I followed with a finer bit and traced some details.
Step 9: Preparing Stock for the Handle
I chose beech wood as a material for the axe handle. For one this was the only wood I had available in the right dimensions and secondly it was used traditionally as a handle material where I live.
The board used to be a brace for a building company and had to be milled down to a usable size before I could move to shaping.
First I determined the dimensions of the blanks (I knew that I would need more than one).
Then I used my chop saw and table saw to mill the wood down to usable size.
Step 10: The Handle Design
Since I kept the old handle I used it as a temple for the general shape and to transfer the size and shape of the eye.
After that it was just a matter of adding some detail for the grip and knob.
Step 11: Fitting the Axe Head
This ended up being the most time consuming part of the project. As a matter of fact I had to scrap my first attempt and start anew. My mistake was that I wanted to rush things and attempted shape the fitting with my belt grinder. In the end the piece was much too thin and wouldn't fit properly.
The basic shape was cut out with a bandsaw although you could also use a jigsaw for this part.
Thanks to my friend Steve I went back and went to the painstaking process of doing it with handttools only. Luckily I had two draw knives that I bought years ago on a fleamarket. These were super handy for the rough shaping. For the finer shaping I used a razor blade that I modified as a scraper.
If you are looking for a more in depth guide to fitting an axe handle check out the video below:
Step 12: Shaping the Handle
Once the head fit the handle I started work on the handle shape itself.
Again the draw knives were a huge help removing material quickly revealing the rough shape. This shape was then refined using rasps, files and scrapers. Oh yes and my old trusty rotary tool this time with a large burr bit to shape the round parts of the handle.
Step 13: Relief Hole & Slot
I'm actually not quite sure where but somewhere I learned that one should drill a hole through the handle. This prevents the wood from splitting when the wedges are hammered in.
Speaking if the wedges, in order to make a tight fit for the axe head you should pound some wooden wedges into a slot. This way the wood will expand and lock the head in place.
Step 14: Wedges
As I said before it is time for the wedges: In this case I chose walnut scraps for no other reason than contrast. Once the walnut is treated with oil it turns into a very dark brown whilst the beech is relatively light.
Step 15: Shugi Sugi Ban Wan Mugi (or Something)
Although I was happy with the handle (despite its flaws) I thought that it lacked contrast.
I've seen people use a technique called Shou Sugi Ban as a way to treat wood. Traditionally this was used in Japan to make wooden structures less likely to catch fire (well there's more to it and it's quite interesting go and look it up!).
So I used a blowtorch to partially burn the handle, charring its surface to a nice black.
Once the handle had cooled down I used a scotch brite pad to remove all loose particles and finished the handle with two coats of boiled linseed oil.
Step 16: Enjoy
Here are some more detailed pictures of the finished axe.
Will I ever use it to split wood or take into the wild as a camping axe? NO! This was mainly one huge learning experience for me and I learned many lessons for future projects!
I hope you liked the project and leave me a comment (maybe a vote for the metalworking contest too?)
TorbenB7 made it!