How to Make an Axe

Axe making can pose challenges, but follow these lessons learned to simplify this rewarding DIY tool project and learn how to make an axe.

| February/March 2005

  • Make an Axe
    This broadaxe for hewing logs into beams is unique because most any independent homesteader can forge this design with just a little blacksmith experience. This design allows the maker to connect the blade to the side of the handle instead of having to forge an eye like those found on conventional axes.
    Photo courtesy Bill Coperthwaite
  • Broadaxe
    Enlarge this pattern to trace out your broadaxe.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • Make an Axe
  • Broadaxe

It is hard to find a good broad hatchet — a small, broadaxe with a wide cutting edge beveled on only one side, like a chisel; this special bevel makes it easier to hew to a line. After 40 years of hunting in antique shops and flea markets, I have found only two broad hatchets that passed muster. And for friends who sought one of their own, the outlook was also discouraging: They could get one made — if they happened to have a good design, if they knew a good blacksmith and if they could afford the price.

Or they could make an axe themselves, but by the time they had learned to forge a fine one, they would have become blacksmiths. This is an elite tool.

While traveling through Japan, in the Tosa region of the island of Shikoku, I was surprised by the number of blacksmiths. Each village had its own smith, and they all could make excellent edge tools. It was delightful to see the grace and skill of those smiths. I became friends with one who made a broad hatchet to my specifications. Twenty years went by, and in the interim I studied many axes and blended what I learned into my concept of an ideal broad hatchet.

A few years ago, I carved a wooden model and sent it off to my blacksmith friend in Shikoku. Yes, he would make it for me. Two years passed, and it did not appear. I assumed the project was forgotten. While visiting Italy, I came upon an elderly smith who had made axes years ago. I carved another pattern, and he forged the axe. Now, these are far from democratic tools. To get one you first have to design it and then know a smith in Japan or Italy or wherever who is able and willing to make an axe from your design.

I doubted the axe from Japan would materialize, and the Italian smith was old and sick, and probably would not make another. Good broad hatchets for students and friends were as elusive as ever. And though this axe adventure was exciting, and I had acquired some fine ones, we badly needed to have some inexpensive ones available.

While I was studying in Switzerland, the breakthrough came. The tiny fellow who lived upstairs (and works mostly at night) shouted “Eureka!” He presented me with a full-blown design for a democratic axe.

12/27/2013 12:19:04 PM

He could approach an Industrial Arts Instructor @ the local High School and have the students manufacture them. OOPS, I forgot the schools have snuffed out Ind. Arts and replaced that curriculum with a plastic computer. Ya know, its all about getting the hours required by the FEDS, State and ISD and get it done the cheapest way possible. Never mind teaching a viable and useful craft. This might be the reason so many manufacturing jobs are leaving the USA. Think about it next time the school board elections come up.

12/26/2013 11:11:17 AM

I think he means that the part where the handle attaches should be rounded a bit to wrap around the wooden handle. Seems like it might be easier to make a flat on the side of the wooden handle, however.... Or better yet, use a table saw to make a deep mortise in the handle and slide the metal into the mortise, then drill and rivet through wood-metal-wood. Seems like that would give better balance and eliminate the twisting moment that would come from the offset design in the picture.

Jason Lewis
12/4/2013 11:05:31 AM

If I were making a guess what he means is that the blade itself would have a 6" long and 1/2" deep concave shape. Giving it an almost chisel type look when looking directly at the blade. This would strengthen the blade a bit I think.



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