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To make a Viking axe we first need to define what makes something a 'viking axe' rather than any of the other axe designs which have existed throughout the ages.
Due to the different functions that each design was desired to perform there were some key differences between farm axes and axes which were specifically made for warfare. One of the main areas where the designs differed was in the shape of the axe head. Many of the axes used by the Viking's for warfare had a bearded axe design which allowed for a longer cutting edge whilst decreasing the weight of the axe and allowing for more manoeuvrability. This is a design which is often associated with the vikings and was thought to have first been developed in Scandinavia during the early Middle Ages.
There were also other designs such as the 'Dane' axe which had a much longer handle than a normal axe that would be used for woodcutting. This allowed for longer ranged attacks during battle which gave it an advantage over other axe designs. The blade of the axe was also curved in order to deliver the maximum amount of force on a smaller area during impact. The dane axe had a straight and smooth handle which allowed the user to slide their hands along the handle to enable longer range strikes and easily change hand positioning.
The larger axes made for warfare were likely around 1.4m in length as shown in some historical sources such as Bayeux tapestry. There were also smaller axes which were likely around 60-70cm long which were designed to be used in one hand in conjunction with a shield.
All of the Viking axes mentioned in historical sources, as well as the ones found at historical sites have been single sided and there is little to no evidence of double sided axes being used in any historical context as this is largely considered to be a fantasy design by historians. In this article we will therefore focus on making a single sided axe as this is the more historically accurate of the two designs.
During the Viking age the traditional methods of making a Viking axe were quite different to the ways in which modern axes are made due to a variety of factors including the availability of materials and tools for manufacturing.
Most axes during Viking age Scandinavia were made from Iron, more specifically bog Iron, however there is evidence that many of them had a steel tip inserted which allowed the blade to hold an edge much better. There is also some evidence that there were some axes from the Viking age that were made from Bronze, however historians are not sure why this would be chosen over other materials which were available at the time.
In reality these axes would have been inferior in almost every performance metric when compared to modern day axes due to the vast improvements that have been made in the quality of steel and manufacturing techniques which we have access to today.
The axe head would be made from iron and forged by hand. One of the most common methods was flatten the metal out and the bend it around a bar to make the eye of the axe head.
There are many other methods of forging an axe head, such as the punch and drift method, where a hole is punched in the metal to make the eye of the axe. This allows for a thicker axe head than the wrap around method.
There are historical examples of axes that have been dated back to the Viking age of both of these forging methods being used, however the former seems to have been more common.
The Edge of the axe would then be split and opened up to insert a steel bit which allowed for a harder and more durable edge for the blade. This is an old technique which greatly improves the performance of the axe.
The axe head is also heat treated and tempered to improve both its hardness and to reduce its brittleness. The process of heat treating involves heating the axe head to extremely high temperatures and then cooling it off very quickly, this increases the hardness of the metal. Tempering requires the metal to be heated up much more slowly, and then left to cool naturally back to room temperature, this part of the process helps to reduce the brittleness.
The outline of the handle sketched and then cut out from a larger piece of wood. The excess material would then be removed and the wood cut down to the correct size to make the handle.
With modern equipment this stage is much easier with the help of machinery and a belt sander, however in the Viking age this would likely have been a much more time consuming process with axes to only rudimentary hand tools.
The wood on the handle also needs to be treated to provide it with some protection against it shrinking or cracking over time from drying up. A coating of oil soaks into the handle and helps to protect it from deteriorating over time. This also has the added benefit of helping to expand the wood slightly, which provides a tighter fit between the axe head and handle.
There are two main methods for attaching an axe head to the handle. The first was to taper the handle slightly and slide the axe head along the handle until it reaches the top where it is thicker and wedges the head in place.
The second and much more secure method was to make the end of the handle slightly smaller than the eye of the axe head and cut out a thin piece of material in the center of the handle. This then allowed a wedge to be hammered in to provide a very secure joint between the axe head and handle. This is the method used in most modern axes.
Many historical viking axes, such as the mammen axe, feature intricate engravings to decorate the axe head and handle with norse patterns and imagery. There was also various mentions of runes being added to viking weaponry in the norse sagas which was thought to have given them magical properties.
The main methods of decorating an axe head are either via a acid etching, which definitely was not available during the viking age, or via a more traditional engraving method, which is also made much easier with the help of modern tools.
A handle grip can be added by wrapping leather or string around the handle and using a strong adhesive in addition to some pins to attach it at the ends. It is a good idea to make sure that no edges are sticking out which could be snagged and make the wrapping come loose.
There is not much historical evidence that the Vikings themselves used sheaths on their axes, however there are examples of sheaths being used throughout history and it seems unlikely that they would have been walking around all day with razor sharp axes without any kind of protection over the blade.
To make the sheath first make a template which is slightly larger than the axe head and then cut it out from a large piece of leather. This needs to be repeated twice and then the two sides are sewn or pinned together to encompass the axe head, leaving space for the handle and some opening to allow the sheath to be removed easily.
Making an axe required a lot of time and sometimes expensive equipment which may be too much effort for many, however if you would still like an axe without the hassle of making on yourself VikingStyle offers custom made axes in a variety of historically accurate and modern designs.