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Christopher Olsen





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PostPosted: Wed 13 Feb, 2008 7:09 am    Post subject: Historical usage of axes (especially dane axes)         Reply with quote

I've been trying to find some information about the usage of axes, especially the two-handed dane axes, for some time now. Unfortunately it appears to be very little information on this subject. So i was wondering if any of you guys now of any place where i might find some information, or share some of your own knowledge?
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Wed 13 Feb, 2008 7:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have moved this topic to the Off-topic Talk forum.

Please note the description for this forum:

"Discussions of general history and other miscellaneous topics relating to arms and armour that do not specifically fit our other forums"

Since you're looking for sources of info on useage, the Off-Topic Talk forum is the best location.

Thank you.

Happy

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Dan P




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Feb, 2008 7:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Two ways to handle a large two-handed axe: The first is to slide the upper hand down the shaft as one swings, for a powerful extended strike with hopefully more reach and power than someone using a one-handed weapon. Even if the enemy had maille and took a body hit if would probably be disabling just from the impact. The other basic grip is two hands, spaced apart, more or less static. This position is better for short cuts, thrusts with the upper part of the blade, and hooking with the lower edge, and is more useful for fighting close in.
I'm sure there are people who have done more practice-fighting with axes than I have (almost none...); its sort of an esoteric weapon but I think I have at least the basics correct here.
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Robin Palmer




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Feb, 2008 8:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

hi Christopher I used a Dane axe for re-enactment for some years I gave it up for two reasons neither lack of effectiveness. In skilled hands it is a truly awesome weapon in fact that is it's problem for re-enactment you cannot use it properly it is simply to powerful. Ours were considerably lighter than the originals yet cut through 5 layer ply sheet with ease in the end I changes groups and switched to barsted sword which suited better.

in my experience the Dane Axe is a formidable weapon with huge striking power and reach but as with all weapons it has it's faults. For all it's power it is also almost impossible to pull once committed the Axe man has one strike and he will only launch it when he is certain of hitting. It is quiet versatile close in it can be used to thrust and deliver a powerful strike with the head also the butt strike is effective. Over the years we played with various drills and looked at a lot of books to see the best way to use it properly ?

Against a man with a shield the most common sort of opponent the best blow was against his right unshielded side the Target either tried to void turn his body and get shield round or tried to parry with his sword. Given the Axe man would only launch blow when sure of hitting the target would have almost no chance of voiding given reach of the Axe. He would have even less of getting shield on line, a parry would be of little value against Axe. Against an unshielded man an attack on either hand was equally good another favoured target was the legs under the shield I believe some of the bodies excavated at Visby should signs of exactly that sort of strike. The best way we found to deal with an Axe man was to call up a couple of archers and shoot him full of holes I had that done to me several times I called it cheating. Barring that you had to draw the strike and void it then close before he could recover your problem is he knows your cunning plan and is ready for it. He is just as likely to dummy and smack you in the head with the butt as you rush in.

In the hands of a good man in open battle the Dane Axe is awesome in close quarter shield wall less so it needs space to swing in confined spaces it is inferior to a sword. I always fought on the flanks of the line as did the other Axe men I knew so we had space to move and make use of the reach. For all that the two handed Axe of one form or other remained very much the tool of choice in a fight right up to guns taking over. There was a saying in england a sword is a weapon of honour the Axe was for killing which may just sum up any question over how effective the Axe was in battle.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Wed 13 Feb, 2008 8:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

These axes were used latest (16th/17th c.) by Gallowglass mercenaries in Ireland, so your best contemporary descriptions may come from that era. See this link for a long (but not recently updated) list of forum threads on Irish arms and armour:

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...ight=irish

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Christopher Olsen





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PostPosted: Wed 13 Feb, 2008 8:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the replies guys Happy

That's how i thought it would be used. I'll probably buy an axe after i'm finished in the military.

Sean, thanks for the link, lots of useful information there Happy

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Wed 13 Feb, 2008 11:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christopher,
There are no surviving fencing treatises that I'm aware of that detail the historical use of axes shorter than four or five feet. Anything anyone tells you about the usage is based on modern ideas (whether right or wrong).

That said, I would look into any fencing system that includes the use of the poleaxe. I own an A&A Hungarian axe, and it is very easy to blend the Liechtenauer principles of poleaxe as well as half-sword techniques (and in many cases, even unarmed and dagger techniques, since they're all part of the same system). Systems that include the short staff also will have quite a bit of applicability to this weapon.

Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Wed 13 Feb, 2008 1:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill has a good idea, there. Try Jeu de la Hache, too.
-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Feb, 2008 7:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a good friend in the SCA who is reknowned with the Danish axe. I have just a couple of observations on his usage. Take it for what it's worth; it's a sport and not intended to be uber authentic.

Jerry uses about a ten inch blade on a six foot haft. His basic stance is not in Le Jue de la Hache. The Medium Guard is pretty close, but he holds the head much higher. Because Jerry is a beast (former power lifter - 6'2" 285lbs) he can bring the axe down very swiftly. As mentioned previously the axe is positioned to attack the weapon side of an opponent, not the shield side.

As in Le Jue de la Hache he leaves 12 to 18 inches of the haft below his bottom hand, which he can either thrust with or use to parry strikes to his legs, which are all to common in mixed combat.

The default attack is a series of short, powerful chops that would devastate a shield with a sharp head. These attacks can easily displace a shield, are powerful enough to shear through period armor, and frankly can knock an unwary fighter down. Le Jue de la Hache shows more sweeping, decisive attacks, but if you ever watch Jue de la Hache students sparring, or frankly any sparring, attacks always become more furtive and probing.

In the shieldwall, the big axe is a major psychological factor. Noone wants to get hit with that thing, especially by a big gorilla. When the axeman rushes forward, three or four opponents wil often jump back to avoid getting hit. The weapon system itself is not that effective because it is vulnerable to spears and archers, but I think this would be different in actual combat, where the axes could be used to literally break down the enemies shields, leaving them vulnerable to further attacks. Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but interesting to watch.

IMO the axe must be paired with the best armor available. Without a shield the wielder has no passive defense, and must be well armored in order to survive. Something like a full length hauberk.
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Bill Tsafa




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PostPosted: Fri 15 Feb, 2008 9:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have used a single handed axe in the SCA with shield. I train mostly with sword & shield and I have found that most of the strikes with the sword work with a single handed axe as well. Thrusts also work with the top corner of the axe-head. It is a little slower in initiating strikes and following up strikes. However, depending on the weight of the head and the length of the handle, you can turn and roll it like a sword. It relies on its mass for effect where the sword relies on its speed to be effective. A sword has better reach length-wise but the axe-head has depth and can reach behind a shield in a way a sword can not. I have also found the face of the axe to be an effective mini-shield in front of your face. You can block you lower body with your shield and block your head with the axehead if it wide enough. It is also useful in hooking maneuvers. Two example would be a hook to the top of a shield followed by a thrust to the face... also a hook behind the knee followed by a push to the upperbody.

Of course these ideas are based on modern recreation. I have practiced them at full speed and power so I know they work. I think they would have been applicable historically.

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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Sat 16 Feb, 2008 5:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The ability to reach seven our eight inches around a shield is very useful. The drawback is that the deeper the axe the more difficult it becomes to maintain edge alignment. A well formed haft mitigates this somewhat.

Single handed axes are a bird of a different stripe altogether, though. The vast majority of replica axes are grossly overbuilt, and swinging one with gusto is really punishing on the wrist. They perform more like a heavy mace than an axe. Every inch you add to the haft exacerbates the problem.

The best combination I have found is a cold steel light tomahawk head on thier 30' hammer handle. This gives the best balance between reach and handling.

This problem also extends to most of the "Danish" axes on the market. The Paul chen Danish axe is a classic example. The head has got to be a quarter inch or more throughout, and the axe just handles like a splitting maul. I keep hoping that Albion will get into the polearms game Big Grin and rectify the issue.
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Sat 16 Feb, 2008 5:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robin just to echo what you described, the axe is really quite good at thrusts and makes an excellent gaff hook as well. It has been mentioned before in another thread that one unlucky fellow in the sagas was hooked with an axe through the shoulder, and dragged to where he could be more easily stabbed to death.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 22 Feb, 2008 4:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't forget Arms&Armor. They have a couple of axe models already, all of which are pretty good....
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