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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Tue 18 Oct, 2011 1:28 am    Post subject: Viking age axe head wedge fastening question         Reply with quote

A good friend of mine is giving me a hard time about how I do viking age axe head fastening right now. She says I can't use metal for it. I've been using wide flat wood wedges, modern steel wedges, wrought iron hand made wedges and various combinations of these for my previous axes.

I know some axes were poled from the top rather than the bottom and these wouldn't need a wedge but fasten like a modern pickaxe, but then some are obviously poled the way modern axes are too, from the bottom.
Most finds only have residue or small parts of the handle left, and the two normally referred to as "Viking" which have the full handle preserved (one in ash, the other oak) are straight handled and poled fromt the top, but are also really from bog finds predating the viking age by something like 400-600 years or so.
Looking at the eye of hammers from viking age, axes and such with remains it looks kind of odd to me. I don't see a flat wide wood wedge, nor a metal one. But possibly a square or round wooden plug hammered in, and sometimes wedges on the sides, though this could be from tool repair rather than original fastening.

So does anyone out there have any photos, leads or clues to share on this? I have several axes and handles finished for final assembly to fasten and I want to make them as authentic as possible. Through dumb luck or savvy planning depending on who you ask, I haven't done the wedge work at all on these, so I'm free to use whatever method we come up with here with no loss of effort or material.

Feel free to brainstorm, guess wildly or anything else creative, it's a big part of the fun of discussing things on this forum for me, though of course I'd like best to have some actual hard evidence or finds to base the final method I'll be using on. Wink

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge


Last edited by Johan Gemvik on Tue 18 Oct, 2011 5:07 am; edited 1 time in total
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Tue 18 Oct, 2011 4:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here are some things I've found on the subjct, with a quick web search. These photos are from the Skadi forum.
http://forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=73865

Here's a 12th century axe with the head obviously fitted from the top since the handle is somewhat fatter along it than at the head, you can also see a telltale split on top of the head similar to what I got on one of my old axes when wedging it. Wedging not shown unfortuneately, and it's also from after viking age.




Wedging of another axe, this one refered only as an "historic" axe.



That this is relevant for viking age is implied in the thread but no clear dating of the axe is made.
Note the flat wedge top that looks like basically like a modern axe fasteing wedge, could be made from either wood or iron though wood is perhaps more likely. Stll kind of hard to tell in the photo.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Tue 18 Oct, 2011 5:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In this case, I'd let efficiency prevail. Whatever I could do to keep an axehead on the handle I'd make sure to do, authenticity could take second place. Even if you're making something that is only for a museum display there is no guarantee that someone isn't going to swing it sometime.

There may be no evidence for metal wedges but such a wedge would be so small that it could easily disintegrate in the conditions where Viking age weapons are generally found.
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Tue 18 Oct, 2011 5:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:
In this case, I'd let efficiency prevail. Whatever I could do to keep an axehead on the handle I'd make sure to do, authenticity could take second place. Even if you're making something that is only for a museum display there is no guarantee that someone isn't going to swing it sometime.

These are crafts axes meant for full functionality and heavy use. Yes, of course safety first, I just wanted to figure out how they did do it back then and if that can be done safely today. I'm sure they didn't want the heads flying off either for the same reasons as today.

Ken Speed wrote:
There may be no evidence for metal wedges but such a wedge would be so small that it could easily disintegrate in the conditions where Viking age weapons are generally found.

My idea on it precisely. How woud one even go about recognising an axe wedge in the frist place, it's just going to be a piece of scrap iron, or wood for that matter, fallen out with the rest of the wood handle residue. Unless there are some eye holes with all the parts still in it, which is what I'm hoping for.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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E. Storesund





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PostPosted: Tue 18 Oct, 2011 5:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One would of course have to consider the price of iron in the viking age. I think they would generally avoid iron wherever it could be saved. Every piece of metal probably counted. For a ship you would need lots of nails, i.e. a fair share of iron, i.e. a lot of expense. I think I would much rather save it for a tool or something useful, rahter than using it to haft an axe where other, cheaper materials might be just as useful.
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Aleksei Sosnovski





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PostPosted: Tue 18 Oct, 2011 11:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wooden wedges are perfectly OK if done properly. I have seen many axes with wooden wedges. These were probably rehafted at home, not produced this way at the factory. Today I can go and buy a metal wedge in any decent tool store, but 20 years ago getting a metal wedge would have been pretty difficult. I don't think anyone would go and order an iron wedge when he could make a wooden one for free in about 15 minutes.
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Tue 18 Oct, 2011 11:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good point Aleksei!
I agree that wood wedges can't be wrong, so I'll go with that.

Now the question remains, what did the wedge look like and what type of slot should one make for it? Some sledgehammers with wood still in the eye seem to be wedged with a pluglike square, others wedged at the sides. On the other hand these are hammers, not really axes.
Then we have the photo above, which may or may not be from viking age. My guess is that the axe is from 12th or 13th century, but in the same style as viking age Norse since I've heard so many times there are no complete axes preserved from that time period. Earlier, yes, later yes, but not from the exact viking age. This could be wrong though, and I'd certainly love for there to be something to have a look at.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Aleksei Sosnovski





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PostPosted: Wed 19 Oct, 2011 5:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Generally socket should be larger at the "front" end than at the "haft" end. Or it can be equally large at both ends but smaller in the "middle". Wedge type and position would depend on exact shape of the socket. For example if the socket width is constant but height is bigger at the "front" end than at the "haft" end than the wedge should be inserted horizontally (expanding the haft in the vertical plane). If socket is both wider and higher at the "front" end then you would need that square "plug" wedge (if I understand your description correctly) that would expand the haft in all directions. Modern hammers often use tubular wedges that act same way. If the socket height is constant then you should make a vertical wedge. Or you can insert the wedge diagonally like on this picture

Basically, here is a good instruction on replacing hammer handles. Everything s applicable to axes except that you will have only the wooden wedge, no metal wedges http://www.minnesotafarriers.com/Hammer.htm
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Wed 19 Oct, 2011 5:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In the case of modern axes as far as I know it isn't a question of steel vs. wood, but using a wood wedge AND generally two steel wedges. It seems to me the thinking is that the wooden wedges may shrink and loosen over time so using steel wedges to hold the wooden wedge is like wearing suspenders and a belt, you know?

The wooden wedge slot is oriented in the same direction as the axe blade and the steel wedges are driven in at roughly a 45degree angle to it. This results in a very secure bond between the axe head and haft but does cause some damage to the end of the axe handle that a wooden wedge alone would not.

If you used only a wooden wedge you would orient the slot in the same direction as above, the slot in the handle is cut in line with the face grain of the wood rather than across it.

As conservative as tools and their usage and construction is, I would imagine the Vikings did things much the same way then as we do now.
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Oct, 2011 5:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've been reading through this most excellent paper (in swedish) as I happened across it as a pdf on the web.

Behuggningsteknik i Södra Råda och Hammarö kyrkor -
-1300-tals yxor i litteratur och magasin-
-SÖDRA RÅDA GAMLA KYRKA, FÖRUNDERSÖKNING XFörfattare
Karl-Magnus Melin, timmerman & arkeolog, med bidrag av
Olof Andersson, timmerman.

This is a scientific report on axe cutting techniques seen in 14th century log churches. Supposedly these are made with the same techniques as the vikings used for making similar churches and other buildings in earlier ages.

But this still seems way later than the viking age axes we're talking about? Well, here's where it becomes interesting, since there are so few finds of axes from 14the century sweden they're basing the thesis on both later and earlier axe types found that correspond to the tool marks on the logs and beams. And then they go on listing a number of viking age finds I hadn't known about.


I quote in parts from page 8, and translate off the top of my head from swedish below for each section of interest. Sorry for my switching to and from various names of the handles. Hafts, shafts and axe handles are all really the same thing to me though there might be a difference to people with english as their native language. Just correct me if you want it fixed.

"I danska Nydam mose har man påträffat flera vapenyxor med välbevarade träskaft daterade
till ca 350 e. Kr. (Jørgensen et al 2003:417). Det skaft som avbildas är rakt, troligtvis 80-100
cm långt. Skaftet har en ”skaftknopp” längst upp, d.v.s. skaftet har trätts in i ögat uppifrån.
Träslag nämns ej."


In the Danish Nydam bog thy've found several weapon axes with well preserved wooden shafts dated to around 350 AD (Jorgensen et al 2003:417). The shaft depicted in the report is straight, most likely 80-100 cm long. The shaft has a knob at the top, implying it has ben inserted from the top of the eye and through. Wood type is not mentioned.


"Det har även påträffats skaftade arbetsyxor i Nydam mose som dateras till
300-500-tal e Kr. Man nämner både ”arbejdsyxor” och ”almindelige arbejdsyxor”. Träslag till
skaften är ask och ek. Ett foto visar två holkyxor varav det ena har ett svängt skaft (Jørgensen
et al 2003:411). Yxorna är räta men skaften ser ut som skaft till tväryxor och utgörs av
gren/stamdel."


Other finds of shafted work axes have also been found in Nydam bog, these are dated to 300-500 AD. The work mentions both "arbeidsyxor" (eng. work axes) and "almindelige arbeidsyxor" (sorry, I don't know what that means exactly, but perhaps generic work axes?), Wood type for the shafts are ash and oak. A photo shows two gouging axes (adzes then rather) of which one has a bent shaft (Jorgensen et al 2003:411). The axes are straight but the shafts look like those for adzes and are made from branch or core wood.

*Sorry, there is no photo of the adzes in the paper I'm translating this from, though there are plenty of photos of medieval axes nor very relevant to this discussion. I'll try to find this other paper referred to for images. Worth noting is that one of my axes I'm going to wedge is actually an adze.*

"I danska Nybro påträffades 1998 en huggyxa med ett välbevarat skaft som var ca 50 cm
långt. Skaftet som är från 7-800-tal e. Kr. förefaller på fotografiet att ha ett ovalt tvärsnitt som
är ca 3,5 cm brett (Frandsen:136f). Träslag nämns ej."


In Danish Nybro in 1998 a chopping axe was found with a well preserved handle of about 50 cm length. The handle is dated to 7-800 AD and seems in the photo to have an oval cross section of about 3,5 cm width (Fransden:136f). Wood type is not mentioned.

"I norska Osebergskeppet påträffades två skaftade huggyxor, från 800-talet e Kr. Skaften är
raka och ca 78 cm långa (Høgseth 2007:93 & 281). Skaften är troligtvis gjorda av björk"


In the Oseberga ship two hafted axes were found, dated to 9th century AD. The hafts are straight and about 78 cm long (Hogseth 2007:93 & 281). The shafts are probably made from birchwood.

*The texts then goes on about several medieval axes with bitchwood handles.*
...

*I'm jumping over sections here since they're about later medieval axes and of lesser interest*

...

"I Novgorod har flera medeltida yxor påträffats skaftade. De påträffade yxornas skaftlängd
är runt 65 cm. Skaftdelen som går in i yxögat har antingen läder virat runt sig eller så har man
använt sig av järnkilar (Khoroshev & Sorokin 2007:21f.)."


In Novgorod there have been several medieval axe finds with hafts. The haft lengths are about 65 cm long. The shaft end going into the eye socket have either been bound with leather or iron wedges have been used (Hhoroshev & Sorokin 2007:21f).

*medieval in terms of Novgorod usually translates to what most of us still call viking age, as it was one of the late holdouts, or viking remnant culture if you will.*

Now what can we deduce from this?
- Medieval Novgorod axes close to viking age have been found with iron wedging.
- Medieval Novgorod axes close to viking age have been found with leather fastening wrapping around the haft on top of the head.
- Birch was used as axe handles in the viking age and also in medieval age.
- Axe handles according to actual finds can be bent, not just straight.

I find all this very interesting indeed. Not just for this thread about wedging, but it will have an impact on how I make future axe handles. I'll try making some in Birch wood for starters.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Oct, 2011 8:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A photo of those birchwood hafted Oseberga axes, easy enough to find now that I knew what to look for. Wink



No pic from the top unfortuneately. But definitely the one in the fore is shaved down to fit into the eye slot of the head, then it whoud have to be wedged.

I may have a friend going to Norway soon, if I'm really lucky he'll visit this very museum and can take some photos. I'll ask.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Thu 20 Oct, 2011 9:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wonder if the birch axe handles are substitutions or repairs. Similarly I wonder if the leather wraps are field repairs or modifications. Broken gunstocks were often repaired with leather or rawhide binding in the past here in North America.

I doubt that one could be sure even if one could individually examine the axes.
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Aleksei Sosnovski





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PostPosted: Thu 20 Oct, 2011 11:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even nowadays birch is used for axe and hammer hafts, but I personally don't like it. Ash is better in every aspect. I also heard that rowan a.k.a. mountain ash makes good hafts. Well, it is strong and has smoother surface than ash so more pleasant to the touch.
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Tim Jorgensen




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PostPosted: Fri 21 Oct, 2011 8:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's that axe from the top. Johan, I tried emailing you a huge file of it but emails are getting bounced back today for some reason.


 Attachment: 224.74 KB
OseAxe.jpg

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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Fri 21 Oct, 2011 10:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Aleksei, I agree, while I haven't used a tool with a birch haft I don't think I'd like it either. I used an old hammer once that had been rehafted with American Hornbeam ( locally called ironwood). It was brutal, no spring at all.


I'll keep the rowan in mind and sometime when I see someone cutting one down I'll see if I can't get a few pieces to play with

Ash is very common here in New England now but there is an imported insect killing a lot of trees. I don't know how successful the fight against the new pest will be.
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 1:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Tim!
Nothing to worry about with the e-mails. As usual it's just that my account needs spring cleaning to make room for new ones.

So that axe has a darker section of the top a face. A round plug wedge perhaps? What do you guys think?

About Birch, I never said it was perfect. I'd prefer Ash any day, it's a joy to work with and it's easier to get a clean piece with no branching. But you can use other wood types, say in a pinch. What if all the locally available ash had already been used to make war axes and spears for the local garrison, Mr King was adamant he get the best stuff for his Boys you know. So was those lads going off to pillage and r.. well you know the stuff good Viking boys like to do.
Crafts axes for the more peaceful parts of the community could be made with Birch or basically any decent wood still around after the warriors got first pickings.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Peter O Zwart




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 6:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
So that axe has a darker section of the top a face. A round plug wedge perhaps? What do you guys think?


There is definitely a different colour of wood in the center, quite possibly a circular wedge. However, this raises the question why? To use such a wedge they would have had to drill a fairly large hole, while they had the capability to do this it would seem like more work than cutting a slot and using a normal wedge. Another thing I notice is that there are no cracks around the edge indicating that the wedge has not expanded the wood very much unless there is a crack on the front or back that I cannot see.
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 6:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"So that axe has a darker section of the top a face. A round plug wedge perhaps? What do you guys think?"


Well, this is a shot in the dark type of guess but do you think the darker section could be heartwood?
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Aleksei Sosnovski





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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 10:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Johan Gemvik wrote:
Thanks Tim!
Nothing to worry about with the e-mails. As usual it's just that my account needs spring cleaning to make room for new ones.

So that axe has a darker section of the top a face. A round plug wedge perhaps? What do you guys think?

About Birch, I never said it was perfect. I'd prefer Ash any day, it's a joy to work with and it's easier to get a clean piece with no branching. But you can use other wood types, say in a pinch. What if all the locally available ash had already been used to make war axes and spears for the local garrison, Mr King was adamant he get the best stuff for his Boys you know. So was those lads going off to pillage and r.. well you know the stuff good Viking boys like to do.
Crafts axes for the more peaceful parts of the community could be made with Birch or basically any decent wood still around after the warriors got first pickings.


If you are speaking about the last photo then this axe sure seems to have a normal wedge.Crack in the handle supports this idea. And you can see a line that goes across the middle of the shaft end. The darker area in the center looks somewhat strange and could be caused for example by hammer hitting the wood when driving in the wedge. If the wedge was plug-type then the shaft would have had more cracks, considering how much it extends from the axe head.

Many types of wood can be used for making hafts and handles. Basically any hardwood would do. The question is how long it would last and how comfortable it would be. Ash is a "standard". Oak is strong but rough. Rowan is very comfortable to the touch and also very strong, as should be maple (though not 100% sure). Birch was used and is used nowadays. Only very soft woods should be avoided, and of course axe/hammer haft should have straight grain without knots
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Wed 26 Oct, 2011 4:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have seen viking age axe with small steel wedges still preserved. Not trace of the wooden haft, but there were wedged inserted from the top to expand the exposed end of the haft.

It is impossible to know if this was the way it was always done, but it is proof that the axe head was sometimes slipped on the top end of the haft and wedges used to expand the wood to pinch the eye from the inside.

Hafts may have been slipped on from the grip end all the way, like a tomahawk, or one of those Nydam axes. That is also a viable method. I have seen no proof of this having been used in the viking period. It may have, but the only method I have seen traces of are the preserved iron wedges. Wood wedges may of course also have been used, but will rot together with the haft.
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