Go to page 1, 2  Next

Antiqued Albion Kern Axe
Sorry about the quality of the first image. I'll post better ASAP. Descriptive text follows in next post.

 Attachment: 101.24 KB
kern axe.jpg

 Attachment: 20.35 KB

 Attachment: 52.08 KB

 Attachment: 56.7 KB

Last edited by Sean Flynt on Fri 28 May, 2004 11:39 am; edited 1 time in total
This is a home-finished Albion Kern Axe, which looks something like a cross between a Dane Axe and Lochaber Axe, and may, in fact, be related to both. Like Albion’s other axes, this one is designed by Steven Peffley and executed by International Steelcrafts (India) to Albion’s specifications.

Replica Origins
Albion’s replica is a very interesting weapon inspired by a 1521 Dürer sketch of Gallowglass mercenaries and their Irish peasant retainers or Kern. (read these articles for more information about these professional warriors:



The Dürer sketch is ambiguous because the Gallowglass were famed for their use of the long axe, but in this image the Kern holds the axe. But we know from contemporary accounts that the Kern bore armour and weapons for the Gallowglass. That fact, the strange, almost ceremonial, posture of the Kern in the Dürer print, and the Kern’s more typical association with darts and the short bow, suggest that the weapon shown may actually be one of the famed Gallowglass axes. The author of the myArmoury.com article cited above puts the Dürer axe form in the hands of a Gallowglass. Still, its compactness and presumed shock value seem to make this weapon a good match for the Kern, who were reputed to be elusive guerilla fighters and fierce chargers. Most likely, the axe could just as easily represent both warrior classes.

The Dürer image informs the basic design of Albion’s axe head, which seems to be a bit longer than the original (and thus a better thrusting weapon). It’s certainly a reasonable variation of the basic design, and is identical to the axe illustrated byAngus McBride in Celtic Warriors. Both the Durer axe and the McBride version are shown to have overall lengths of around shoulder height of the Kern holding them (it's difficult to tell because the axe is held aloft in both images). Albion sells its Kern Axe either as head-only with an undrilled socket ($75) or mounted on an elegant, simple ash pole for an overall weapon length of approximately 7’(judging from Albion’s photos). The mounted version appeared to be longer than I wanted, not to mention $125 more than the head alone. My personal challenge was to acquire a simple, good quality, historically documented polearm for under $100. Thanks to Albion, this isn’t just wishful thinking for folks with more DIY spirit than cash. Ordering the unmounted head also forced me to learn something new because I had little idea how to rivet the head to a haft. Now I know how because I had no choice but to learn.

Sharpening and Hafting the Axe Head
As expected (and desired), the axe head arrived well-finished and polished but not pristine, with a few minor grind marks at the bottom of the blade where it meets the socket . I liked that roughness and added to it by not cleaning up my file marks from sharpening or the stray dents left by my DIY riveting. I would describe the factory edge as unfinished– somewhat irregular and flat-edge blunt in places, perhaps because some living history groups prefer blunt axes. I wanted my axe to be sharp, and a file quickly provided the desired edge.

Since I won’t be charging any English cavalry, and don’t intend to do much heavy test cutting or training with this weapon, I compromised on the haft. I’d prefer ash, but settled for poplar because Lowe’s had a nice 1.25”x6’ poplar dowel for under $7. Poplar is a hardwood, and I didn’t think any extra weight/durability to be gained from more durable ash or oak offset the added search time and expense, especially given the short length of the finished haft.

I shaped the socket end of the haft with a cheap, open-face wood shaping file and left the fit tight enough that the haft required some light tapping to be firmly seated in the socket. Then I simply drilled two holes straight through the socket and haft, inserted two ordinary bright steel nails, cut off the point ends and peened the remaining .25” (I found that a sledgehammer head makes a decent anvil for this sort of work). I struck the factory finish heads a few times as well to round over their edges a bit and make them match their peened ends. I love the results of this very simple technique. This was my first experience with riveting and I’m amazed at both how easy it is and how much more stable it makes the weapon feel. There are good peening instructions here:


The Dürer print does not show the butt of the axe in question, so its finishing is open to speculation. McBride depicts an un-shod, rounded butt. I think that’s a reasonable choice for a relatively simple axe, and that’s the way I’ve finished my own weapon. I suppose an iron cone or other simple reinforcement also would be as appropriate.

After fitting the head and before finishing the butt, I tried the weapon at several different lengths, starting at the documented 6’ upper-limit length of the Gallowglas axes and cutting off 1” pieces from the butt as I worked down to the size that felt best to me. I’m a light-framed 6’1”, and the weapon’s final overall length of 5’3” seems just right to me.

Most of the weight of the finished weapon is in the thick, 3lb axe head, as it should be, but the haft is short enough that the weight is very manageable. Leading with the butt of the weapon, ready to strike with the head, the haft seems long enough to parry and thrust with. But the haft is short enough to allow good control with the head up front for thrusting and slashing. Even light thrusts into boxes, letting the weight of the weapon do all the work, suggest the terrible things it would do to flesh and bone. I just weighed the weapon on a postal scale-it's 4.25 lbs and is very comfortable in the hands.

To antique the haft I beat it with a variety of tools, then sanded it to make all the scars and nicks look worn. As an afterthought, I added some woodworm holes and tracks (small nail/locking pliers) . I gave the haft about five coats of dark walnut stain to get the color close to the brown-black of many preserved pole arm hafts, then used steel wool to remove the shine of the finish and lighten the areas that would see the most hand-rubbing in use.

To antique the head, I used the usual treatment of vinegar and salt in a spray bottle, followed by cleaning with steel wool once the rust had a chance to stain and etch the steel. I find that a fine mist and repeated treatments/cleanings give the most satisfying results. After cleaning and polishing the head back up to the desired finish, I treated it with Renaissance Wax (GREAT stuff!).

Length of Edge: 14”
Length of Head: 18”
OA Weapon Length: 5’3”
Weight: 4.25 lbs
POB: Approximately .25” above socket opening
Total Cost: Approximately $95 (including head, shipping and haft, but not including woodworking tools and nails)

Last edited by Sean Flynt on Fri 28 May, 2004 6:21 pm; edited 2 times in total
Nice documentation of the process.

Glad you are happy with the finished product.
I'm VERY happy! The choice came down to this axe head or the MRL Swiss Axe or German Voulge. Having handled all three now, I think my completed Kern axe is the best of the lot (and significantly cheaper than the MRL weapons). The only trouble is, now I want that Albion Hebridean axe, which is even cheaper than the Kern axe! That'd be tougher to haft, though....
Wonderful job, Sean !

Thank you for sharing the process with us !

I so need a good lochaber axe , Mac
Thanks, Mac. I can't believe you don't have a Lochaber axe! I certainly wanted one of those, but at least this weapon has a Highland/Western Isles pedigree. I can imagine it changing from true axe to halberd over time, getting longer in haft and thinner in cross section, growing a long hook, etc. Maybe this is a proto-Lochaber? Appropriate for Highlanders of ECW era? No matter...it's a fearsome weapon....
Greetings Sean Flynt, Great post! I do have an interest in the Kern axe thing my self. One key point you brought up sparks my interest. Poplar is a hardwood? I don't know much about wood but if this is so than it opens up some new avenues. They use it for closet rods. That makes sense. Lowes also has poplar project wood. I see a shield project coming up. Sincerely, Patrick Fitzmartin
It surprised me too, Patrick, but I found it listed in an online reference to hardwoods. I just searched for "poplar" AND "hardwood". It apparently is softer, lighter and less durable than ash or oak, but still qualifies. It certainly seems tougher and more dense than pine. I worked on this poplar haft at the same time I was using an oak dowel to haft a Roman pick axe replica, and I found that although the oak certainly had more weight, it "worked" about as quickly as the poplar with hand tools. Assuming ash is a bit softer than oak, I'm not sure I could justify an extended search for an ash dowel, much less an ash board to shave down. Again, if I wanted to be as close as possible to authentic, for whatever reason, I'd go with the ash or oak. Poplar seems viable, though. Certainly worth a try for your projects....
Greetings Sean Flynt, Since we are on wood, I relate this experience with ash. I bought 3 of the old MRL Celtic leaf blade spears and 3 of their $25.00 ash poles to mount them on as this was supposedly the traditional haft wood for spears. At the time I was involved with a group. We were training for fun and actually put on a few very small competitions. I had ring grooved the hafts right on the "sweet spot" we found for the best throwing. We used them pretty hard and didn't break a one. At one competition though through the guest throwing all 3 broke with the grain at the ring section. The grooves were not that deep. I guess our group technique was pretty good due to our practice. I switched to red oak bo staves for the hafts with no rings this time. They are a little heavier but really take the abuse well. None of those ever broke. I work construction and I have also come to notice how quickly an unpracticed sledgehammer swing will snap a new piece of hickory right in two. Sincerely, Patrick Fitzmartin
Good point. It's also worth noting that contemporary illustrations of medieval and renaissance battles often show shattered polearms and other broken weapons. Even strong wood breaks, especially when somebody else's life depends on their breaking it.
Here are a few more photos of details, and a shot that gives a good sense of the scale of the weapon and a good sense of my yardwork attire.

 Attachment: 115.66 KB

 Attachment: 108.65 KB

 Attachment: 107.89 KB

 Attachment: 98.66 KB

Greetings Sean Flynt, Yes sir, indeed. I have read quite a few instances of all sorts of things breaking. Shields, polearms, armor and yes swords. It is something I keep in mind.
I just looked at your new pics. Outstanding job sir! Simply out standing. Sincerely, Patrick Fitzmartin
Go ahead...you know you want one! ;-/
Excellent work Sean! Makes me want to get one!
This weapon wouldn't be out of the question for borders infantry seasoned in the Irish wars. If I remember correctly, the McBride image depicts an Irish delegation of ca. 1560. It's possible some foot loun was so impressed by the Gallowglass axes in Ireland that he adopted one for his own use and brought it home to the Anglo-Scottish marches.
Hey Sean,
I've been to the "Germanisches Nationalmuseum" in Nuremberg today and have, among other things, been able to look at quite a lot of medieval pole-weapons. So here are some thoughts on your really well made Kern Axe:

-wood: the wooden staffs are remarkably similar to your reproduction, color and the amount or scratches on the wood are perfect

-rivets: your rivets look pretty much like the original although in most cases (All except one of about 40) the rivets didn't go all the way through the haft (I know you discussed this in an earlier post)

-Antiqued head: most of the pole weapons in this particular museum seemed to be slightly better preserved than yours. But this depends of course on the history of the individual weapon and yours looks very convincing

So as you can see you did a really fine job with this axe, congratulations
Veilen Danke, Mathias!

It's great to have this kind of feedback, especially about the construction of originals. I've glanced at lots of polearms in European museums (GRAZ! VIENNA!), but I've only recently cared much about them. So, I missed my best opportunities to study them up-close. It's very interesting to hear about the rivets. I assume you're talking about the rivets for the langets....? I tried to imagine the kind of forces the socket rivets would be subjected to. Without any experience with originals, it's difficult to imagine. Finally, I decided that twisting motions might loosen rivets that didn't go all the way through the haft. I really should do some experimenting with this piece to see how it will hold up under heavy cutting, thrusting and twisting. I wonder if the haft would eventually split due to my riveting choice....

I wasn't sure about the finish of the blade. You're exactly right-the irony of making a replica look antique is that so many museum pieces are clean and brightly polished! I always make up a little weapon biography to guide the antiquing process. Was this piece kept in a castle for 400 years? Was it fished out a river? Dug up last year? Found in a chimney? I decided that this "antique" polearm was kept in a damp Irish castle-out of the weather, but otherwise not well cared for, and never thoroughly cleaned. Maybe I'll polish it up a bit....
Sean Flynt wrote:
I assume you're talking about the rivets for the langets....? I tried to imagine the kind of forces the socket rivets would be subjected to.

Actually I was talking about the rivets of both the langets and the sockets. On the sockets you could see that there always were rivet-heads on both sides (as if the rivets were going through the haft) but they never were on exactly the same height so you could see that in reality these were two rivets.

I decided that this "antique" polearm was kept in a damp Irish castle-out of the weather, but otherwise not well cared for, and never thoroughly cleaned. Maybe I'll polish it up a bit....

I like it the way it is, I wouldn't polish it up if I were you (especially with this nice "biography")
Very interesting. Can you estimate the amount of difference in the socket rivet alignment? Are we talking about a few milimeters or more? My rivets are slighty misaligned because I just drilled through without doing any measuring other than "eyeballing," but are perhaps only a few mm out of alignment. Much more than that and they'd have to be separate rivets or screws.
It depends. Some of them were just a few milimeters out of place, others were clearly distinct from each other with about a centimeter difference
Go to page 1, 2  Next

Page 1 of 2

Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum

All contents © Copyright 2003-2006 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Full-featured Version of the forum