Danish Axe Inspired by Kirkkomäki Grave 37 Axe

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Description and Stats:  The edge is 8.5″ (21,6 cm) from tip-to-tip. The haft is 42.5″ (108 cm) from the bottom of the eye. The eye and body are 1018 low carbon steel, and the edge is 1080 high carbon steel. The haft is made of hickory and has a gentle taper from the top to the bottom. It has a rectangular cross-section with rounded corners. I forgot to weigh it before I shipped it, but the new owner said it is almost exactly 3 pounds (1360,8 grams)

Some background information:

I was contacted about making a Danish style axe inspired by the grave finds in Kirkkomäki – specifically grave 37. As can see from the photo, it is quite corroded, but general shape and dimensions can be drawn from the picture:

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Based on the information provided by the researchers, the customer wanted the haft length to be 42.5″ (108 cm) long. I asked the customer if I could fill in details with some research that I did with Peter Johnsson in Sweden. He agreed.

I used this axe as additional inspiration:

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I have been working hard to hone my skills and techniques for making these Danish Axes. The reinforced edge, even though there is a slight radius from the body to the edge, are very difficult to clean up and make smooth. In my frustration, I made a sen to actually scrape and plane away material to make the arc smooth and consistent. Like many of my recent projects, this axe was another step forward for me. There are always small flaws that turn up (which I think add character to the piece); but overall, I am very satisfied with this axe.

Before I did the final clean-up I took this axe out back and attacked some large piece of wood (8-12″ in diameter) on my wood pile. I do this as a matter of habit to expose any possible hidden flaws in the structure of the axe. This time, I was really trying to see if I could get the axe to fail because the customer who commissioned the axe is a serious practitioner. I had to make sure this axe would not fail when he received it. I cut about 10 large pieces of wood with it. Striking full force, the blade performed brilliantly. I consider this fairly abusive since this axe is not tapered and balanced for continual wood cutting; the shape and weight allow for speed and agility in delivery massive blows in battle followed by a quick recovery. I would not recommend cutting large pieces of wood with this axe; it is, however, nice to know that the axe will hold up to this level of use.

Photos:

If you are interested in an axe similar to this one, contact me at ericmycue374@comcast.net, and we can discuss commissioning a piece.


 

Response from Michael Ruhala:

Hi Eric,

The axe arrived in fine shape and let me say this, it is a superb weapon! The weight, shape and proportion of the head is everything I hoped for. The handle is also noteworthy, its taper, cross section and smooth finish are as pleasing to the eye as they are comfortable in the hand. Taken as a whole the weapon is very well balanced, the weight of the blade combined with the rounded rectangular cross section of the handle make indexing and edge alignment practically automatic. According to my digital scale it weighs exactly 3lbs and the point of balance is about 8 inches below the eye, equidistant between the head and where I place my left hand in most guards. This makes for an agile weapon that can recover quickly even from a fully committed swing. Strikes with the handle are really fun because the head acts as a counterweight adding speed and force to blunt attacks. I’m mostly known as a swordsman but the axe has always had a special place in my heart, this one is the new centerpiece of my collection and I look forward to really putting it through its paces over the coming months.

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I need to make this clear since I have received a number of emails  from people who are thinking that I am presenting an axe that was possibly made 1100 years ago.  I hand forged this axe last month.  This is completely my work.  I was just trying to make an interesting backstory to accompany the axe.  Pieces are often presented without any historic context, so I thought I’d supply a bit of historical fiction to help bring this axe alive.  There was no intent to deceive or try to pass off this axe as an actual antique.  I apologize for the confusion.  I will still keep the backstory since I had fun writing it, and I think it adds substance to the piece.


Here is where my fictional backstory begins:

To quote the Dude:  “I got information, man! New shit has come to light…”

I sent the axe out for analysis because quite frankly with such an amazing artifact, I wanted further information about how it was make.  I sent the axe to my friend, Dr. Alice Derleth.  Alice is the Francis Morgan Professor of Archeology at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts.

Here is her analysis:

  • Body and eye:  Forge welded construction.  Made from a low carbon steel similar to our modern 1018 steel.
  • Edge bit:  Forge welded to body.  Made from a high carbon steel similar to modern 1080 steel.
  • Axe head finish:  The corrosion has been stabilized by boiling in clean water in which leaves with high levels of tannins have been added.  They could have possibly used Oak leaves or even black tea leaves.  The process turns the corrosion black and stabilizes the surface .  This would account for the axe’s level of preservation.
  • Haft:  Ash with a brownish dye stain applied to the wood.
  • Edge: 4.25″ (10,8 cm) from tip-to-tip
  • Axe Head Length: 7″ (17,8 cm)
  • Haft Length: 31.5″ (80 cm) from bottom of axe head
  • Overall Length: 33.25″ (84,5 cm)
  • Weight: 2.375 pounds (1077 grams)

Price: $665 (includes US domestic shipping)  SOLD


Below you will find Margaret’s original story:

I am selling a unique, late 9th Century Anglo-Saxon axe.  In Wheeler’s typology, this axe would be classified as a Type IV.  The axe is very interesting, but not as interesting as the story that was told to me by the woman who gave it to me.  The story is a bit long, but well worth it.

I met Margaret Atherton as the result of an ad I put in the local newspaper.  Work was slow, so I decided to see if I could make some extra money by sharpening people’s kitchen knives.  In the end, I didn’t make much money.  In fact, the ad cost as much as what I was making sharpening the knives.  Margaret had found my ad in an old edition of the newspaper that was sitting on a table in her hairdresser’s shop.  When she called, I explained that I’m not sharpening knives anymore.  She explained that her knives were in terrible condition and she wasn’t sure what to do about it.  She was on a fixed income, and she simply did not have money to replace her cutlery.  To be honest, it sounded like it was going to be a pain to repair and sharpen these knives, but for some reason, I felt drawn to help her with her.

She brought her knives to my little shop in an old microwave box.  It was filled halfway to the top with old kitchen knives.  I immediately thought, “what the hell did I just get myself into?”  She set the box down on my layout table, and asked me how much it would cost to sharpen her knives.  I thought, “there has got to be 40 knives in that box!”  Well, I soon found out it was 47 to be exact.  Based on my old price schedule (small knives $2 and large knives $5), this box of knives would run her about $154.  I knew that she did not have $154, so I simply said, “let me figure out the price and give you a call.”  She wrote down her phone number and address and left it on the bench.

It took me three days to sharpen all those knives!  I simply loaded them up and took them over to her house.  I quietly put them on her porch and left.  I thought that was the end of it.  The next day Margaret called me crying, “how much do I owe you for all that work?”  “Nothing,” I told her, “it was something I felt like I needed to do.”  Margaret, through her tears said, “I need to do something for you as a way to say thank you.”  Without thinking I blurted out, “I like cookies and brownies!  You can make me some cookies or brownies.”  “I can do that,” replied Margaret.  The next day, I received a huge box of cookies AND brownies.  Margaret knew how to bake!  So began a year and half long relationship with Margaret.

About every three weeks, she would bring me some item that needed to be sharpened, repaired, or polished:  lawn mower blades, silverware, shovels, hoes, etc.  Once she brought me her ancient toaster and asked me to replace the plug.  Each time she brought something for me to fix, it was accompanied by a box of cookies or brownies or both.

This last January, Margaret showed up to my shop.  I thought, “what crazy thing did she bring this time?  Is it cookies or brownies?”  This time, however, she did not have some piece in need of repair nor did she have a box of cookies or brownies.  In her arms, was a 3′ bundle of cloth.  It vaguely reminded me of a bolt of cloth that you would see at a fabric store.

“Eric,” she began, “I’m moving to California to live with my younger sister.  She is not doing very well, and she needs me to come and help her.  You have been a good friend to me, and I want to give you something.  It has been in my family for a very long time.  My sister does not care for it, and she asked me to not bring it with me, so I am giving it to you.”

Margaret carefully unwrapped the bundle to reveal an old axe.  I was shocked.  The axe had some evidence of wear and tear, but it was in excellent condition.  I immediately thought it was a 19th century fake, but I didn’t want to say that to Margaret.  “How old is this axe?”  I asked.  “It’s ancient,” she replied, and with those two words, she began to tell me the story of the axe:

This axe has been in my family since around 900 a.d.  It belonged to one of my ancestors.  You may be surprised that I know with such certainty the origin of this axe.  You have to understand that the story of this axe has been faithfully retold in my family for the last 40 or so generations!  It is almost a rite of passage for children in my family to hear the story.  My grandfather told my sister and me the story of this axe when we were little children, and he told the story every year till his death.  Upon my grandfather’s death, my father received the axe, and when my dad died, it was passed to me.

This axe belonged to Ædelwine of Atherstone.  You see my family name was originally Atherstone.  We took the name of the small village in Mercia that was near the land that was granted to Ædelwine by Alfred the Great.  My family name was shortened to Atherton when my great grandfather came to the United States from England in 1892.

Ædelwine of Atherstone distinguished himself by protecting Edward, son of Alfred the Great, at the battle of Farnham.  At one point in the battle, the Danes, seeing that they were being routed, made a last ditch effort to kill Edward.  Ten of the largest Danes took broad axes and charged the hill on which Edward was directing his forces.  Ædelwine, seeing the charging Danes, took his nimble axe and shield and charged down the hill right into the midst of the group of Danes. 

The Dane leading the charge, a big idiot of a man named Snorre Haestensson, became confused by the sight of this lone Saxon charging them.  In his confusion, he hesitated.  It was then that Ædelwine dove the edge of his small axe into the face of the lead Dane.  When the lead Dane fell so violently, it broke the nerve of the other Danes who were following him up the hill.  As they turned to run, Ædelwine slaughtered three more of them.  It ends up that Snorre was the younger son of a Danish chieftain.

Alfred, hearing of Ædelwine’s courage in protecting his son, made Ædelwine a Thegn and gave him lands and money to build a large manor house in the ancient village of Atherstone.  When Edward succeeded his father to the throne, Ædelwine who had already been known as the protector of the prince, became the  protector of the king.  Ædelwine married and raised three sons at Atherstone.  He was often called upon by Edward to join him in fighting the Danes, and quelling other uprisings.

In 924 a.d., Edward called upon Ædelwine and his two oldest sons to join him in quelling a rebellion.  The Mercians and Welsh had formed an alliance against Edward.  Ædelwine and his sons, along with his household guard, rode north and joined Edward in battle.  Ædelwine and his sons fought well, and Edward was victorious. 

Edward asked Ædelwine to join him as he rode back to Wessex.  Edward feeling overly confident, left his household guard to garrison the area and dispatch any stragglers.  Edward put his trust in Ædelwine, Ædelwine’s sons and his household guard of 50 men.  As they rode south through the parish of Farndon, they were ambushed by a large force of Welshmen.  Ædelwine and his sons stood bravely against the enemy.  At one point, it looked like Ædelwine’s men were on the verge of routing the Welsh; but the Welsh brought up a group of peasant archers.  The continuous volley of arrows proved to be too much for Ædelwine and his men. 

Edward was mortally wounded.  Ædelwine’s middle son lay dead at his feet; and Ædelwine, who was protecting his king, had taken a Welsh arrow to the chest.  With his dying breath, he instructed his eldest son to take his axe and ride south with the news of Edwards death.  As he lay there dying, Ædelwine handed his son his trusted axe and bid him farewell.

Margaret had tears in her eyes as she finished the story.  “As you can see, Eric, the axe is quite old.”  I looked at the axe carefully.  The axe was old.  I could see years of mild corrosion on the head.  It looked like the head was darkened by some process to stabilize the corrosion.  Margaret noticed that I was looking at the finish, “my grandfather said that in ancient days, iron could be preserved by allowing it to rust a bit then boiling it in oak leaves.  This process would turn the iron black.”

The edge has been polished bright.  I was amazed at how sharp the edge was after all these years.  Margaret said her grandfather, on occasion, would carefully sharpen the edge with a fine stone.  “Even though he never used the axe, he felt that the axe should be sharp and ready for use as a tribute to our ancestor,” she explained.  I asked her if I could test the edge sharpness.  She agreed.  I took a piece of paper and carefully sliced the paper into strips.  This axe is razor sharp!

The haft is made of some kind of hardwood.  I know that Ash was a often used.  In addition, it has a slight arc to it.  I could only assume that this was intentional and aided in the wielding of the axe.  What was striking about haft was not the well preserved brownish stain, it was what was underneath the stain. There are darker streaks and spots in the wood like some other stain had been applied in a random and chaotic manner.  “What are these streaks and blotches?” I asked.  “My grandfather,” she began, “said it was Ædelwine’s blood that stained the wood, but I prefer to think it is the blood of Ædelwine’s enemies.  We will never know.”

We talked a bit more about the axe.  She said that she was the last to receive the axe.  There were no more children in her family who could receive the axe and her sister did not want it.  “I could never pay you for all the work you did for me, but maybe you can sell this axe and take the money as payment,” she suggested.  I told her I would have to think about it.

I’ve been laid-off for several months now, so it is as good a time as any to part with the axe.

Here are some of the stats:

  • Construction:  After careful inspection, I can see that the body and eye are some form of iron with low carbon content.  The edge is definitely hard so, I’m assuming some form of high carbon steel.  The haft material is hardwood (most likely Ash).  It has a subtle arc to it.
  • Finish:  There is subtle corrosion on the surface except for the cutting edge which has been carefully maintain even after all these years.  The rest of the axe head has a pleasing black finish.  I have read that boiling rusted iron in leaves that contain tannin creates a stable black finish.  I can only guess that this may have been the process that was used.  The haft has been stained with a brown pigment.  There is also evidence of some other stain that has been applied in a chaotic manner.
  • Edge: 4.25″ (10,8 cm) from tip-to-tip
  • Axe Head Length: 7″ (17,8 cm)
  • Haft Length: 31.5″ (80 cm) from bottom of axe head
  • Overall Length: 33.25″ (84,5 cm)
  • Weight: 2.375 pounds (1077 grams)

Price:  $665 (includes US domestic shipping)

Photos:

 

 

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It was a chance of a lifetime.  My friend, Peter Johnsson, was able to secure a whole day of research at the University of Uppsala storeroom.  When we walked in, the curators made their introductions, then proceeded to walk us down to the climate controlled rooms.

I could not believe my eyes: row after row of swords, spears, axes, and other assorted weapons were sitting on each shelf.  It looked to me, a novice, like the jackpot of historic weapons.  We quickly began the task of choosing which items we wanted to document.  We pulled what seemed like dozens of weapons off the shelves and placed them on a cart to take them to a study room.  One of them was this outstanding small bearded axe.  It had an elegant shape, but it was also quite substantial for its size.  I knew right away that someday I’d like to make an axe inspired by this one.

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Peter’s drawing of the axe

My version is slightly larger than the original.  The tips of the langets are a bit more narrow on my version because the corrosion added a bit of mystery as to how the ends were terminated.  In addition, instead of the roundish eye socket, I opted for a kite shaped one mostly because of the mandrels I had already forged and heat-treated.  Other than these minor changes, I believe this version captures the spirit of the original axe.

The haft is made of hickory and is 31″ (78, 7 cm) long.

Specs:

  • Socket and Body: 1018
  • Edge bit: 1080
  • Blade width: 4.75″ (12,1 cm)
  • Overall length (from pole to top tip of blade): 6.375″ (16,2 cm)
  • Weight: 2.28 pounds (1034,8 grams)
  • Haft material: hickory
  • Haft length: 31″ (78,7 cm)

Contact me at ericmycue374@comcast.net if you are interested in commissioning a similar piece.

Click to enlarge:

 


 

Customer’s Response:

Hi Eric, The axe has arrived in perfect shape.  Just to let you know, I have a big smile on my face. It is superb. Your workmanship on the axe head is beautiful and very symmetrical and the hickory haft is a knockout. To say I am pleased is an understatement. I am over the moon. You deserve a very big pat on the back Eric. Well done. The axe is very deceptive. At first it looks very light of weight and it makes me think it wouldn’t have much power behind it. Then you see the wedge shape and this overturns the previous statement. I think this axe would be devastating in battle. Light but not cumbersome and very easy to change direction but with a mass behind the cutting edge that is awe inspiring.

I will have to take a few days to really appreciate this axe and then I will write to myarmoury.com with a review. I am hoping for some sunny weather so I can take some pictures.

Once again, thank you so much for this.

By the way, I was very impressed with the new Danish axe you just made. I won’t be able to afford one this year but I am hoping to put aside some for next year.

All my very best,

Peter