Introduction: Stone Age Axes

Picture of Stone Age Axes

This time we'll go back to Stone Age times, with modern tools!

Stone axes are cool stuff. They exist in a large number of forms and sizes and for thousands of years they've been used for construction purposes, hunting, war and mosquito smashing. The first 'axes' were unhafted - without a handle. Trying and erroring the caveboys discovered that their tools could be a lot more effective if fixed to a pole - the hafted axes were born.
Hafted axes are or 'grooved' or, of course, 'ungrooved'. The 'groove' refers to a modification of the shaped stone - called a 'celt' - that forms the heart of the axe. Those celts are almost indestructible and eagerly found on archeological sites.

In this Instructible I'll show you how to make a basic stone axe. I don't want to copy any style and I don't want to refer to a particular historic period. It's all about fun and following your creative instinct.

Back in time axe building must have been a long and hard work, but with some modern tools it's really a piece of cake.
Wanna do it the old way with a sand bed instead of an angle grinder? Feel free!

You'll find a lot of usefull information on

Step 1: Shaping a Pebble Into a 'celt'

Picture of Shaping a Pebble Into a 'celt'

Search a pebble. Granite, diorite and all kinds of volcanic rocks are pretty fine. Sandstone and flintstone (of course) are also okay.

Use angle grinder with a diamond disc to rawcut the pebble and a heavy sanding disc (the kind used to sand concrete, bricks, metal etc.) to do the rawsanding. Take care of your hands because the disc makes no difference between pebble and meat, use gloves and goggles!

Howto? Like in the pictures: conical, sharp end on the large side, round end at the top.

Fine sanding paper will finish the 'celt' aka axe-shaped pebble. I ended with a 800 grain water-sanding paper.

I stupidly lost the pictures of the shaping process of the granite celt but there's some stuff of another celt - much smaller and dark, maybe basalt.

Step 2: Shaping the Handle

Picture of Shaping the Handle

I made the handle of olive. It's a very solid wood and I love to work with it. I learned that you have to stay away from straight-grained woods because the straight grain makes them split easier. Good species in the States are dogwood, hickory, and ash. In Europe: common hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is just right. Or olive.

Prehistoric axes have a lot of 'meat' on the celt-side. This reinforces the axe and makes it 'swing' a lot better.

Cut the log to the size you want - a good rule is that the handle measures 4 times the size of the celt. No rocket science.

I found a pretty nice piece of wastewood with a lot of carves and imperfections. I put it away a long time ago, didn't want to burn it because 'you never know for what it could be used for'... Using an angle grinder, again, with raw sanding discs (50 to 80) I shaped it to the, well, shape I wanted. Never waste any piece of nobel wood, you see...
Since I didn't want it to be 'too perfect' I did no plastic surgery and conserved as much as possible the original curves of the log. We're building a replica of an ancient axe, no laser-shaped multitool.

Step 3: Drilling the Handle

Picture of Drilling the Handle

Now you'll fix the celt into the handle. Measure it, draw the cross section of the celt on the handle and start drilling.

Achtung! The flat sides of the celt shouldn't make contact with the handle. You should be able to see daylight on the right and left side of the celt. This will protect it against splitting.

Drill in a conical way, file, sand, try, sand again, try, sand, finish!

Step 4: Yabadabadoo!

Picture of Yabadabadoo!

Finish handle & celt with natural oil, teak oil or whatever kind of finish and jam the celt in it's cave. If you like you can reinforce the handle with leather straps or tendons.

The GROL axe (granite&olive) has been oiled with clear oil, the BROL (basalticrock&olive) with teak oil. Teak oil is relatively dark and gives an excellent finish to the wood. Bring it on with bare hands - FEEL THE FORCE! - and wipe the excess oil with a towel.

How does it cut? Well, they haven't been tested yet. The best is yet to come!

Thanx for watching!


diy_bloke (author)2014-04-06

Looks great.
Met de naam 'Bricobart' neem ik aan dat u uit België komt?

bricobart (author)diy_bloke2014-04-14

Uiteraard, 't was té voor de hand liggend om niet te gebruiken ;)

Blaise_Gauba (author)2014-04-06

Wow...very cool! Nice work!

Bolensgoldrush (author)2014-01-13

Do you need to wear a dust mask before sanding the rock?

bricobart (author)Bolensgoldrush2014-01-14

You should - but I admit that I use to 'forget' it most of the time...

The Metal One (author)2012-09-28

one last suggestion...sinew is much stronger than rawhide, and would have been the traditional binding material of the age. also shrinks when applied wet and left to dry

bricobart (author)The Metal One2012-09-30

Sold in commerce? Or do I have to hunt the mighty mammut to have it?

bcavaciuti (author)bricobart2013-03-03

sinew would be good and can be obtained from any freshly killed animal the bigger the better and is basically the tendons refined into usable cordage it wont be hard to look up in a good survival guide the method for this . the thing about rawhide is it also shrinks into placce as triumphman discovered and would also have been used almost as much as sinew in ancient times and is easier to prepare (cut the skin into strips and soak. the only thing i dont like about your axe is it is to uniform and looks to clean to be a genuine caveman axe maybe you could distress it with a hammer carefully with glancing blows to give it that old effect

bricobart (author)bcavaciuti2013-03-05

I agree, it looks almost too perfect... Professional handycap - I like sanding paper ;-)

windshadow (author)2012-09-27

I just think it is ironic to use a highly advanced electric diamond impregnated grinder wheel to make this most basic of stone age tools.

But that is just me !

Maybe like cooking a buffalo with a star trek phaser .

Sun Spirit (author)windshadow2012-09-27

You're totally right that it's ironic, and irony is a joy in and of itself. But I would like to point out that this is not just an exercise in irony. As a primitive artisan myself, I love doing things the old way, the hard way, what some consider the "pure" way: use fire in the place of a chisel to hollow out a bowl, use a bone awl and deer sinew in the place of needle and thread to sew buckskin. But the fact of the matter is, very few of us are professional cavemen. We have lives and other things to do, and if we're ever going to achieve any breadth in our learning we have to take shortcuts sometimes.

Modern tools are therefore a very legitimate way to learn about primitive technologies. For example, thanks to doing things the quick way, bartolo has been able to make multiple stone axes. I'll bet you each time he made one, he learned something new about what works and what doesn't in stone axe construction. And I'll bet you that if he had done it the old way--pecked and ground the stone with other stones, burned and scraped the handle with flint flakes--he would be extremely hesitant to go banging his museum-quality piece against trees. This way, he is able to learn not only about the construction of the axe but also its use.

So you see, using power tools to make stone tools actually makes a lot of sense. (But it's always going to be ironic!)

bcavaciuti (author)Sun Spirit2013-03-03

i love the term professional caveman :D i wish it was a real job and i bet it would get a certain few people out of minimum wage jobs hehehe

bricobart (author)Sun Spirit2012-09-28

Thanx for those wise words Sun Spirit, proud to have them in this Instructable. I agree for 200% that it's all about shortcutting. One life, thousands of things you can do, millions of things to learn, every day again.
Modern tools are the result of the geniosity of those who were brilliant before us. They permitted me to build a stone axe in only a few hours. The building is one thing, the use another. I'm sure I'll be able to add a lot more information soon...

kbs2244 (author)2012-09-27

That looks good.
But it is unfinished.

If used that way the handle will soon split from the wedging action of the stone.

What you need to finish it off is rawhide lashing around the end, then “X”ed down below the stone and around the handle a bunch more times.

If you do this with the rawhide wet it will shrink as it dries.

bricobart (author)kbs22442012-09-27

Thanx for the suggestion, I'll do it before testing. It would be too bad the split the handle with the first hits...

mayday12 (author)bricobart2012-10-14

Where do you get that stone?I live in Louisiana (lack of rocks) so i have no clue..........

triumphman (author)2012-10-11

I made some of these! I just found stones in almost perfect shape of an axe, then I boiled some doggie rawhide then lined and wrapped the hole and stone with the wet, soft rawhide. When it dried, it was like steel. The stone is really secured in there! Looks primitive too! Just FYI, Thanks for sharing.

Burgess_Shale (author)2012-09-28

Beautiful and well-documented project, but no self-respecting caveman would use granite or basalt for axes! Have you tried flint or obsidian?

bricobart (author)Burgess_Shale2012-09-30

Thanx, bell me why. Because those rocks are rot suitable to cut with or because it's a hell of work to shape them with primitive tools? I really have to test tem to test the first question...

bricobart (author)bricobart2012-10-01

Try this: to make a stone axe.htm

'For the axe or celt:

Choose a fine-grained basalt, diorite, granite, quartzite, or other granular material that looks like it has enough strength to hold together under the stress of chopping wood. Usually, the finer the grain size, the stronger the tool. Remember also, that small grain size means more work but the tools will last longer.
Test the stone by hitting it with a hammerstone or rock hammer. If the stone breaks easily, discard it. You'll want tough stone.
Find a stone that looks something like an axe or celt already. This will greatly influence the amount of labor needed to make the tool. In ancient times, craftsmen might walk many creeks before finding the perfect rock. In modern society, we may only be able to get permission to walk .001 percent of the area to which they had access. I'd bet, while hunting and/or foraging, ancient ground stone tool makers kept their eyes open for material wherever they walked and were able to pick the "cream of the crop".'

Dixit some men from the field. Picture: a full-grooved axe made of diorite.

roufa (author)2012-09-28

The "caveboy" comment disturbed me. Does the author have any evidence to suggest that cavegirls were not involved in the design and production of neolithic tools?

bricobart (author)roufa2012-09-30

The author hasn't! If there's a specialist-anthropologist-paleonthologist (male or female) among us I'd like to know it too.

bricobart (author)roufa2012-09-30

The author hasn't! If there's a specialist-anthropologist-paleonthologist (male or female) among us I'd like to know it too.

The Metal One (author)2012-09-28

a couple of other good hardwoods for this application in the states would be; maple, osage oarnge, apple, hackberry, "swamp oak" (a species of oak that grows in swampy bottoms, it has interesting grain patters and watermarks) mesquite, baltic birch, and maybe willow. i personally prefer hackberry, its damn near impossible to work with traditional carving tools, but the wood is dense, has a beautiful grain pattern, and is indestructable.

bricobart (author)The Metal One2012-09-30

Great to know, thanx!

windshadow (author)2012-09-27

I would love to see a goof at an isle in wallyworld tool section .
Showcasing the entire line of stone axes .

With accompanying photos of different uses . Ala tim the tool guy demonstrating them in checked flannel shirts .

bdempsey1 (author)2012-09-27

Most people that used this type of ax would char the wood with fire before chopping it. This would preserve the edge on the ax & make for easier cutting.

bricobart (author)bdempsey12012-09-27

Don't you think the fire will densify the wood further?

mrfoltz (author)2012-09-27

Does it really cut wood or is it just for show???

bricobart (author)mrfoltz2012-09-27

Thanx! It's about everything but show. This axe will cut and I'll try to take it on tape!

AtomRat (author)2012-09-22

Hehe, nice tool from the B.C age! It is a bit more of a bludgeoning tool rather than an axe because of its smooth edge, unfortunately the granite will break apart as well. To stop your boredom of trying to shape it using mechanical tools, the traditional cave-man way is to find a large rock that has a few layers, preferably slate. Using another very hard rock, you would hold one in each hand and bash the hard rock against your slate until you chip off sections with each hit, until you are left with a very sharp rigid blade 'chip' for an axe / knife. Wear gloves if attempting!! Big ouchies can happen. I am yet to attempt this with some more ordinary rocks.
I love the olive wood handle by the way and its finish! I think that this is a great tutorial though on the use of stone masonry and wood working / tool making with natural materials. I'm yet to try the sand bed for shaping / polishing too, thanks!

bricobart (author)AtomRat2012-09-22

Thanx for the positive comment! I'd like to try the hit-way to shape a celt, saw a few videos on the net and next time we're in a silex region I'll start to collect the right pebbles. This type of functional artwork offers lots of possibilities you know, I'll keep this site in touch ;-)

danny6114 (author)bricobart2012-09-27

Perhaps you should visit my neck of the woods, I live in Silex, Mo.. There is several pits outside of town where they used to mine for the sand to make glass and the area is riddled with caves and sinkholes as the region is a karst geological area.

bricobart (author)danny61142012-09-27

Nice suggestion danny, very nice! I'll add it to my list of Places To Visit Before Leaving This World ;-) Maybe you can start making an axe from silex and posting an I'ble!

sriley-2 (author)2012-09-23

Very nice job, I did however think you were going to show us how to make it with out the use of machines, but this is still a cool idea. As far as the sand stone I think even though it wont last very long, it still looks amazing.

Lt.Greg (author)sriley-22012-09-27

Yes, I thought so as well, Bartolo. Although you did an excellent job describing it, and I was thoroughly entertained as well as educated. Thank you for a most interesting ibble indeed!

bricobart (author)Lt.Greg2012-09-27

Thanx Greg, the fun was all for me!

bricobart (author)sriley-22012-09-23

Well, enough stuff for a next I'ble 'the old way'. Advantage of this technique is that you can make an axe in a few hours instead of a few days, I'm sure the cave boys would have been jealous when they saw what simple grinder can do ;-)
By the way: my celt is made from white granite, not sandstone.

LittlestWorkshop (author)2012-09-27

Looks very cool but I fear that without binding the wood will just split.

Arghus (author)LittlestWorkshop2012-09-27

surely, i don't think he s gonna use it tho, just for show

LittlestWorkshop (author)Arghus2012-09-27

"How does it cut? Well, they haven't been tested yet. The best is yet to come!"

Arghus (author)LittlestWorkshop2012-09-27

it was really used in ancient time its hard work to cut a tree with it but there was no internet or whatever they had time to spare

bricobart (author)Arghus2012-09-27

Don't worry guys, show for the show is not my style. These axes will be tested soon and I'll try to tape it all. Thanx for following!

snoopindaweb (author)2012-09-27

Now I know I need an Angle Grinder".

Azzurro (author)2012-09-27

It's nice but.... a bit too artificial for me. However for a movie about prehistoric people, it's perfect. :D

cerberustugowar (author)2012-09-23

As Atomrat said maybe another type of stone would make it have a more useful life. I believe the technique is called knapping that he is talking about
. That is how they would make flint arrow heads. If you could find a large enough piece of jade, that would look beautiful as well and it's a very durable hard stone.

'Knapping' only works with 'glass-type' minerals - minerals that give shell-shaped fractures when you hit them. For 'rocks' - a rock is built from multiple minerals - this doesn't work, of course.
So: knapping with flintstone and obsidian (volcanic glass) is OK
For granite, porphyry or psammite (metamorphic sandstone) you should use the sanding or grinding technique.
I looked for jade: it appears to give a splintered fracture, I don't know if it can be knapped. Did you try it?

never tried knapping jade but a search does bring up jade knifes and such. Don't know if they would be using true jade or some look alike. I mentioned jade as it would look be strong and even give it a Polynesian / Pacific West Coast Native look to it.

Xenophon (author)2012-09-22

Nice work, as always. Love how the olive handle turned out.

I don't think I could recommend sandstone as a good choice of stone though. The stuff we have around here can be broken apart with very little force. It certainly isn't up to being machined and/or pounded on.

bricobart (author)Xenophon2012-09-22

You think so? Well, I've got a lof of different types of pebbles around here and it would be a good idea to do some crash-tests. I'll let you know!

About This Instructable




Bio: I made a beer mug with only a knife & a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.
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