Axe Made From Bike Chain and an Old Rasp. Aka: Mad Maxe!

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Introduction: Axe Made From Bike Chain and an Old Rasp. Aka: Mad Maxe!

Axes are one of humanities oldest tools and have been in use since before the dawn in civilization up until the present day. There are many variations, but the basic shape and principle has always remained the same. The haft is generally attached to the axe head through an eye in the head.

Axes forged these days have eyes made mainly by drifting; an extremely labour intensive task unless you have access to a power hammer. There is however a second option available. By forging out a billet to shape, folding, forge welding it together and inserting a cutting bit, making an axe becomes a significantly less intensive undertaking. This is an older way of making axes with steel cutting edges, as steel was significantly more valuable in ancient times so this method allowed for making an axe with a high carbon cutting edge, but a more shock absorbent (and cheaper) body of iron.

Forge welding also opens for a whole new world of possibilities in metal working, and in this instructable I hope to show you how to make an axe utilising a broken bike chain for the body and an old rasp for the cutting bit. I have named it the Mad Maxe!

Supplies

·Hammer

·Anvil or anvil like object

·Axe drift or steel rod roughly 2.5cm (1 inch) in diameter

·Heat source. (My current forge is one of the cheapest gas forges I could get off eBay. I've heard plenty of people say it cannot get to welding temperature, but with a bit of tweaking it gets plenty hot enough. Previously I used a hole in the ground filled with charcoal for forging, but I have never tried forge welding with that setup).

·Quenchant (I use canola oil)

·Angle grinder (with cutting discs and flap discs)

·Vise

·Files

·Belt grinder

·Tongs

·Band saw

·Spokeshave

·Another axe

·PPE (Good shoes, eye and ear protection and a respirator i would consider a minimum).

·Bike chain

·High carbon steel for cutting edge (I used an old rasp. Old files and rasps are generally safe bets).

·Wood for axe haft

·Flux (I used borax from the supermarket, but anhydrous borax is supposed to be better).

·Chemicals for cleaning chain (I used normal dishwashing liquid, borax and acetone).

(Note that these are just guidelines and what I had available. Work with what you have whether that is less or more than what is on this list).

Step 1: Clean Chain

Generally when I do a new project my first step is planning. I make a sketch, plan accordingly and outline the materials I need. On this project however, you are limited by the materials used to make the axe, so start with a rough idea and fine tune as you go. (On the other hand you may be better than me at planning how the materials at your disposal can be shaped).

An important step either way is cleaning. When forge welding, there are three key elements that are important for a good weld: Heat, pressure and cleanliness of welding surfaces. A chain is going to be covered in oil, grease and potentially rust,and there are many surfaces within the chain that needs to be welded to form a solid billet. I chose to boil the chain in water mixed with dish washing liquid and borax before giving it an overnight soak in acetone. This method seemed to work well for removing any oil from the chain, though I'm sure there are other methods that would be equally as effective. The chain i used had no rust, but soaking in vinegar for an extended period is an effective way of dealing with rust if needed.

Step 2: Turn Chain Into Billet

The next step is turning the chain into a solid billet that will form the body of the axe.
You don't want to leave this step for too long, as rust will form quickly on the chain now that the oil is removed.

First you want to make sure the chain doesn't wobble around while working on it. This would be easily achieved with a welder... Of which I have none, so I folded the chain to what I figured would make a good combination of width and length for a billet (which in my instance was four links wide), and wrapped it tightly in steel wire

Afterwards it's time to forge weld the chain. If using a gas forge you want to run it with a reducing flame, meaning the amount of gas that is injected into the forge is greater than the amount of oxygen (as far as stoichiometric ratios go). This way, all the oxygen available within the forge is consumed and this reduces the oxidation and scale formation on your steel. With a reducing flame, the excess gas will combust as it exits the forge.

First you want to bring your billet to a red heat in the forge. Take it out and give it a good dousing with borax, which will partially melt and stick to the hot steel. The borax will help prevent oxidising of the surfaces and acts as a cleaning agent during the forge welding process.

Return the chain to the forge and bring it to a bright yellow heat. Bring the chain to your anvil and hit it firmly and precisely to set your first weld, but do not hit it full force. Firm and precise blows are key. You will not have a large window of opportunity to set the weld, but don't stress. When the temperature of the billet drops somewhat, reapply flux and return to the forge. Keep repeating the process until the entire chain is forge welded into one solid piece.

Step 3: Preform Chain Billet

Next you want to shape your chain billet into something more reminiscent of an axe (though it will be more of an axe that has been split in half from the edge towards the back and folded out). Flatten and flare out the ends, and try to make each side be a mirror image of the other. A straight peen hammer will help with this, but if you do not have one, you can use the edge of your hammer, or the edge of your anvil to draw the steel out with. As i often like to repeat myself: work with what you've got.

By controlling the angle at which the force from the hammer strikes your billet, you will also be able to control the direction it flares out in as indicated by the red arrows being the direction the force is applied and the blue arrow the consequent direction the steel is drawn out in.

Also, do not forget to clean off scale with a wire brush as you go. This will give the forge welding process later on better chance of succeeding.

Step 4: Prepare Cutting Bit

The rasp i chose to use for the cutting bit was a half round rasp, so the first step was flattening it somewhat. Afterwards the next step was to form one of the long sides into a wedge. The bit will be inserted into the axe body wedge first, while the thickest part of the bit forms the cutting edge. When shaping the wedge, the bit will inevitably curl in the opposite direction of what you want it to (as indicated by the blue arrows and quarter circle), so you will have to correct it as you go. Either that, or you can anticipate what the steel will do and pre-shape it so it ends up the correct shape when you're finished forging the wedge.

Afterwards, grind off the scale and cut the bit to the length you want it.

Step 5: Fold Billet

Next fold the billet in half and around a steel rod to give room for a haft later on.

Step 6: Forge Weld

Now to forge weld the body and then the cutting edge to the body. Same procedure as welding the chain. Get to red hot, apply flux, bring it to a bright yellow heat and weld the body with firm and precise blows, taking care not to weld the very front of the body where the bit is inserted and the eye.

When the body is welded, apply flux to the front part of the axe, insert the cutting bit and hammer the body to clamp it to the bit. Bring both up to bright yellow heat and set the weld as previously. Reapply flux and continue welding as needed.

Step 7: Refine Axe Shape With Abrasives

Now it's time to finalise the shape of the axe. Draw the outline of the axe on the axe blank and remove the steel you don't need with abrasives. Angle grinder (I will always advocate for 40 grit flap discs. They are fast, cheap and effective), coarse files, belt grinder or what have you. I generally start out with an angle grinder and refine the shape with files. Only file on the push stroke unless you draw file.

I will then use the slack part of the belt grinder to shape a convex cutting edge. Leave roughly a millimeter of steel on the cutting edge to prevent warping when heat treating.

Step 8: Heat Treat

Heat treating consists of three steps. Normalising, hardening and tempering. Normalising refines the grain structure of the steel and relieves stresses caused by the forging process.

To normalise, heat the axe up to the point where a magnet no longer sticks to the steel and let it cool down to black heat. I like to repeat the process two more times.

To harden, heat the axe up to non-magnetic and take it one shade brighter before plunging it into your quenchant. I use preheated canola oil for this. If the hardening was successful a file should skate off the edge of your axe.

Tempering will draw the hardness of your edge back somewhat, but in return it will be much tougher. If you use your kitchen oven like me, get an oven thermometer to monitor the temperature. If you're using known steel for your edge, follow the guidelines for that steel, if you're using a mystery steel, a good temperature to attempt tempering is around 200 degrees Celsius or 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I did two one hour tempering cycles.

Step 9: Clean Up Axe, Refine and Blend Colours (last Part Optional)

After the heat treating, your axe is inevitably going to be covered in scale and polymerised oil, so it's time to clean it up a bit. Use a wire wheel to quickly remove lose scale and oil. Afterwards you can give it a vinegar bath to remove more scale and at the same time etch the blade to bring out the different steels and details in your axe. Other etching fluids can ofcourse be used, but I like vinegar as it is, cheap, safe and readily available. I left it over night with the back part of the axe sticking out, as I wanted to retain most of the scale on part of the axe and then use a wire brush to blend it into a smooth transition to the scale-less part of the axe.

Step 10: Sharpen

You can choose to do this part at the very end, but I have a cheap belt grinder and find it easiest to do the rough sharpening while the axe still doesn't have a haft. Do alternating passes until a burr forms on either side with the passes.

Step 11: Make Haft

There are many ways to make an axe haft. The traditional method is riving, but I chose to use my little band saw to cut out a blank.

Hickory is a good wood traditionally chosen for impact tools for its good shock absorbancy. Here in Australia, spotted gum has very similar physical properties, so that is the wood i chose to use.

I then went on to cutting out the top of the haft to roughly fit the axe eye before rounding and shaping the haft (equally roughly) with a carving axe, before moving onto a rasp (do get a shinto rasp if you haven't already. They are very reasonably priced and compared to normal rasps are both extremely efficient and leaves a good finish). I finished the handle with a spokeshave. This leaves a nice cut finish, and saves an enormous amount of sanding. Remember to always use the spokeshave across the grain of the wood to prevent tearouts.

Step 12: Attach Head to Haft

Keep shaping the part of the haft with a rasp or a blade where the head goes until it fits tightly. As you keep test fitting it, the axe head will leave marks on the haft, and this will show you where to remove more wood.

Cut the haft down the middle where a wooden wedge is to be inserted. Fit the head by gently tapping it on from the top, then turn the axe around and hit the handle on the bottom with a wooden mallet. Afterwards hammer in a premade wooden wedge taking care not to break the wedge. Optionally you can also fit a metal wedge across the wooden one. For this axe I made a metal wedge from a part of the cutting bit/rasp that was left over.

I would normally just do a purely friction fit axe haft (like that one time before when I made an axe haft), but since this is a bit of an odd one, I added some epoxy to be on the safe side.

Step 13: Finish Up

It's time to add the finishing touches. For this project that included getting the axe shaving sharp and giving both the haft and axe head a good coating of boiled linseed oil.

Hope you enjoyed this instructable and I hope it was helpful in either teaching you some new techniques or inspiring future projects. How about a chainsaw chain axe, or a steel cable axe? The sky is the limit and have fun with it!

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    20 Comments

    0
    bpark1000
    bpark1000

    Tip 11 months ago on Step 13

    For holding tool heads on wooden handles, polyurethane "Gorilla glue" is the thing to use. The glue bonds tight, doesn't require mixing, is waterproof, and if the fit isn't perfect, the glue foams up to fill the gap. Let set 24 hours, then trim off the excess with rasp. Tool heads WILL NOT COME OFF!

    0
    BjornHauge
    BjornHauge

    Reply 11 months ago

    I have actually tried gorilla glue, and to be honest I'm not all that impressed. You can probably use it for just about anything, but it's also probably weaker than any specific alternative (just pva for wood for example). I'd like to think that I should be able to keep a tool head from coming off without using adhesive at all, but for this axe specifically I used JB weld, which is a steel reinforced two part epoxy. I think you would be hard pressed to find polyurethane glue stronger than epoxy in general and any glue stronger than jb weld specifically.

    But thanks for your comment. I appreciate advise and other points of view.

    0
    Oldprophet
    Oldprophet

    Reply 11 months ago

    These kind of axes are usually made with a tapering eye, which matches the top of the handle. The handle gradually grows larger towards the top, you slip the head up from the bottom, and the wider section at the top keeps it from slipping off. I would really like to make an ax like this, but I'm still working on the forge welding part. My congrats to you managing to do it!

    0
    BjornHauge
    BjornHauge

    Reply 11 months ago

    That's true. I don't have a proper hawk drift and prefer the other style of handle with a bit of a curve anyway though. My few forge welding attempts have so far gone surprisingly well and I had less problems overall trying to make axes than when trying to make knives, so I reckon you should give it a go!

    And thank you!

    0
    bpark1000
    bpark1000

    Reply 11 months ago

    No matter what you do, tool heads loosen because the wood swells and shrinks with the seasons. When wood swells, wood cells on the outside of the handle get crushed by the tool head, which doesn't swell. Then wood shrinks, becoming loose. That's why bolts in wood get loose. This is referred to in the industry as "compression set".
    I have used Gorilla Glue to repair shovels, rakes, hammers, and yes, axes for 20 years. I have never had a head come off because the glue failed. I have had the handle break or rot, and if that happens, I cut it off flush with the head, drill a hole through, and shoot a torch through to burn out the remains of the handle. You really don't need strength. You need all voids filed, and shear strength which all glue's are good at. The glue is trapped between 2 strong substances. An example of this is Locktite for securing threaded fasteners.
    Regarding forge welding, doesn't the steel have to have high carbon content for it to work? (The rasp is certainly, and the rollers in the chain do, but what about the side plates?)

    0
    Oldprophet
    Oldprophet

    Reply 11 months ago

    Far as I know, you can weld almost any kind of metal in a forge like that, but it takes a lot of practice. Mokume Gane is a really interesting example of this.Thin layers of Copper and brass/nickle are laminated and forge welded to form a kind of copper Damascus. Really cool material when made right, but harder to do than welding steel, because there is less gradation the material color when it is hot. Harder to know when to weld, and when you are about to turn your piece into a puddle.

    0
    BjornHauge
    BjornHauge

    Reply 11 months ago

    Yes that's right. I'd imagine it's pretty easy to melt copper and nickel in the forge. That's probably what I'd end up doing. I've even seen go mai done with a layer of copper within a steel blade. That just seems like black magic to me, considering the difference in melting temperature between the materials.

    0
    BjornHauge
    BjornHauge

    Reply 11 months ago

    Yes that's true. Wood is always "alive" in that sense I guess, so that is always something to keep in mind. Most handled farm tools I have used actually haven't had any glue for fastening at all, and have survived for decades, if not more than a century without coming apart.
    My own experiences with making handles certainly aren't decades long, but friction fit has been more than adequate from what I've observed. And they're a lot easier to replace if need be. In this instance I used epoxy because I was worried I'd bust the eye of the axe apart if I tried to wedge it too hard. Epoxy is certainly an excellent gap filling glue as well.
    The last axe handle I made I did a friction fit and added boiled linseed oil in the eye to swell the handle additionally and help prevent seasonal variation in the wood. Time will tell if that worked.

    High carbon steel is supposed to be easier to forge weld than mild steel, but it's not a requirement. My last project before the chain axe was another axe with a mild steel body and a rasp cutting edge. Mild steel does require a bit hotter temperature before it welds though. Laminated tools with low carbon bodies and high carbon edges have been quite common through history (or perhaps wrought iron bodies and steel edges). Paradoxically wrought iron is supposed to be the easiest thing to forge weld, and it has no carbon content at all.

    0
    Oldprophet
    Oldprophet

    11 months ago

    Really nice work! The final outcome looks great, and its even better since you used scrap material to make it. If you know what kind of metal to look for, there really isn't a reason to go buy a whole bunch of expensive carbon steel as I've found. About the forge, is it lined? Hard t tell from the photos, but a lot of forges you can buy online come with just the ceramic blanket with nothing to protect it from the flux, and nothing to protect your lungs from it.

    0
    BjornHauge
    BjornHauge

    Reply 11 months ago

    Thank you! I do like to recycle as much as possible. It feels good to be able to give new life to old scraps so to speak. The forge is rigidised and lined with satanite that I bought separately from the forge. I used to work with carbon fibre in a previous job and it does make a number on your lungs. Better take care of my health I figure.

    0
    Super--Visor
    Super--Visor

    11 months ago

    First I want to say that I found this instructable very informative and well done and I learned a lot from it. Of course I was almost totally uninformed on the subject of forge welding prior to this instructable, in spite of having had 2 complete metal shop classes growing up. I read every word and studied every picture and I really learned how-to do it. I only have one question, given that you said, and I quote, "PPE (Good shoes, eye and ear protection and a respirator i would consider a minimum)," .....so I take it that you must be wearing "Transparent Aluminum (yes it does exist) Metal Toe Flip Flops," ehh? (see the 3rd picture in step #11) This is definitely worthy of a vote in the contest and I mean no ill will, but I just couldn't resist a little poke in the ribs.

    0
    BjornHauge
    BjornHauge

    Reply 11 months ago

    I'm really glad to hear that you found the instructable informative and that you learned something new. I always think it's a good day if I learn something new!

    And no harm no foul. Perhaps I should be more vigilant in following my own safety advice :)
    That being said I guess it's a bit situational. I always wear safety glasses and closed in shoes while doing the forging and ear muffs, closed in shoes and a full face (for beard reasons) respirator while using power tools.
    Originally I had intended to only use a rasp and spokeshave to shape the handle (little need for safety gear there) but opted for the convenience of a small axe as well. Figured I wasn't going to chop off my toe doing some light carving, but shoes are probably a good idea nevertheless.

    Thanks again, and now I'm off to read about transparent aluminium :)

    0
    len55
    len55

    11 months ago

    Great work Bjorn; good old fashioned craftsmanship.

    0
    BjornHauge
    BjornHauge

    Reply 11 months ago

    Thanks a lot!

    0
    uncle reamus
    uncle reamus

    11 months ago

    That is one ugly axe, i love it.
    The anhydrous borax works better becuase the water is removed. When plain borax is used the water vaporizes on the hot steel and cuases it to foam up. The result is the borax does not melt and run in between the pieces being welded as well. To make anhydrous borax, spread the borax out on a baking sheet and put it in the oven at 200* (F) for a couple hours. Keep in mind though that borax will absorb moisture from the air so it must be stored in an airtight container. A better method is to use an old pan and melt the borax into a "glass**" then grind it into a powder, this will not absorb the water in the air. Adding a bit powdered steel to it also helps, just a pinch though.
    Tip when using rasps or files, grind the teeth off. The teeth can cuase cold shuts especially the big ones on a rasp.

    ** glass is the best way i can describe what it will look like when cooled.

    0
    BjornHauge
    BjornHauge

    Reply 11 months ago

    Haha! Thanks. I guess... :p

    Cheers. Yes I mostly know the theory behind anhydrous borax, but haven't tried it myself in practice. That's a really good summary though, so I'll certainly give it a try following it some day.

    Grinding down the teeth beforehand is probably a good idea. I just figured I'd get them mostly forged down in the making of the bit, and then further during the welding process. It seems dead solid though, so hopefully it should hold.

    0
    AnandM54
    AnandM54

    11 months ago

    Hardwork project and result was awesome!! Wow

    0
    BjornHauge
    BjornHauge

    Reply 11 months ago

    It sure was a bit of work! Thank you very much!

    0
    ClenseYourPallet
    ClenseYourPallet

    11 months ago

    Really fantastic axe. I love the bike chain. You have a vote from me.

    0
    BjornHauge
    BjornHauge

    Reply 11 months ago

    Thanks a lot! Really happy to hear that!