How to Make a Viking Style Axe From an Old Rusty Axe - No Forging

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About: Hi I'm Alex and I love to make stuff! I mainly work with different metals but I also love to explore new (to me) materials and dabble in woodworking, jewelry, knife making, design and many more.

Hi there,

this is a project that was in my head for over a year. Over a year ago I got this old rusty axe that someone used in his garden as an all purpose tool from splitting wood (ok) to breaking stones (not cool).

So ever since I got this rusty, dirt covered thing I wondered if I could give it a new life. The idea formed that I could attempt to sculpt a viking style axe out of this lump of steel. Up until recently I wasn't sure how to approach this task. I thought that it should be possible to do a lot of the work with an angle grinder and various discs. For the more refined work I could use my bench grinder and 1"x30" Belt Grinder.

Then three months ago my friend Onur (Check his Youtube Channel here) gave me his use Beltgrinder attachment from Multitool Products and this thing has been a true game changer for me!

Without further ado let's get to it!

Step 1: Assessment

My first step was to look closer at the axe head and identify areas that needed work before I could move to make a design.

Overall there was a lot of surface rust and pitting over the entire head. Furthermore there were bends and nicks in the blade area. The backside had been used as a hammer and showed some mushrooming. One side had a relatively deep touchmark from the manufacturer that I didn't wanted.

Worst of all the entire axe was very unsymmetrical shaped (no pic) which was visible from a top down view.

This all led me to conclude that I had some major stock removal ahead of me.

Step 2: Removal of the Old Handle

This was an interesting one:

The first part was fairly simple, I used a saw to cut of the majority of the old handle.

The next part was expectantly difficult though...

I started this half expecting for the handle falling out of the axe heads eye but no that didn't happen...

at all!!!

In the end it took me two hours of chiseling, hammering, drilling and prying to remove the contents of that axe head eye.

Of course you wont see any of those struggles in the video :D

Step 3: Rust Removal

As with most restoration projects I started this with a bath in 25% white vinegar to loosen the surface rust and dirt. A toothbrush was then used to remove a lot of that loosened rust.

Step 4: Design Time

I did have a rough idea of what I wanted to make and had drawn some sketches. Now it was time to apply those ideas directly to the object.

The initial sketch was made with a pencil, which can be easily removed. Once I had a design and was happy with the curves etc. I followed the pencil lines with a silver paint marker. I found that silver paint works on almost every surface and is better visible than black or white paint.

Step 5: Rough Shaping

Now it was time to grab the old angle grinder and make some sparks!

It was a lot of sparks and dust to be honest and even though I used a spark bucket my entire shop was covered in a layer of dust (an unpleasant mix of metal and abrasive from the discs).

I started as I start every metal stock removal with a lot of relief cuts trying to get close to the design lines ( but not too close). The tool of choice was a fresh 125mm (4 1/2") cut off disc (I think this one was 1mm thin).

Once all relief cuts were made I followed with a mix of cut off discs and grinding discs to remove the material. This was one of those moments were I wished I had a metal cutting bandsaw (most axe head bodies are made from a mild steel whilst only the cutting edge is a laminated piece of toolsteel).

This process took me approx. 1 hour in total and is probably one of the less efficient methods (but hey you got to use the tools you have).

Step 6: Fine Shaping

As I said in the beginning the belt grinder attachment from Multitool Products has been a true game changer for me!

In combination with a 40 grit ceramic belt I was able to quickly shape the axe head to my liking. I started with the contours which I had rough shaped before and cleaned up the lines. This was followed by shaping the cheeks (sides) and blade of the axe.

Once I had the general shape I wanted I progressed through the grits (120, 200, 400) to refine the shape and remove the grind lines from each previous step.

Step 7: Polishing and Prepwork

Once all stock removal was done I switched to a surface conditioning belt (which is very similar to the scotch brite pad you might use to clean your pots and pans). This leaves a very nice satin finish on metal surfaces.

I also sharpened the edge with a 1200 grit Trizact belt and used a rotary tool with a scotch brite bit to clean the inside of the axe head eye.

The final step was a thorough cleaning using acetone to remove and remaining dirt and finger prints.

Step 8: Engraving

After I started this project the #makerskullchallenge was announced by Karoline Hinz and Giaco Whatever.

I decided that I wanted this axe to become my contribution so I went and downloaded a skull drawing to use as a template.

Before I started engraving I wrapped the entire axe head in masking tape. This had three reasons first of all I wanted to protect it from scratches, the tape helps keeping the engraving bit on course and last but not least (since I was so clever to sharpen the axe already) protect me from cutting myself.

I wish I had a Dremel but unfortunately all I have is an old rotary tool from the discounter. I had to experiment a little with different shaped heads and settled quickly on a small ball shaped diamond bit.

This was my first time engraving on metal so I took my time going really slow and tracing the major outlines.

As I wrote above the tape does a great job preventing the bit from moving outside the established lines and scratching the surface.

Once I had all major lines engraved I followed with a finer bit and traced some details.

Step 9: Preparing Stock for the Handle

I chose beech wood as a material for the axe handle. For one this was the only wood I had available in the right dimensions and secondly it was used traditionally as a handle material where I live.

The board used to be a brace for a building company and had to be milled down to a usable size before I could move to shaping.

First I determined the dimensions of the blanks (I knew that I would need more than one).

Then I used my chop saw and table saw to mill the wood down to usable size.

Step 10: The Handle Design

Since I kept the old handle I used it as a temple for the general shape and to transfer the size and shape of the eye.

After that it was just a matter of adding some detail for the grip and knob.

Step 11: Fitting the Axe Head

This ended up being the most time consuming part of the project. As a matter of fact I had to scrap my first attempt and start anew. My mistake was that I wanted to rush things and attempted shape the fitting with my belt grinder. In the end the piece was much too thin and wouldn't fit properly.

The basic shape was cut out with a bandsaw although you could also use a jigsaw for this part.

Thanks to my friend Steve I went back and went to the painstaking process of doing it with handttools only. Luckily I had two draw knives that I bought years ago on a fleamarket. These were super handy for the rough shaping. For the finer shaping I used a razor blade that I modified as a scraper.

If you are looking for a more in depth guide to fitting an axe handle check out the video below:

Step 12: Shaping the Handle

Once the head fit the handle I started work on the handle shape itself.

Again the draw knives were a huge help removing material quickly revealing the rough shape. This shape was then refined using rasps, files and scrapers. Oh yes and my old trusty rotary tool this time with a large burr bit to shape the round parts of the handle.

Step 13: Relief Hole & Slot

I'm actually not quite sure where but somewhere I learned that one should drill a hole through the handle. This prevents the wood from splitting when the wedges are hammered in.

Speaking if the wedges, in order to make a tight fit for the axe head you should pound some wooden wedges into a slot. This way the wood will expand and lock the head in place.

Step 14: Wedges

As I said before it is time for the wedges: In this case I chose walnut scraps for no other reason than contrast. Once the walnut is treated with oil it turns into a very dark brown whilst the beech is relatively light.

Step 15: Shugi Sugi Ban Wan Mugi (or Something)

Although I was happy with the handle (despite its flaws) I thought that it lacked contrast.

I've seen people use a technique called Shou Sugi Ban as a way to treat wood. Traditionally this was used in Japan to make wooden structures less likely to catch fire (well there's more to it and it's quite interesting go and look it up!).

So I used a blowtorch to partially burn the handle, charring its surface to a nice black.

Once the handle had cooled down I used a scotch brite pad to remove all loose particles and finished the handle with two coats of boiled linseed oil.

Step 16: Enjoy

Here are some more detailed pictures of the finished axe.

Will I ever use it to split wood or take into the wild as a camping axe? NO! This was mainly one huge learning experience for me and I learned many lessons for future projects!

I hope you liked the project and leave me a comment (maybe a vote for the metalworking contest too?)

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15 Discussions

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Grunambulax

Question 2 months ago on Step 2

I really enjoyed reading the instructable. You document your thinking and production well. I especially enjoyed the burning/scouring process and must try that on something I make. I also appreciate that you worked with the tools you had. Great job. I voted for your project. As far as the negative comment, all I can say is every action creates a string of intended and unintended consequences. One comment. Endless reactions. Lots of negative energy. My guess is that if you put this up for auction on a site like eBay you would see that many many people would be willing to exchange a lot of money for this. Nevertheless, that ain't happening so this is just a thought experiment.

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Grunambulax

2 months ago

Re: Handle Removal. Could you have stuck it in a fire and burned it out?

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oldersir1

3 months ago

Ax heads of that shape are old, possibly very old. Axes like that are often sought after by collectors, and can be worth a sizeable sum. So, in essense, something with potental value was turned into something with no value.

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ClintJ1oldersir1

Reply 3 months ago

The value of anything, is only in its beholder. This project was beautifully done and would love to behold it.
This is the kind of stuff I love to do as well.
Nice job in crafting and finish work.
Clint

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Riffifioldersir1

Reply 3 months ago

i've read this type of bitter comment many times. "you should have not used those plastic figurines, they are rare 80's collectibles", you should have not knapped this antic roman piece of glass, that was precious..."
i see value in the work and efforts put into this project.

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Alex 2QRiffifi

Reply 3 months ago

Thanks a lot! I'm glad you liked it! Unfortunately you are right about the type of comments. I was expecting them over at youtube which isn't unusual but I find it sad that it now happens here on Instructables as well.

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Alex 2Qoldersir1

Reply 3 months ago

I can assure you that this was no antique. It was produced in the late 80s in the GDR. Due to the experience I've gained making this project this old axe (that had arguably not much value) is now something that is priceless for me. That you do not see value in it is sad but doesn't bother me.

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billbillt

3 months ago

KUDOS!... GREAT JOB!...... THANKS FOR SHARING.....

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Chorophilia

Question 3 months ago on Step 12

In the handle shaping phase, once you had removed the bulk of the excess material you show a smaller hand tool to refine the shape in the video. Is that the rotary tool with the burr bit? I kind of looks like a potato peeler.

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Alex 2QChorophilia

Answer 3 months ago

Hi, yes that's the rotary tool with the burr bit. The pic is quite bad, I'll take another when I'm back in the shop. Thanks for reading!

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JonW113

3 months ago

Thats a great project Alex! the finished product is something to be proud of. I am glad you found the Multitool Attachment MTA-362 such a benefit.
All the best, Jon.

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Alex 2QJonW113

Reply 3 months ago

Thank you very much Jon, I'm glad I made the investment as the multitool really has been a game changer for me and my projects.