Learning how to make an axe is a fun project that’ll teach you some useful tool-making skills. You’ll also end up with a unique tool that’s made the way you like it. Forging an axe isn’t a beginner’s project, so you may want to get some welding and forging lessons from an experienced blacksmith before tackling an axe.
Although it’s easier to weld and forge in a workshop using specialist equipment, this guide will walk you through forging an axe with some basic materials and tools.
If you don’t want to forge steel, you may want to check out our guide about how to make a stone axe in the wilderness.
What you’ll need to make an axe
Anvil: You need something solid to work on and an anvil is perfect for the job. Make sure it’s heavy and can take a solid beating from all the hammering you’ll be doing.
Hammer: A hammer is useful for shaping steel or any other tool that you can bang heated metal into shape.
Tongs: A tool like tongs or grips are needed to hold the metal during the forging process. They need to be heavy-duty so that they don’t melt when they touch the hot metal.
Forge: To forge an axe blade, you’ll need a lot of heat. Steel begins to melt a 2750°, so you’ll need a heat source that can reach 2500°. Any higher and the steel will start to liquify. You may prefer using aluminum which will only need 1000° heat to become malleable.
The easiest option is to use a forge, but these are expensive so try to find someone else’s to use if you don’t have one. You can also build your own forge, but keep in mind that controlling the heat takes a lot more effort.
- If you choose to make your own forge, you’ll need a fire pot or any tough basin that’ll hold hot coals.
- You should drill a few holes into the basin to create airflow.
- To generate moving air, connect a pipe to the fire pot and use a hairdryer to help keep the coals hot.
- Insert a pipe into the bottom of the fire pot to allow the ashes to drop down. Use mesh wire to prevent the coal from falling out.
How to make an axe using the folding method
Rather than punching an eye through steel, the folding method takes steel and folds it around a drift to create an eye. This is the hole that you’ll use for attaching the handle. If you’d like to learn how to attach a handle to an axe then check out our resource on this. You’ll start by inserting a small carbon steel slab between two ends and forge weld the layers together. This will create one piece of solid steel with a high carbon center.
- Crank up the forge or fire pot until you’re happy with the heat output.
- Take a piece of mild steel that is roughly 3/8” thick, 2” wide, and 11” long. Begin heating the steel, turning it every 2-3 minutes, until it reaches 1200° on an infrared thermometer. The steel will begin to glow a yellowish-red color.
- Once heated, remove from the forge and begin bending, ensuring each end is even. Just before closing the two ends, insert the carbon steel along with a little borax in between.
- Close down the ends onto the borax and steel, then return to the heat. Once glowing again, remove from the forge, add extra borax, and hammer the layers together. You may need to reheat the steel several times before the layers become one.
- Insert the drift from the top and bottom of the eye and start the welding process. Then, leaving the drift in, start hammering until you’ve roughed the shape of the axe head.
- Once the axe head is welded and its shape has been roughed out, bring it back to room temperature and begin smoothing and thinning the blade’s edge. At this stage, it doesn’t need to be perfect.
- To harden the edge, heat the blade to 800°, flipping it every few minutes to ensure even heating. Once it’s glowing red, the carbon will dissolve into the ferrite.
- Remove the axe from the forge and dip it into a bucket of cool water to harden the steel.
- To reduce the brittleness, heat the axe to 230° for 2-3 hours.
Finishing the axe
Once the axe has been tempered, you’re almost finished. You just need to sharpen the axe head and fit the handle. You may also like to sand down the axe head.
What steel is best for making an axe?
For the best axe head, you can use carbon steel, which has been used by professional axe makers for centuries. Keep in mind it’s expensive though.
Stainless steel is a good option as it’s resistant to corrosion, but it’s softer than carbon steel with moderate edge retention. If you use steel, make sure it has at least 12% chromium, to ensure it is stainless steel.
Forging an axe head is time-consuming, requiring patience and skill. Knowing the right time to remove the head from a forge is tricky at first but will become easier in time. Keep in mind that overheating or underheating the materials you’re working with could ruin them so work with precision. A thermometer will help get the timing accurate for a first-timer. It’s also a great idea to start by experimenting with cheaper scrap metal, rather than starting with carbon steel.
You’ll do well to get some advice from other experienced axe makers first. In the United States, there are also short courses at local community colleges for making axes or knives. Online videos are also available, but nothing replaces practical in-person training.
Making your own axe is a great accomplishment and the finished tool should serve you for many years. Once you complete your first project, we’d love to see the results. Feel free to reach out to us on the socials.