Amassing Classic Axes

Edge tools are among the earliest tool forms, with surviving primitive axes dated to 8000 B.C.. Early axes were created by “wrapping” the red hot iron around a form, yielding the attention of the axe. The steel bit, introduced in the 18th century, was laid into the fold in front and hammered into an edge. The medial side opposite the bit was later extended in to a poll, for better balance and to provide a hammering surface.

The handles took on a number of shapes, some indicative or origin, others associated with function. Along the handle had more to do with the arc of the swing which was required. Felling axes took a complete swing and therefore needed the longest handles. Early axes have their handles fitted through the attention from the top down and the handles stay static in place by locking into the taper of the attention, so they can be removed for sharpening.

Later axes, however, have their handles fit through the attention from the bottom up, and have a wedge driven in from the top. This permanently locks the handle to the axe and was much preferred by American woodsmen. Many axes found today had been discarded since the handle was split or broken off. In most cases they can be purchased at a portion of the value and, with another handle, can be restored for their original condition. Most axe collectors have a stock of older flea-market handles which they use for this restoration. Like plane blades, axe handles might have been replaced several times through the life of the tool. Provided that the handle is “proper,” meaning, the right shape and length because of its function, it won’t detract that much from its value.

Pricing of antique axes runs the whole gamut from a couple of dollars to several hundred. Types of well-made axes would include the Plumb, White, Kelly, Miller and numerous others. Beyond they were axes of sometimes lesser quality, but developed to an amount, and sold by the thousands. Exceptional examples might include handmade axes, possibly from the local blacksmith, or from a factory that specialized in the handmade article, irrespective of price.

There are numerous forms of axes on the market such as:


This axe is considered the workhorse of the axe family. It is really a simple design, varying from the 2 ½ lb. head utilized by campers to the 4 ½ to 7 lb. head used for forest work. You can find heads used in lumbermen’s competition that are as much as 12lbs.. With the advent of the two-man crosscut saw, and later the ability chain saw, tree no longer are taken down by axes. The axe is more an energy tool for clearing branches off the downed tree, and splitting firewood.


Double bit axes will have straight handles, unlike any other modern axe. Nearly all axe handles are hickory. Hickory has both strength and spring, and was found very early to be the most effective for axe handles. Starting in the late 1800’s a number of axe manufactures adopted intricate logos that were embossed or etched on the head of the axe. Almost 200 different styles have now been identified to date and these have also become an interesting collectible.


The broad axe is not as common since the felling axe, and is a lot larger. It’s purpose was to square up logs into beams. Viking axe  It used a much shorter swing that the felling axe, therefore required a much shorter handle. The identifying feature of several axes is the chisel edge, that allowed the rear side of the axe to be dead flat. Because of this, it posed a challenge of clearance for the hands. To help keep the hands from being scraped, the handle was canted or swayed far from the flat plane of the axe. This is actually the feature that should always be looked for when buying a broad axe. If the edge is chisel-sharpened, then the handle should really be swayed. Just like the felling axe, the broad axe heads have a number of patterns, mostly a consequence of geographical preference.


The goose wing axe is one of the very most artistic looking tools on the market, and it requires it’s name from its resemblance to the wing of a goose in flight. It functions exactly since the chisel-edged broad axe, except that the American version has the handle socket more heavily bent or canted up from the plane of the blade. These axes are large and difficult to forge. Many show cracks and repairs and an original handle is rare. Signed pieces, particularly by American makers, mostly Pennsylvania Dutch, are somewhat more valuable. Also of importance is the difference in value between American and European axes, the American ones being worth considerably more. Several well-known 19th century American makers whose names appear imprinted on axes are Stohler, Stahler, Sener, Rohrbach, Addams, and L.& I.J. White.

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