An Ax To Grind

I like sharp things. Axes, knives, swords (high quality and *not* the cheap knock offs that seem to be everywhere) it doesn’t really matter. Since getting back into blacksmithing I look at them all very differently. How’re they made, what kind of steel is used, is it all high carbon steel or was the bit welded in? I’ve also recently had the urge to create things from leather, steel, copper etc. So I ordered a Cold Steel Tomahawk from Amazon so I could play around with some ideas I had. Lots of pics after the jump.

Here’s the head after I took off the plain hickory handle

Not a bad deal for $30 bucks. It’s 1095 high carbon steel which is fairly standard for mass produced cutting things. It holds a good edge and as long as you coat it it won’t rust excessively. But from the factory it comes coated with black paint and was extraordinarily dull.

First step was to get that paint off and get down to the bare metal. To do that I bought some gel paint remover. Just an fyi: if you get something like that make sure you get a good pair of corrosive resistant gloves. I just had on some plain black latex gloves and got a little of the paint remover on my hand and went right through the glove fairly quickly..Chemical burns are *not* fun.

Next step was to use a 120 grit sanding block to get the rest of the paint off and scuff up the surface a bit.

So now that we’re down to bare metal I wanted to bring out the rougher surface and if you look closely in the pic above you can see the heat treat line which I thought was pretty cool. In order to make the steel look more worn I tried a couple of different methods. I didn’t want to overdo it so I started by just rubbing it with some French’s yellow mustard and then let it sit for 30 minutes. This is hardened steel so the mustard didn’t do much to change the surface and I wasn’t really surprised since the acid in mustard is so mild. The next round of treatment was an hour soak in ferric chloride. This did make a bit of difference and got the look that I was going for.

This was the first ax I’d tried refinishing so I didn’t want to go overboard. I liked the look so I hit it with some 000 steel wool and called it done. Time to move on to the handle. Again, this is the first ax I’ve ever redone but I wanted to go for a viking type look to it. One of my other hobbies is woodburning so I did some runes from the Elder Futhark which I think turned out fairly well. I also incorporated some other random designs. One thing I learned with something like this is that less is more. Here’s a pic of the handle and ax head.

I used an antique walnut stain from Lowe’s on the handle and then moved on to the sheath and belt holder. The pic shows the original sheath which I just ended up not being happy with..Once again, less is more when it comes to runes.

The belt holder is just a couple of simple loops riveted together. First one I’ve made and I was pretty happy with it. Here’s the finished product with the new sheath and waxed rope wrapped around the head.

And one with with sheath off and in the belt holder.

Overall I’m very, very pleased with how it came out. It was a lot of fun for me and gave me a ton of ideas for the next ax project (which has already been started). For now I”m sticking with Cold Steel axes since they have a good balance of edge holding and cost. Keep an eye out for future posts on this and if you would like an ax refinished just leave a comment or find me on Facebook and I’d be happy to discuss it with you.

2 thoughts on “An Ax To Grind”

  1. Nice post. I’m just modding a cold steel Viking hand axe. I’m guessing you used a pyrography pen for the runes, if that’s a hobby of yours?

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