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Axes

John Henson M.W.T.C.A, E.A.I.A.

The axe is a basic tool with variations in form and design developed for specialized trades and guilds. Availability of raw materials, blacksmiths' skills, regional and ethnic influences, and basic function all have a major impact on the shape of the finished axe. Many of the old traditional woodworking trades have very distinctive axe forms associated with them. Variations inform within a trade is primarily due to a geographic, regional, or ethnic influences. The very nature of the tool, with its fairly large mass of metal provides a medium for the individual blacksmith to express himself in the art of skillful forging and design. The skill in the forging processes has resulted in axes which range from the crude and simple to beautiful works of art.

One such forging skill is evident in the early Pennsylvanian axes made in the 17th & 18th century. An example of blacksmith artwork is very obvious in the central European, German and Austrian axes from the 17th & 18th century. Elaborate hot stamp decorations and markings which may include: makers' stamps, guild stamps, religious markings, stars, scallops, crescents, and various line decorations appear frequently on axes made during this period. A further expression of the axe makers' art may be subtle or elaborate whitesmithing. Whitesmithing decoration generally took the form of bevels, chamfers, line decoration, and other fine file work to the axe after the forging process. The axemaker can also decorate his tools by creating decorative cut-outs in the axe. This was generally done in the face or centre of the axe blade near the socket and has been referred to as a cut out for pulling nails.

Still more elaborate cut outs appear on the lower bearded portions of some wing-type goosewings and on some Scandinavian carpenters' side axes. Whether the axe is an individual tool forged by a craftsman or a more sophisticated axe made by a professional axes are works of art. The blacksmith who made the axe generally is not the individual who makes the handle. Handles were generally made by the owner of the axe. There is as much variation in the style of axe handles as there is in axe heads themselves. The French Doloire is a fine example of such a variation. Its tapered faceted handle being completely different to the smooth cranked handle of an American broad axe.

In the 20th century, American axe companies in competition made axes and tools with elaborately embossed logos. These axes have, needless to say, become extremely collectable. Whether one '5 interest lies with the later embossed axes or the primitive European axes, they cannot fail to fire the imagination and offer an exciting field for collectors.

Appeared 1998 - Toolshop Auctions Catalogue