On May 11, Brown County Forge hosted its 4th Ax Making Class with guest instructor Benton Frisse of River City Forge & Tool.
Here are some photos from the day in class.
The class involves hours of heavy hammerwork to create a functional, 1.5-pound camp hatchet out of a billet of 4140 tool steel.
We use a variety of different hammers ranging from 6-pound sledge hammers at the beginning of the process all the way down to 2-pound ball peen hammers to refine the blade edge before air cooling and grinding.
The basic process goes like this:
Heat the billet to a bright yellow in the forge. Higher carbon steels require higher temperatures to make them easier to work.
Punch your ax eye through a series of heats (upwards of 20).
Spread the eye with progressively larger ax eye drifts.
Fuller (spread) the area just behind the cheeks that surrounds the eye.
Fuller the bit edge from toe to heel adjusting your blows to create your desired beard shape.
Thin the bit to near its final thickness.
Set aside to cool before grinding. This makes it easier to grind.
Grind the bevel and clean up the eye, cheeks, and butt.
Re-light the forge and gradually heat up the bit to just past magnetic. This is important for hardening (one half of the heat treat process).
Quench the bit with slicing motions through vegetable oil in a tub.
Set aside to cool.
Polish the bit so the “silver” comes back out. This will allow you to see the temper colors come through (tempering is the other half of the heat treat).
Temper by dancing the bit in the fire of the forge, checking frequently.
As soon as “straw” color appears, quench in the oil again.
Set aside to cool.
Grind to finish
Head the ax with oak, ash, or hickory handle. Rasp or grinder work will be necessary to get the right fit.
This photo shows the original 4140 steel billet sandwiched between two student made, finished axes. Fully hung, heat treated, and sharpened. Ready for work.
This in-depth class is offered just a few times per year. The students who gain access to the class have taken at least one, and ideally two, classes at Brown County Forge first.
The reason for this is so that I can get a feel for hammer skills, hand-eye coordination, ability to follow instructions, and physical/mental stamina.