Apprenticeship Session 17

The last of our official sessions under the FY20 NDCA Folk and Traditional Arts grant had us working on our hammer and starting an axe. Yay! We’re finally getting to the axe, which is a project I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.


Last week we started our hammer head and had managed to get the eye punched and drifted and the cross peen started. We still had a bit more drawing and shaping to do on the peen end today, and of course there’s still the heat treating, hardening, and dressing to do as well.

So we dug right in and started pounding on that cross-peen end. This is a solid block of tough steel and it doesn’t want to move too quickly. But after a while it started to shape up and we then turned our focus to the langetslanget Langets are the "ears" associated with a drift hole, such as on a hammer or axe, where to flatten the sides you pull the mass up into ears instead of pushing it to the sides which would distort the hole..


Langets are formed when you take the mass of metal that was pushed out when you drifted the hole for the handle and pull it upwards. Why would you do that? Because you want the side of your hammer to be flat and not have that bulge in the middle. Why is that important? It keeps the hammer from sliding off the anvil when you set it down and you can scrape the hammer scale off the anvil with the flat side. So if form follows function, you want a flat side to your hammer.

our example hammer where you can clearly see the langetlanget Langets are the "ears" associated with a drift hole, such as on a hammer or axe, where to flatten the sides you pull the mass up into ears instead of pushing it to the sides which would distort the hole. shape

It sounds easy enough, once you understand what you are trying to do and why, but once again it’s harder to do than it sounds. The trick is to not change the shape of the hole you’ve created too much. So much of the time you are pounding on the sides of the hammer, you have the drift punch in the hole rather than using tongs. That helps keep the shape a bit and gives you better control too.

And as much as moving this rather large chunk of hard steel takes a bit of oomph, it’s surprising how it also requires finesse to get it just right. Keeping the bottom flat, the sides flat, the slopes of the langets straight, and the hole straight and true means a lot of little taps on top of the big hits from earlier in the process.

We finished the day with the shape of the hammer head where we wanted it and began the heat treating by thermocyclingthermocycling Thermocycling is the process of heating steel to critical temp (non-magnetic) and then letting it air cool. Usually done three times in a row. it three times. The final heat/quench and tempering will have to wait until next time.


We started with a chunk of 4140 bar stock to begin making our axe. It begins a lot like the hammer in that you need to drift a hole in the middle. It’s a bit tricker though as the stock is rectangular instead of square and you’re trying to cut through the narrow end. So we started with the same trick of putting the stock low in the vise and scoring it to mark the middle. This hole is further to one side since, unlike the hammer, there’s really only one business end of an axe.

Doug had spotted a jig for making axes in one of the Norwegian/Swedish blacksmithing books and had replicated it. We were a little worried that the heated block would get stuck in the jig or it wouldn’t fit in it in the first place, but it worked brilliantly and was much more sturdy than having another person hold the block with tongs. It seems nearly impossible for a solo smith to do both hammer and tongs work on this and get that hole drifted at all, much less straight. The jig makes it easier and better no matter how many folks are available for the work.

After nearly 6 hours at the forge today (time always seems to fly at the forge) we called it a day when our arms gave out. We still have next weekend to do the final touches on the hammer and get the axe into shape as well.

While this marks the “official” end of our grant work for FY20, we learned this week that we have been approved to continue our apprenticeship for FY21. Exciting! We won’t be starting on that work until July, so look for a separate post with information on our plan for the new grant and the projects we’ll be working on.