Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Jeff Pringle on Viking Age Axes

I'm short on a topic for this week's posting. These are some collected pieces from bladesmith Jeff Pringle, who has been providing some excellent insight on the topic of Norse axes and how to forge them. Jeff has obviously studied both the available archaeological materials and references to some depth - then followed that up with some solid practical work. (See the earlier post with some his comments.)
I've put any of my own comments in italics.

As before, the source for these is Don Fogg's Bladesmith Forum.
(If you have not yet checked that out, you certainly should!)

Topic: Viking age axe tutorial (Forum: History) / contributed by Jeff Pringle

Although it seems like there is a bewildering array of axe sizes & types, there are some rules of thumb from archaeologists that help narrow things down. Kirpicnikov measured hundreds of axes (single-handed variety) from X-XIII centuries, and this is what he had to say, via google translator:

“The most important feature of many battle ax is not the form, but the size and weight… the handle, being, apparently, the same length (average 80 cm), it varied in thickness. Hundreds of measurements show the usual size of battle-axes (with some exceptions): the length of the blade 9-15 cm (3.5-6 in.), the width to 10 - 12 cm (4-5 in.) socket holes 2-3 cm (~1”) in diameter and weight up to 450 g. These measurements are repeated on special military ax types, but somewhat less weight (an average of 200-350 g)…In turn, finding such axes in the mounds of soldiers indicates their military function. In contrast to the military axes, dimensions of the working axes as follows: length 15-22 cm (6-8”)(usually 17-18 cm (7”)), width of the blade 9-14. 5 cm (3.5-5.5”), the diameter of socket 3 - 4. 5 cm (1.2-1.8”), the normal weight of 600-800 g. These axes are often found in the mounds of the peasant as an attribute of the male burial. Of course, there is no absolute dividing line between the size of military and working axes. Here there are deviations in both directions.”

Kolcin wrote about the weight variation between carpentry and battle axes:
“The first type, usually massive and heavy (average weight 850 g) – This is carpenter axe. The second type of axe is lighter (average weight 700 g) - this is the instrument of joiner, cooper. It most frequently adapted as a combat axe. The third type of axe was always logger’s. This type includes the wood choppers.”

If you look at the big Broad axes that were likely used with a longer handle, they are forged out much thinnner, so the weight is probably similar to the earlier axes. Your favored dimensions are about right, though it looks like weight was the primary consideration over exact blade dimensions. That is where the fast comes in, for the power you’ll have to depend on your arms.

A group of VA axes, in the Danish National Museum.
The edge on view shows the combat axes with their extremely thin cross sections, compared to the woodworking tool axes to the right.

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