Thursday, April 07, 2022

About an AXE

 Our next door neighbour George, passed away late last summer. The farm block that he had owned (since about the late 70's) had originally included the small pieces severed off that then had the Wareham Church and the associated drive shed. The church was built in the late 1930's, and the shed structure likely the same time. The church was sold and converted into a private residence about 1985. The conversion of the drive shed to include a residence started about 1987, and was barely completed when I purchased that property in 1989. 

The house on George's farm is a red brick 'Victorian' the main construction some point about 1900. It has been added to and modified over the decades. The barn is a typical Ontario large working barn, hand squared timber frame set on rough field stone foundation walls, with plank covering, a more recent sheet steel roof. On a guess I would think that barn may pre-date the house.  

The land around Wareham was settled by mainly Scots and Irish, starting about 1850. Rail came into the area about 1855, and Wareham was a going concern by 1860, with three small mills running off the river that flows through the crossroads. (My lot, on the NW corner, is actually the location of the original general store. The original Wareham blacksmith shop had been located on the NE corner, in a triangle bounded on the long side by the river.)

So  - what is the point of all that?

After George passed, his surviving adult children (all roughly my own age now) started the task of cleaning and clearing a life time of possessions. Like most farmers (even what in truth was more an 'active hobby farm' like George's once group of about 30 beef cattle) the house, barn and sheds had a lot of stuff collected. There was room, and you never did know when that thing to saved might be needed - right? There was a fair sized pile of old tools in the barn, most rusting and needing handles at the very least. Kelly and I were asked if we wanted any of these, the family had taken those few they though would be useful in their largely urban lives. I had collected up about a milk crate worth of metal heads, a couple of axes, picks and maddocks, a few smaller logging / timber framing tools. 

George's son in law Lee had stuck this one in with the rest :

Direct scan, after light surface rust removed and edge sharpened

Weight = 2 lb 14 oz
Length = 8 inches
Blade width = 4 3/4 inches
Peen = 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches
Eye = pronounced tear drop, 2 3/4 long by 3/4 wide, the metal on the sides about 1/8 thick 

The construction is one piece of shaped, iron (?), folded and welded back onto itself. This is clear both from the shape of the eye, but you can also see the way the edges match up on the inside if the eye on the cutting edge side. 

There appears to be an inset steel edge, which would have been a separate wedge shaped piece placed between the body sides before the welding. This can be seen as a slight colour change to the metal close to the cutting edge, and also from a change in sparks generated as I re-sharpened the existing edge.

It is hard to tell, but I think the peen block is a separate piece forge welded on (a close to perfect job there). This mainly from the extreme difference in thickness between the sides of the eye and the thickness of the peen itself. The peen block is also actually not quite as tall as the eye is.

Importantly, there is a hot stamped maker's mark. The letters A L O W, placed on both sides. These are separate letter stamps (the alignment of individual letters is slightly different on the two sides). 

The only reference I have is 'Axe Making in Ontario' by Gary French. I did take a fast look through, but did not find a specific example. (admittedly, this book seems to concentrate a lot to broad axes)

There is an illustration repeated in that volume from an 1816 book on axes, showing Sheffield production types. This axe appears to conform to the 'Army Axe' depicted in that chart.

INow, I have only wire brushed the outside surfaces lightly to remove (most) the rust. Intentionally not enough to damage any of the existing patina (actually this appears to be the fire scale surface from the original forging. 

The edge as found was in pretty fair shape, I did re contour it a bit (removed about a 1/16th of an inch) to remove a couple of nicks. I then re sharpened to a working cutting edge on pretty much the original grind angle. I think you can see this on the image.

There were a few rough protruding edges on the inside surfaces of the eye that I did file clean - to allow me to mount to a new handle. 


The exact origin of this tool is quite unknown. Other than the thin surface rust and being dull, the axe head was in virtually perfect condition. I could not easily (no thanks to internet here) find out when production of this specific pattern stopped. Certainly the method indicates hand forging, and the historic illustration indicates the type was still in active production in England in 1816. 

This does pre-date settlement at Wareham however. A high quality tool like this one would have remained in working service for decades - the fact that with a replacement handle I could certainly effectively used this tool today for timber work certainly proves that. There is a chance that the axe could date back at Wareham from the original farm clearing circa 1850. 

But unfortunately, for any number of reasons, George is no longer with us to tell. After I had cleaned up the piece, and undertaken this small amount of research to suggest its history, I offered the axe back to Lee as a potential family heirloom. Knowing my interest in Wareham, the Settlement Period, working tools and blacksmithing in general, Lee felt the story was best carried forward in my hands.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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