Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post from Chris Killinger, owner of Killinger Woodsmen Gear and Tool, and new instructor at the Artisans Guild.
When shopping for a vintage axe the choices can be overwhelming. You will encounter many to choose from but not all are worth saving. Some are real treasures! I always say "It’s all about the Hunt", and it really is. Nothing is more exciting than finding a rare axe hiding in the corner of an antique mall. Until then, we can be content saving the more common ones. Here are a few things to look out for when shopping to ensure you get the best bang for the buck.
Embossed, Etchings, or Stamps
Most axes have some form of these three. Although a "no name" is not a deal breaker, it’s best to keep looking until you find one with something on it. It gets complicated without a name on an axe head so we will leave this for a later discussion. What we are trying to avoid is buying an axe made to a compromisingly low price point which typically indicates poor quality.
Damaged Poll and Eye
A damaged eye is the direct result of using the poll as a hammer or the axe as a wedge. Unfortunately, this is very common. Some poll damage can be repaired or filed off but a deformed eye, such as shown in Fig. B, is much harder to repair. Make sure the eye of the axe is even and uniform.
Excessive Rust and Pitting
Most vintage axes are going to have rust. That’s just how it is. Try to avoid anything that has deep pits, especially near the Bit or Cutting edge.
Damaged Bit of Cutting Edge
Some small chips can be expected, but stay away from an axe that is missing a large chunk out of its heel or toe (see Fig. A). Only the bit is heat treated on most axes and, in some cases, only the bit is a quality high carbon steel. If you’re missing a large chunk from the bit, you may run out of good hard steel when reshaping the profile.
If the bit looks like someone tried to sharpen it with an electric bench grinder, put it back on the shelf and let someone else deal with it. It has most likely been heated to the point where the temper has been lost and now needs re-tempered. This means the bit is soft and will not hold a good edge when using.
Take a good look all around for cracks. Some common places are in front of the eye, behind the cheek. There may also be delamination of the bit. Some of these things can be repaired, but in most cases is not worth the trouble.
Profile of the Axe
Take a good look at the overall axe. Look to see that everything looks uniform and even. There are many different styles of heads but most will be uniform. If the heel or toe has been broken off and re profiled, the bit will look worn back.
While these are all suggestions based on my study and experience, there are always exceptions to the rules. However, keep these tips in mind when choosing a vintage axe to restore and you will have greater success.
- Chris Killinger
Chris will be teaching a new class on June 15 at the Artisans Guild, Axe Hafting. Chris is owner of Killinger Woodsmen Gear and Tool, co-host of the Axe Hounds podcast, and teaches axe classes at other venues in Ohio and surrounding states.