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Before the modern axe as we know it, the handmade stone-age hand axe was used from 1.5 million years ago without a handle. Later, it was fastened to a wooden handle.
The earliest examples of axes with handles have heads of stone and some form of wooden handle attached (hafted) in a method to suit the available materials and use. Axes made of materials such as copper, bronze, iron and steel appeared as when these technologies developed over time. Modern Handmade Axes are usually composed of a steel head and a wood handle.
The ancient craft of blacksmithing has been passed down from generation to generation, with a long lasting tradition of crafting an axe from scratch. Thanks to the internet and wide array of youtube type tutorials, amateur & professional blacksmiths alike are forging handmade axes in fire out of steel and carving wood materials for the handles.
Some of the most renowned blacksmiths in the world labour intensively to get the perfect throwing axe or bushcraft axe, for every day use. Some of these blacksmiths excel at the perfect throwing axe, such as the ones found made in Thailand:
What To Look For In A Handmade Axe:
Cheap VS Expensive:
CHEAP: Ideally, you want an axe that is strong and durable, in case of some off target throws (by accident of course!). Most of the axes used in professional axe throwing leagues such as the NATF or the WATL, are in fact mass produced from China or the US. They are a great starting point for beginners, and used by professionals at the most elite level of axe throwing. These standard hatchets, which fall within axe throwing regulations, are a dime a dozen so to speak.
You can buy them cheap, easily replacing broken heads without having to think of rehanging the axe head to the wooden handle. Axes like these customized Shopro standard NATF used axes would be suitable for everyday amateur axe throwing:
EXPENSIVE: The age old phrase, you get what you pay for, is true, especially when it comes to handmade axes. The time & effort by skilled craftsmen is intricately shown off on every finished design. Often, the blacksmiths spend countless hours forging out of coal or propane forges, bending and holding hot steel to their will. Hammering with brute force, they shape the steel to the perfect wedge, suitable for splitting wood.
Once the perfect eye of the axe is shaped, the handle is considered, and the axe maker will hand select the perfect piece of hardwood, suitable for longevity and absorbing impact that an axe would provide. Most throwing axes, are actually just really strong and durable camp axes or bushcraft hatchets, that can be used as a throwing tool for sport. USA & Sweden are renowned for their handcrafted axes, but Thailand’s finest blade smiths are answering the call and making some of the world’s finest handmade axes, suitable for the sport of axe throwing.
What To Look For In Terms Of Design:
The ideal handmade throwing axe, should take into consideration the local or regional rules of the axe throwing association where the axe will be used for sport. Amateur axe throwers looking to start out in independent circuits such as the good old fashioned backyard, would benefit from using these design elements as a standard go to for the best throwing axe design.
Length: The ideal throwing axe should be anywhere from 13-14 inches overall length to 18 inches long (bottom of handle to top of axe head). Some throwers prefer a short and stout axe for throwing, while others, and especially tomahawk throwers prefer a longer handle around 18 inches long.
Axe Head: An axe head that will split right through your target, should be almost a perfect wedge. With a convex grind at the very end, while others prefer a hollow grind or curved edge, depending on sharpening techniques.
The axe head should be a high carbon steel, usually a 1095 spring steel or other varying grades of tool steel. The most ideal shape, is a clear cut Dayton axe head shape, to varying degrees of a Connecticut shape. The most simple shapes, are near wedge-like with heavy bottoms. This isn’t taking into account tomahawk shaped heads, or of course, the infamous double bit (double side blade) axe head.
Wood Grain: The grain of the wood plays an imminent role in the longevity of all axe constructions. Wood grain that isn’t straight, is often subjected to splitting or breaking upon contact with wood. The straighter the wood grain, the better for absorbing impact, which is why true axe enthusiasts are particular about their wood grain orientation.
To check this, look at the very bottom of the axe handle, and see how the wood grain looks. Is it wavy? Diagonal? Or is it straight and uniform? That’s the sign of a tight grown tree ring, the strongest part of any wood log.
Just remember that the handle will most likely need to be replaced over time, especially when throwing axes. The handle could last multiple years, or it may need to be rehung multiple times in 1 month. That just depends on your skill level on hitting that bullseye.
The handle should be cured with some kind of oils or resins. The best oil for axe handles is boiled linseed oil, but there are many other combinations people use to get a better grip and longevity of the wood.
Weight: Overall weight of an axe comes into play when throwing, but all that weight mostly comes from axe head. NATF or WATL requires a 1.5lb axe head, give or take .25lbs above or below that requirement for the standard throwing hatchet.
An axe head that weighs between 1.25-1.75lbs is the perfect weight for sinking into a wood target. Anything less than 1.25lbs, and you run the risk of the axe not being heavy enough to get a proper rotation, let alone allow momentum to sink it into the wood.
On the other hand, a heavier axe head will ensure the axe does all the work when hurling through gravity towards it’s destination, a bullseye target. 1.5lbs to 1.75lbs is ideal, as it’s not too heavy that accuracy is sacrificed, but just heavy enough that the axe can get a proper rotation with enough force and momentum to stick right into the wood.
Anything beyond 1.75lbs to albs and heavier, you run the risk of being too heavy for your target, and chewing up the wood more than you intended.
The standard hatchet should sink into the wood anywhere from an ideal 20-40% form the blade bit to butt of the axe. An axe buried 50% or more inside the target, is likely too heavy, and you’ll be pulling out more than you intended.
Which Country To Buy A Handmade Axe From?
Traditionally speaking, some of the world’s finest axes come from Sweden. Granfors Bruk Sweden, has been perfecting traditional handmade axes for over a century. That’s over 100 years of very specific axe making standards, from the blacksmith forging process to the hand carved handles.
They are the leaders in throwing axes on a higher end scale, mostly used for camping and bushcraft uses. A tried, tested & true axe, capable of handling repetitive axe throwing tasks. These Swedish made axes with a long history of craftsmanship, can be found here: Gransfors Bruks Axes.
Check out this Hults Bruk vs Gransfors Bruks article for a nice comparison of these 2 great Swedish axe makers.
USA is another frontrunner in handmade axes, mostly from artisanal axe makers & blacksmiths. One country that has only recently come on the map for producing quality throwing axes, is Thailand, believe it or not.
Before the internet, Thai blacksmiths were left to their own devices. Being taught from their fathers and grandfathers, generations of which had learned from their fathers before them.
This ancient craft has had deep roots in rural Thailand, from the countryside of small villages to the outskirts of busy developing cities. A lot of the early craft has been trial and error, hand carving techniques and hand crafted with primitive tools.
One Thai Blacksmith tells the story of reading a Mastersmith’s Book from America, and starting to use the techniques described to craft the perfect axe. Unable to quickly search for the answers online, the smith had to mail a letter, asking the Mastersmith for answers and clarification.
The letter would take 1-2 months to travel thousands of miles. The response would take an equal amount of time to return to Thailand. Weeks and months pass by without an answer, before being able to move onto the next step. Imagine the patience waiting for that letter with a axe cooling in the forge!
Since then, The internet has become a valuable tool for Thai Blacksmiths. They have been able to finely hone their craft and use skills accessible to the entire world. They can communicate with the blacksmithing community, for feedback and to share their works of arts and refine techniques on restoring axes.
This has become a valuable resource, as it also opens up the doors to importing much sought after materials, from Micarta to High Carbon Steels. They have also been able to export and use rare exotic woods & rare animal parts in construction beautiful, yet functional handmade axes.
While the older generation of Blacksmiths keep the knowledge and the craft alive, it’s the younger generation that are picking up the torch and and lighting up their forges. The old teach the young, passing the craft to a new generation. In turn, the youth of Thailand are also teaching their elders new tricks and techniques making different types of axes for many uses.. The entire process has opened the door for Thai Blacksmiths to become world renowned for their craft.
Thai Blacksmiths labour extensively in the humid, hot Thai weather, often shirtless and shoeless. Molten sparks flick off their skin without flinching, and they barely break a sweat in the intense jungle heat. Some still use primitive tools, hammers made with bamboo, anvils set into a fallen tree.
They still use files to profile their blades and hand drills to make holes in the handles. The talent, and hard work behind these blades goes unmatched in the age of machines and power tools.
Even still, a new generation is learning from the vast amount of resources online. Crafting KMG belt grinders from reclaimed power tools, to building hydraulic presses from online blueprints. Setting up digital temperature gauges for forges and heat treat ovens, helps put these smiths on level a playing field with the rest of the world in making quality axes.
Combined with primitive techniques and newly learned methods, Thailand is emerging as a power house of strong, functional throwing axes and survival hatchets.
An authentic Thai Axe is one that is built for deep bush whacking and every day harvesting, but with a revamped style for throwing, integrated into the design. Thai axes are built to last hard abuse, whether it’s chopping bamboo or hardwood. They are built out of necessity, not for hobby or for show.
Thai Blacksmiths know how much their culture and lifestyle rely on a strong, solid tool to perform every day tasks. Rest assure, a Thai axe is one that will perform to a high degree of functionality, with an axe head that will last a lifetime and be passed onto future generations.
What To Avoid When Buying A Handmade Throwing Axe:
Depending on the style target, you generally want to stay away from flimsy blades with really skinny handles. These are most likely to break when you first start out, and are generally used as fodder for the beginner axe thrower. Go for a nice thick haft, or strategically thin handle for that perfect grip.
Go for a maker that has experience in the throwing industry, coupled with a knack for blacksmithing/woodworking. The major axe making companies know their stuff, but a certain degree or mass production exists as they’ve been churning out axes for decades.
A small, local craftsman, or one from afar, is far likely to put more attention, effort and work into your very own personal handmade tomahawk. They will likely ask for your input, and incorporate that into all stages from design, to forging to carving the perfect handle just for you. That would be the most ideal axe maker to look for, one that pays attention to your need as an axe thrower!
What’s The Most Important Aspect Of A Handmade Axe?
You’ve just spent a ton of money, buying a bunch of cheap mass manufactured axes, or you spent all that money on that one perfect axe that will be your trusty sidekick in professional competitions for years to come.But what good is an axe, if it’s dull!? Abraham Lincoln is known for saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” We like to think that the first 6 hours of axe throwing, should be proceeded by sharpening an axe with any one of these useful sharpening tools.