The Swedish Carpenter’s Axe: Fixing a Poll for Forge Welding

I’ve let this website lay dormant for almost 2 years now while time has flown by in my shop – much of it spent on non-axe related work.  But that doesn’t mean that I’ve neglected axe forging – actually far from it.  I have forged a number of larger Norwegian style hewing axes that I am quite proud of – with edge lengths of about 7″ and weights of 5+ pounds.  Some of these are even out for trial use and evaluation among the traditional house builders of Norway!  I have also put a lot of effort on refining my techniques and tooling for forging Swedish style carpenters’ axes.  This post deals with forge welding polls onto those axes, which can be a bit tricky if you decide to challenge yourself by not tacking them in place by modern, electric welding (to keep them securely in place for the forge weld).

I learned to forge this axe from the very excellent Mattias Helje in Sweden in 2015.  When he got to the poll-welding stage he confidently gripped both the short poll and the axe body together with a pair of tongs and tacked the forge weld in a coke fire (which I also use).  In the process the tongs reached a high, yellow heat on the tips but kept their grip long enough to  get the tack finished in the upper corner.  From there, the rest of the weld was carried out in the usual way – assured by Mattias’ expertise.  I found this process to be a bit daunting, and, until recently, it didn’t always work for me – leaving me in the position of going back to tack the poll in place via TIG welding to complete the forge weld.

To work around the difficulties I had with the tong-hold, but also avoid the use of electrical welding, I decided to try a blind rivet to hold the poll and axe body together during the forge weld.  It’s not hard to do and doesn’t take much time.  However, it does take a certain feel to get it right during the two phases of blind riveting it.  The trick is do the hot, blind riveting at the right tempo.  If you do it too slowly the rivet can get too hot and bend (especially if the rivet is thinner).  If you do it too fast the end of rivet may not heat up enough to upset within the poll or axe body and get a solid grip.

I would be happy if any of you could recount to me your experience with using this technique for welding axe polls, hammer faces and the like.  I’m sure some of you have already thought of it or learned it and use it from time to time.  I love discovering more about the vast array of techniques that traditional blacksmiths and other tradespeople use to solve problems by simple and elegant means.  Finally, I wish you all safety and equanimity in these uncertain times of the covid-19.  I feel lucky to be doing what I do and to get the chance to share it with you.

Yours, Jim.

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