Creating a Viking Axe

This article covers making a stunning Viking axe from a store bought wood axe.

I’m posting the project in three parts, the first deals with preparing the axe and shaping and polishing the axe head. The second part covers creating the Viking/Celtic patterns and transferring that as an etch to the axe head and finally the third part if finishing the handle.

The donor axe is a basic chopper with a 1Kg axe head and a 45cm haft. It’s fairly rough in terms of shape and grind but that is no issue as it’s going to get a complete make over.

The axe head has quite a deep blade compared to the butt. This is ideal as it allows for the head to be shaped as a bearded axe, or Skeggøx (from Old Norse Skegg, “beard”, and øx, “axe”).  It is most commonly associated with Viking Age Scandinavians. The hook or “beard”, i.e. the lower portion of the axe bit extending the cutting edge below the width of the butt, provides a wide cutting surface while keeping the overall weight of the axe low.

This design allows the user to grip the haft directly behind the head for planing or shaving wood and variations of this design are still in use by modern woodworkers and some foresters. The “beard” of the axe would also have been useful in battle, for example to pull a weapon or shield out of a defender’s grasp.

I first make a paper template from the axe head and then cut out the relief to create the “beard”.

The axe head must be removed and I have a couple of options here. If an axe has a traditional wooden wedge fitted to hold the head in place on the haft, you have the option to potentially drill it out which would allow the top of the haft to compress and the head come loose.


Unfortunately this axe has a tubular metal wedge which would be impractical to try and drill out. Fortunately the haft of the axe is longer than I would have originally designed so I can just saw off the head and use a hammer and punch to remove the stock from the axe head. I was also able to recover the tubular steel wedge so I have the option to reuse that when reassembling the axe.

I use a mild paint stripping disc with a small angle grinder to remove the black paint from the axe head. It also allows me to check the surface condition of the head before marking the area which is to be removed. I also noticed that the head has ‘1000G’ stamped on one side to a depth of about 1mm. That will need grinding out as part of the surface prep. Other than that, the head is in decent condition prior to being reshaped.

To shape the blade I first use a metal cutting blade to make a series of vertical cuts. Given the radius of the curve it would not have been practical to cut with a bandsaw. I made sure that I did not overheat the blade when cutting as I do not want the edge to lose it’s temper and have to heat and quench it again.

Once the majority of the material had been removed, I switched to a 6mm metal grinding disc and smoothed out the curve and took off the sharp corners on the butt. The profile at the back of the axe head is now a radius matching the haft hole.

I also took the opportunity to grind out the stamped ‘1000G’ text on the left side of the head. This has removed a small amount of material but not enough to spoil the design.

I then moved back to the mild paint stripping disc to remove the obvious grind marks and dress the sharp edges. This is a great disc as it can be used both for fine grit finishing or deeper scratch removal depending on how much pressure is applied.

I noticed a small pit on the right side of the axe head as it is a natural defect unlike the stamped marks. 

Finally I use a felt polishing disc with green polishing compound. I want to get the surface to a burnished finish rather than a mirror finish and this is just the job. Had I been going for a perfect finish I would have used progressive grades of polishing compound on the bench polisher. 

I’ve cleaned up bot the top and bottom too as they will also be etched with the final design.

Using the paint stripping disc, I give the axe haft a quick once over to remove the varnish and red paint around the handle. 

No need for it to be perfectly finished as I will be carving the handle prior to mounting the axe head.

Check out Making a Viking Axe – Part 2 of the build where I will be etching the pattern on the axe head, engraving the haft and weathering the assembled axe.

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