Antique Axe Identification

Antique Axe Identification (A Guide for Metal Detectorists)

Antique axe identification is an essential factor for collectors to know. For instance, if you go metal detecting and find an old axe, learning how to identify them will help you tell whether they are antique or not. It leads us to the question – how are antique axes identified.

Learning the “clues” on an axe will help you identify the age, maker and region. Some styles of axe are very valuable and learning how to find an antique takes a bit of education. The first clue is if the axe has a brand marking on the head. It is also vital that you know the basic features of different axes to help you identify the tool you found.  

Antique Axe Identification

Antique Axe
Antique Axe

Edge tools, such as an axe, are one of the earliest forms of tools ever to exist. For instance, some surviving primitive axes date back to 8000 B.C. Now, these axes are collector’s items that hold so much value.

Antique axes were created by wrapping the scorching iron around a form to make the ax’s eye. So, if you are a metal detector enthusiast, chances are you will find an ancient axe buried underground.

Metal Detecting Tip: To really “dial in” your metal detecting game learn about the different frequencies. Read – Best Frequency for Metal Detectors

However, it is essential to know that not all axes that you might find are antiques. Some can only be vintage axes, more than 50 years old but less than 100. Needless to say, axes need to be at least 100 years old for them to be considered antique.

For that reason, metal detector hobbyists need to know how to identify an antique axe.

Types Of Antique Axes

1. American Felling Axe

Settlers from France, England, and Spain brought the felling axe to America. It happened when the said countries began introducing the trade axe to the North American Indians.

Felling axes made in the 17th century used fabrication techniques by hammer welding two iron pieces on a poll surface. Later on, axes had a flat surface with a thin poll.

Moreover, North American blacksmiths forged the poll side of felling axes longer, thus creating a lap weld and more welding surface.

So, if you are metal detecting and happen to find an old axe with a long poll side, you may have found an antique axe.

The best antique axe identification characteristic of American felling axes is that they look like modern ones that people use today.

2. Double-Bit Axe

William Mann made the first double-bit axe in the 1850s. His company, The Man Edge Took Company is among the few manufacturers still in the axe-making business.

A double-bit axe has two blades – one blade was sharpened to a narrow felling edge, while the second blade was slightly blunter.

Until now, double-bit axes remain a popular utility axe for the people in the Western United States. Such is especially true for agencies, such as the USDA Forest Service.

3. Broad Axe

People used broad axes until the end of the 19th century. This type of axe became popular for squaring timber and flattening the sides of logs. For this reason, people used it primarily for timber framing and log buildings.

Broad axes used for logs and timbers have one flat side and one beveled side.

Moreover, another type of broad axe is called the goose-wing broad axe.

German settlers brought this axe to America, making it the first hewing axe used in the country. A goose-wing axe has a handle offset to the left or right while the bent metal tube is forged to the bit.

In addition, a goose-wing broad axe has a unique character as its axehead resembles a flying goose. (source)

4. Ice Axe

Ice axes first became popular in the 1840s when people would harvest ice in the winter and store them for summer use. 

Early ice axes featured a vertical adze, and the cutting edge aligned with the shaft’s direction. Its most notable antique axe identification feature is an axe head, called a pick, characterized by a slight curve and pointed end.

Moreover, there was a change in the ice axe’s design in 1860. During this time, the adze was rotated perpendicularly to the shaft.

5. Fire Axe

Fire axes are one of the most sought-after collectibles. The reason is that older fire axes have the monogram of the fire company on their heads. You can easily recognize this type of axe if you dug one when metal detecting. The reason is that the fire axe has the only axe with a cutting edge and a pointed edge.

6. Mortising Axe

During antique axe identification, the size and shape of the axe are the top features that can help you identify them. For instance, a mortising axe has a long and narrow head to accommodate the size of a mortise hole.

Some mortising axes also have double bits. One of the bits is for the length of the hole, while the other is for the width.

7. Hatchet

Hatchets are minor axes that you can use with one hand. You may think that the hatchet you dug is some axe during antique axe identification. If you are confused, check the size of the axe you found. It is a hatchet if it looks smaller and feels lighter than a regular axe. (source)

Metal Detecting Tip: This is going to seem silly, but go to old places to find old things. Two spots I’d point to – Metal Detecting in Florida and Metal Detecting in Virginia

Dating An Antique Axe Head

When you are doing an antique axe identification, you would also want to know when production occurred for the axe you found. You can do such by identifying who the manufacturer of the axe is if there is any brand marked on the axe head.

Moreover, some antique axes typically have unique markings. You can compare these marks to brand logos online to see if they match up. This way, you may find clues to how old the axe you found is. 

What Should I Look for in an Antique Axe?

Different Styles of Antique Axes
Different Styles of Antique Axes

Finding an antique axe while metal detecting is similar to finding a gem, especially if you are an axe collector. But apart from finding old axes yourself, you can also purchase antique axes online.

But in this case, making an antique axe identification is not enough. Instead, you also need to know what collectors look for when purchasing an antique axe.

Profile of the Axe

When making an antique ax identification, the first thing you need to do is check the axe’s overall profile. Check if anything has been re-profiled or there are significant damages that can affect the item’s structural integrity.

Etchings, Emboss or Stamps

Antique axes usually have either a marking embossed on them, etchings, or even stamps. But it is essential to note that axes without markings are still collector’s items. However, an axe with any said identifiers will be more valuable than the no-name ones.

Too Much Rust and Pitting

Antique axes will inevitably rust due to their old age. However, it would be best to avoid axes with deep pits, especially on the cutting edge or near the pit.

Chipped Cutting Edge

Collectors know how to do antique axe identification. So apart from checking whether an axe is indeed antique or not, you will also need to check the orientation of the blade..

Of course, you need to expect some small chips on the tool’s cutting edge. However, stay away from antique axes with missing large chunks from any part of the head.

Grinding Marks

If the edge of the axe looks like someone attempted to sharpen it using an electric grinder, consider it as a deal-breaker. It can be that the axe had significant damage on the cutting edge, which the seller tried to fix using an electric grinder. (source)

How Old Are Axe Heads?

How old are axe heads
How old are axe heads

It is essential to note that metal axes are not the only antique ones when identifying antique axes. The Stone Age marks the period of tool production in human history. During this time, ancient people created cutting tools made out of stone known as a hand axe.

How Old Are Hand Axes?

A hand axe was a pear-shaped, roughly chipped stone tool. It had a pointed end and a broad handle. Additionally, ancient people probably used it for digging up tubers and butchering animals. Moreover, hand axes are 1.5 million years B.P.

As time passed, people could refine hand axes and add wooden handles to them. These axes date from 6,000 B.C.

The Bronze Age

When doing antique ax identification, the axes you may find are primarily metals. That said, the earliest metal axe came from the Bronze Age (approximately 3,000 B.C. to 1,300 B.C.)

During this age, there were metalworking advances as people discovered copper, bronze, and tin.

That said, some bronze axes may have come from this historical period and are possibly 5,000 years old.

The Iron Age

The heat and forged iron axes became popular during this period. People from the iron age saw iron as a more valuable metal than gold, prompting them to create tools. In addition, wrought iron was easier to manufacture than bronze.

Moreover, iron axes from this period are now 900 to 3,000 years old.

Furthermore, there are antique axes made during the 18th and 19th centuries. These are the antique axes that you will find with markings that identify the company that manufactured them. (source)

Why Are Black Raven Axes So Expensive?

The Kelly Axe Manufacturing Company introduced the Black Raven axe to the market in 1904. It was manufactured at the company’s foundry located in Charleston, West Virginia. What made the Black Raven a premium axe was its etchings gilded in gold paint. 

The Black Raven Etching

You can find the Black Raven Etching on sing and double-bit felling axes and hatchets. At the beginning of the 1920s, the company also added the etching on scythes.

Moreover, the Black Raven axes were produced later in the 90s under The American Fork and Hoe Co. This name was a separate brand of the company that took over in 1930.

In addition, some Black Raven axes had a “True Temper Kelly Works” etching near the single-bit axe poll. You can find the same etching on the opposite side of the raven etching on double-bit felling axes.

What Makes Black Raven Axes Expensive?

It is not surprising why axe collectors constantly seek the Black Raven. The axes under this name are distinct due to their etchings. Additionally, these axes are vintage, making them an expensive collector’s item.

If a vintage Black Raven axe is in its pristine condition, it can cost more than $1,000. But according to Brett McLeod in his book Shaped a Continent, “The good news is that collectors still report finding Black Raven axes at barn sales, auctions, and flea markets for a few dollars.” (source)

What is the Difference Between an Axe and Hatchet?

Before the invention of drop forges and power hammers, blacksmiths were the ones who created axes. Back then, there were two parts needed to make an axe:

  • iron or soft steel
  • hard steel bit

Moreover, the evolution of axes paves the way for different axe types. For instance, a hatchet looks similar to an axe, confusing people about how they differ, especially when identifying antique axes.

That said, how does an axe differ from a hatchet?

The Basics of Axe and Hatchet

An axe has two major components:

  • a heavy metal blade head
  • a wooden handle

Both sides of the head are equally rounded off without any flat bevel. The head also has a blade on one side and a butt on the opposite side.

On the other hand, a hatchet is a single-handed tool. It has a short and straight shaft without a bevel on edge. In addition, the handle of a hatchet can be out of steel, wood, or fiberglass.

Axe and Hatchet: The Difference

An ax and a hatchet are tools for wood chipping, which people have been using for centuries. Considering that the two have a similar appearance, people often think they are interchangeable. But in reality, these two tools work best if used for what their design intended.

AxeHatchet
A tool for heavy-duty woodworking, such as chopping and splitting large pieces of wood.A hatchet is a miniature version of an axe. It has a smaller handle than an axe and is typically only used for light woodworks.
A heavy metal blade bounds the head section at one end. The blade also attaches to the other end of the head by a long wooden handle.It is a small broad axe that has a short handle. The handle is shorter than that of an axe. In addition, the blade flares on the bottom and straightens across the top.
An axe is a specialized tool that users need to hold with two hands in order to maximize the striking power.Similar to an axe, a hatchet is also a specialized tool. However, the design is only for single-handed use, so there isn’t enough power to split large woods.
They are used for splitting logs and wood for preparing firewood.A hatchet is meant for cutting, trimming, splitting, nailing, and tearing off old wooden shingles. (source)

Do Detectorist Find Axe Heads?

While digging (pun) around to understand axe heads I got wondering if its common for folks with metal detectors to find axes. Check out what I found in this news clip.

Bronze Age and post-medieval treasure found in Wales

Five treasure finds dating from the Bronze Age to post-medieval periods discovered by metal detectorists have officially been declared treasure. BBC NEWS Credit

Picture Credit National Museum Wales


Antique Axe Identification: The Takeaway

Identifying antique axes can be challenging if you do not know the types of axes. Each of the antique axes that you may find when metal detecting has distinct characteristics, making them easy to identify. Some axes have etchings or markings that tell their brand, making it effortless for you to date them.

On the other hand, some axe types look very similar, so you will have to differentiate them to find the difference closely.

David Humphries, Writer and Creator of METAL DETECTING TIPS. After borrowing my son’s detector and finding $.25. I felt like a treasure hunter. FREE MONEY! I was seriously bitten by the metal detecting bug.

Sources

  1. Brief History Of The Ax,” Nano PDF, accessed December 23, 2021. https://nanopdf.com/download/american-felling-ax-b_pdf#.
  2. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia, Axe, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axe.
  3. Peter Buchanan-Smith, Ross McCammon, Nick Zdon, and Michael Getz,

Buchanan-Smith’s Axe Handbook: Knowing, Buying, Using, Hanging, Restoring & Adorning. Harry & Abrams Inc., 2021. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=rYrQDwAAQBAJ&dq=how+to+buy+an+antique+axe&source=gbs_navlinks_s.

  1. Clare Hibbert, Stone Age to Iron Age. London: Hachette UK, 2016. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=433WCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=stone+bronze+and+iron+age&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiGs7-J2vj0AhVHE6YKHc–Bu8Q6AF6BAgHEAI#v=onepage&q=stone%20bronze%20and%20iron%20age&f=false.
  2. Brett McLeod, American Axe: The Tool That Shaped a Continent. China: Storey Publishing, 2020. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=ERDSDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA88&dq=black+raven+axes&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjexdHDhPn0AhUuyosBHQkfBScQ6AF6BAgLEAI#v=onepage&q=black%20raven%20axes&f=false.
  3. William Morgans, Manual of Mining Tools, Illustrated by an Atlas. London: Lockwood & Co., 1871. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=ZjYDAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA104&dq=difference+between+axe+and+hatchet&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwifvN-PpPn0AhXJZ94KHay1DmwQ6AF6BAgJEAI#v=onepage&q=difference%20between%20axe%20and%20hatchet&f=false.
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