I've been wanting to make my own axe for a few months now, so I decided I would take a first chop at it, since I've had some free time, and see what I can learn.
The first thing to consider is what I want to get out of this axe in the first place. I mainly want it for show, but it would be cool if it threw decently too. So I drew up this viking bearded axe / tomahawk shape, which I have dubbed: "Hawkbeard". Since I've never made an axe I don't have a good feel for weight distribution and size, but that's fine. This is mainly a quick and dirty proof of concept that I can make in an afternoon, or less. That way I can have something in hand fast and feel what it's like. To that end, I'm going to use what is readily available to me and not really expensive.
Ideally for a tool that you will use outside, you would want a stainless steel for corrosion resistance and strength. Gerber uses 420 stainless spring steel for some of their axes, and 440 (A, B, & C) stainless steels are pretty common among other blade makers. If I had my pick, I would use S30V stainless, which has nearly double the yield strength of 420 and can be heat treated up to Rockwell C60.
That would be pretty sweet.
Unfortunately, I'm on a budget, and I don't have any cool metals (that are big enough) laying around. So I'm going to use plain carbon steel. Yes it will rust, yes it won't hold an edge very well. But I only have to pay $1.00 per pound, and I have it already.
The next step is to cut it out. Ideally, I would want to cut my profile via waterjet so the plate doesn't warp or is heated in adverse ways. But, all I have readily at my disposal is a plasma table. So that's what I'll use.
Now the problem with cutting an axe out with a plasma table means that the edges of it get annealed as it it cut, and so you get a softer edge and a harder core. Which is the exact opposite of what you would want in an axe (I believe). This could be remedied with heat treating, however since I'm using plain old low carbon steel, it won't gain much hardness (if any) with a heat treat. I have heard that you can do a "super-quench" to get a thin case hardening on mild steel... but the axe can't even fit in my heater to begin with. I might try just heating the edge with a torch and quenching that, but I'll save that for another day.
So I'll call it good. Like I said, it's more of a display model anyway.
I cleaned all the slag from the plasma table off with a chisel and began sanding the mill scale off. This took forever as the steel plate is not nice and flat, so it took my belt sander a while to sand through the high spots. I cheated a little using the cylindrical portion of the sander to spot sand some of the valleys, so it's not perfectly flat.
But it's close enough.
I tossed around the idea of forcing a black patina on the surface, but no, I'm going to save that idea for another time.
Intermittently through the build I would step over to the grinder and work on putting the edge on. I'm not sure what the ideal edge angle is for a throwing tomahawk/bearded axe hybrid, or how sharp it needs to be, so I just ground on until it felt right. I had to borrow a friends sharpener to put the final edge on it and it turned out pretty good in my opinion.
Once all the grinding and sanding was done, I wiped it down with a lot of WD40 to clean it up and to help prevent it from rusting.
Finally, the handle was wrapped using 550 paracord. I experimented a little with different wrap styles and experimenting with how thick the handle should be, but the final verdict was that just a plain crisscross style felt the best. This process took waaaay longer than anticipated. I ended up spending several hours just getting the handle wrapped, and it took about 40 feet of paracord to fill out the handle. If I had picked a heavier cord, it wouldn't have taken as long, so I'll keep that in mind if I ever make another one. One problem, for me at least, was that the handle was too wide front to back for it too work with thicker weaving methods. Although someone with bigger hands might disagree.
All and all I'm pretty happy with the result. It's not perfect, and it doesn't chop or throw the best, but for a first try I can't complain.