Here is my almost ready socketed axe:
Two things remain to be finished. The cutting edge is blunt as a blunt thing and the handle is probably too thick. Although I have polished out most of the scratches and the tiny casting flaws along the edge, I have to sharpen it. It was cast by Neil Burridge and came safe-for-posting (not sharp!). The wide angle of the axe’s bit takes some getting used to, and I’m sure that I will find it harder to sharpen than my narrower, more acute, steel axes. You can see how wide the bit is by looking at the wedge-shaped cut mark it makes:
The haft is a piece of ash. It used to look like this:
The useful shape made by the side-branch also makes the perfect angle for this haft. The angle between the handle (main branch) and the foreshaft (side branch) is about 65°. There are two wooden handles for socketed axe heads excavated from Perry Oaks, angled at 66° and 62.5°, made from similar branches with side-branches.
My handle can be up to 60cm long, given the way the piece of ash was cut before it got to me. The two Perry Oaks handles are 24.5cm and 70.6cm long, and both are close to 4cm thick. 4cm is a bit big for my hands. This means I need to prioritise the fit more to my hands, less to the archaeology. I’m not making a replica or facsimile; I’m making a working tool, that is based on the archaeological record.
The Perry Oaks foreshafts onto which socketed axe heads would have been fitted are short, only 9.4cm and 7.9mm long. Marks on the wood suggest that the bronze axe heads fitted closely, butting up to the handles. At their narrowest points the Perry Oaks foreshafts are 1.8cm and 2.4cm wide. The socket hole of my axe head is this narrow only about one-third of the way down. I need my foreshaft to be a better fit than this, and I want to keep it longer so that I have the option of making it shorter and bringing the axe head closer to the handle later on.
There was much shaping to do to make the foreshaft fit the socket hole, the most awkward part of the task. I could use the Flag Fen handle as an example to guide me. Its foreshaft is 44.3cm long, its axe head fitted onto the end leaving lots of space between it and the handle. The angle is more acute though, closer to 50°/55°. Its axe head probably needed to be further away from the handle to provide enough clearance.
The naturally-grown shape is convenient, but brings some problems with it. There were other, smaller, branches growing out of the main branch. This means that the grain of the handle is knotted, not nice and straight. This makes it harder to cut a smooth, regular surface; more likely to get blisters and splinters using the axe. Cutting across the tumbled grain could create weak points.
But it’s almost finished, so the proof of the pudding will be in the eating…or axing.
Details about the Perry Oaks finds, analysed by Steve Allen, are available online from Framework Archaeology here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/388449/The-wooden-finds-from-Perry-Oaks The Flag Fen handle, and others excavated from the site, is reported on in Pryor, F. (2001) The Flag Fen Basin: Archaeology and Environment of a Fenland Landscape Swindon: English Heritage