Making The Allagash Cruiser

 

DESIGN

Our Allagash Cruiser is modeled after a traditional Maine wedge pattern camp axe.  Around 1900 there were hundreds of axe patterns being made in America.  Maine had its own pattern – the Maine wedge.  The Maine wedge is characterized by a thick poll (the area above the eye) and a simple “V” shape from poll to bit.  We patterned our Allagash Cruiser from an axe head borrowed from the collection of the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum in Patten, Maine.

Maine axe makers used any hard wood available for handles – oak, rock maple, ash, and hornbeam among others.  We chose Maine ash for our handles.

MANUFACTURING PROCESS OVERVIEW

There are several stages to making our Allagash Cruiser:  forging, grinding, heat treating, sharpening, and hafting.  Forging involves heating steel so that it can be formed into the shape of an axe.  Grinding shapes the axe head.  Heat treating consists of hardening the axe head so that it can keep an edge and then drawing back the temper to make it less brittle.  Hafting is another term for putting a handle on the axe.  All of these processes are completed in our shop in South Portland.

FORGING

The raw material for our axe is U.S. sourced 1050 carbon steel.  "1050" means that the steel is composed of iron and .5% carbon.  For the Allagash Cruiser we start with a 2 ½” diameter x 2 ½” long billet of 1050 steel weighing approximately 3 ½ lbs.

We heat this billet up in our gas forge to a temperature of 1700 degrees. This softens the steel so that it can be shaped by our hydraulic press, power hammer, and hammer and anvil.

We use a series of dies to shape the round billet into a rectangle, punch the eye with a drift, and roughly shape the bit.

At the end of the forging process we are left with an “axe-like” shaped piece of steel.

GRINDING

We use a template derived from our Patten Lumbermen’s Museum model to mark which part of the nascent axe head needs to be ground.  Our primary grinder is a 2” x 72” belt grinder made by the Stephen Bader Company of Valley Falls, New York.  This was the first piece of equipment we ever bought so it holds a special place in our shop!  We use the grinder to shape the axe and also put a preliminary edge on the bit.  The grinding process also removes the scale from the forging process. 

(We leave the scale on the poll because we like the contrast between the shiny bit and the black poll) When we finish the initial grind we have lost about a pound of steel from the forging and grinding process.  When the initial grind is complete we stamp our logo,the temperer’s initials and year of manufacture on the axe following the practice of long gone Maine makers such as Emerson & Stevens.

HEAT TREATING

Once the initial grind is done and the axe stamped we turn to the heat treating process.  The goal of heat treating is to harden the steel, but not make it too brittle so that it can chip. More detail on this process can be found here.

We heat the axe heads up to 1525 degrees in our tempering oven.  When the heads reach the desired temperature, we quench them in salt water drawn from Casco Bay which is right out our front door. For good luck, we add a wee dram of single malt scotch to the quenching bucket as well. 

Here is a video of the quench

By heating the metal and quickly cooling it we have changed the crystalline structure of the steel to make it stronger.  Now to make sure that it is not too brittle we “draw back the temper.”

Tempering consists of gradually warming the axe heads up to around 450 degrees then slowly letting them cool.  At this point, the entire axe has a Rockwell hardness of between 56 and 58.  We harden the entire axe so that the poll can be used for driving in wedges or tent stakes.  The eye is softened some so that it can absorb the shock of use.

FINAL GRIND & SHARPENING

After heat treating we move to the final grind and sharpening stage.  We go back to the Bader to shape the bit to roughly a 25 degree angle consistent with that of a traditional Maine wedge pattern axe.  Sharpening is done using a Tormek wet wheel and later a diamond hone.  This is how we get the axe “wicked sharp.”

HAFTING

Putting a handle on our Allagash Cruiser is still done the traditional way with a shave horse and hand tools.  We take a 28” Maine ash handle and shape it to fit the eye of the axe using rasps, draw knives, spoke shaves, razor knives, sand paper – whatever it takes! 

Once the handle fits into the eye we pound in a black walnut wedge to make sure that the handle completely fills the eye.  We then apply boiled linseed oil to the eye and the rest of the handle to further condition the wood.

FINISHING TOUCHES

Once the axe is hafted we apply three coats of boiled linseed oil to condition the ash handle.  After the last coat of boiled linseed oil has soaked into the handle we rub the handle with a homemade paste wax made of beeswax, boiled linseed oil and a touch of single malt scotch.  We apply a light coat of oil to the axe head to inhibit any rusting.  Lastly, we mask the axe with a Maine-made, custom leather sheath to protect both the axe and you!