With the introduction of the power hammer axe production became more mechanized and moved away from the village blacksmith to edge tool factories. In the 1800’s the power hammer was driven by water or steam.
In his book, American Axes, Henry Kauffman relates the way in which mechanization crept into the manufacture of axes at the Collins Company in the 1870’s:
“The heated bar is inserted in an aperture in the machine, whereupon a gigantic knife snips it off at the required length; next a pair of dies give the iron the proper fold or bend; the workman withdraws the lump of iron, inserts it in another aperture, and the hole for the handle is punched; another movement, and it is bent in the opposite direction, and so, by rapid and successive compressions, the head is shaped and ready to receive the bit. This bit, hammered from steel, and finally punched by a die into a shape as long as the axe is wide, with a broad flange left on either side, is now ready to be joined to the iron poll, and complete the form of the axe. The steel is inserted in the iron poll, both being property heated; the forger turns the two flanges of the poll upon the bit, then runs to a trip hammer, under which, by alternate heating and hammering, the two parts are so firmly welded together as to be practically one. When sufficiently drawn out under the triphammer, the next process is to reduce the thickness by grinding; this labor, however, which is slow, expensive and unhealthy for the workman, had been greatly lessened by the introduction of machines which now actually shave down the bit of the axe nearly to an edge.”
An extraordinary video of the Emerson and Stevens factory in Oakland Maine produced in the early 1960’s shows that this process had not changed much in nearly 100 years.
Today, axe manufacturers use giant drop forges to quickly form billets of steel into axes. Here is what the process looks like today at Sweden's Granfors Bruks company.