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Ideal Blade Steels For Axes, Hatchets & Tomahawks?

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by JD Spydo, Sep 11, 2017.

  1. JD Spydo

    JD Spydo Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2004
    Now most of you know that I'm mainly an avid knife using and knife collecting fan for the most part. But after obtaining a great book & video from the US Forest Service a few years back it spurred in me a side interest in other edged tools like axes, hatchets & tomahawks. I've picked up a few of them at garage sales, estate sales and a couple at a local flea market. Actually I wish I knew more about these types of tools than I presently do know.

    Now a very good friend of mine who has come over to my home several times and showed me a small ax made with S7 tool steel and I was impressed. Which led me to believe that axes just like knives do better with better blade steels. Now I do realize that the blade steels used for axes, hatchets and tomahawks is a different blade steel than would be ideal for knives.

    So my question to you guys is two fold>> which blade steels are the best for axes, hatchets and tomahawks? Also other than Granfors Bruks and Council Tool Co. who else makes really top notch edged striking tools? The S7 tool steel in the one my friend showed me seemed like really good steel>> is it good? Or are there better options? I would also guess that heat treatment just like in knife blades probably plays a huge role as well?
  2. Hickory n steel

    Hickory n steel Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 11, 2016
    I would think 1080 and 5160 would probably be the best all around options if treated properly.

    What depends is if you want a real working tool that may see some abuse, or something woodcrafty that will only see light chopping and carving...ect.
    I have seen pictures of GB axes with big chunks broken off of the bits and hear many people consider them to be a bit too hard for durability during serious work. These could be isolated issues though.
  3. bikerector

    bikerector Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 16, 2016
    S7 is supposed to be one of the tougher steels out there and that's really the primary detail with an axe as edge retention is secondary to edge durability. I would think 5160 would be great as well since it's a spring steel and should take some abuse. I would also argue that a smaller axe/hatchet/tomahawk can take a harder but less durable steel better as it should see less force from the reduce leverage of a shorter handle. I have a hawk with a long beard in 52100 that has held up quite well to bushcraft-like tasks, minus taking down larger pieces of wood. I have it sharper like a carpenters axe (I presume, haven't owned one) and use it for shaping wood and sizing it before I play around with the knife and whittle. I've been practicing my bushcraft skills by building some furniture for around the campfire.

    I've also seen 1055, 1075, and 1080 used with success. I think the steel used on the Fiskar axes is 1055 and it cuts pretty well due to the design but it does dull and bend pretty quick if you start hitting things you didn't mean to hit. I think

    3V would be interesting but I have to think the cost would be pretty high for such a premium steel in that size, and probably hard to justify for such a use. Supposed to hold an edge well and be pretty tough but pricey. Infi could be another premium option that could get interesting. I've heard A2 is up there in toughness as well. I've never had the need for such tough steels in a knife so I haven't tried them myself so this is purely keyboard jockey theory.

    Heat treat, forging, and craftsmanship/design seem to be bigger differences in axes than knives. Not that those aren't important in knives but I think the brute force axes are subjected to reduces the options a bit. Because forging seems to be a big thing, steels that can actually be forged get a higher mark for axes. Not to say a non-forged axe isn't good just that many higher end axes are.
  4. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    S7 would be great.
    Park Swan likes this.
  5. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    I think a good place to start is looking at the Forest Service specs: Steel composition. The tool head of each type of ax shall be forged from fully killed plain carbon AISI/
    SAE steel containing 0.72 to 0.93 percent carbon, 0.30 to 0.90 percent manganese, not more than 0.040
    percent phosphorus, and not more than 0.050 percent sulfur. Steel composition of the head shall be deter-
    mined as specified in Hardness. The ax bit shall have a hardness of 54 to 58 inclusive on the Rockwell C scale. This
    hardness shall extend to a distance of 1-1/4 inches ±1/4 inch back from the cutting edge. Within 1 inch of the
    eye of the tool, the steel hardness shall not exceed 45 on the Rockwell C scale. All hardness values shall be
    determined as specified in The specified hardness shall extend through the entire thickness of the
    tool head steel.

    I think even 1065 would be sufficient for a great axe. And of course 5160 works well. I think S7 would be fantastic.

    Prior to homogeneous steel axes the top line axes were made with high carbon crucible steel bits. They were advertised as "razor blade steel" - likely containing 100 or more parts of carbon.
    Park Swan likes this.
  6. garry3


    Sep 11, 2012
    I don't think there are many axes out there that where made from anything to exotic. I think the expense of heat treat more than steel costs influenced this. So you are asking a question about steels that most of us have no experience using and probably never will in an axe.

    If you get one made up with S7 maybe you could do a comparison with a Gransfors or something? Bet there would be many here interested in the results.
  7. JD Spydo

    JD Spydo Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2004
    Very interesting reply "bikerector">> You've covered some bases that really has me already going down a lot of rabbit holes. Yeah I'm already impressed with S7 and since I've used it I've noticed that it's a steel they use on many of those really high dollar axes and hatchets. I have indeed heard of a custom maker using A-2.

    Now your mention of 3V is very interesting because I've got a good friend who has a fixed blade made with 3V and one with 20V both. He swears that 3V is an excellent steel for a fixed blade he uses in rough cutting jobs. Crucible makes some great blade steels no doubt about it.

    Also your input on "Forging">> it's interesting needless to say because I've heard that a lot of custom ax makers use a forging process making ax heads and I've heard their work is high in demand. Being most axes have convex edges I also factor that into the mix as well. Because the late knife maker genius Bill Moran told me once that a convex edge is truly the best edge for hard work. And I'm sure that goes double with axes.

    I want to thank you "bikerector" because you've really given me a lot to think about and much to consider. I do want to learn more about axes, hatchets and tomahawks because I'm seeing more potential uses for them in my own work. But don't stop posting people because I'm all ears at this point.
  8. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    S7 is the preferred steel by blacksmiths for slitter-drifters and some other hot work tools. It's tough, it's air hardening and maintains respectable hardness even after reaching 800° - 900°F during hot work.

  9. Storm Crow

    Storm Crow

    Apr 12, 2006
    Lots of tough axes made from 4140. Simple heat treatment and resists impact well. I have built axes, tomahawks, hammer heads, and power hammer dies from it, personally.
    Park Swan, hugofeynman and garry3 like this.
  10. Storm Crow

    Storm Crow

    Apr 12, 2006
    And, of course, an increasing number of tactical 'hawks are being made from 80CrV2.
    Park Swan and hugofeynman like this.
  11. Kevin Houtzager

    Kevin Houtzager

    Jun 25, 2017
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
    aikonen likes this.
  12. danbot

    danbot Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 31, 2009
    My vote goes to S7. Extremely tough and impact resistant.
  13. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Except if the alloy you start with isn't of a suitable grade then heat treatment can only do so much. Historic axe manufacturers cared very much about the grade of steel that they used and touted as much to great lengths. Material selection is the foundation of a good tool, and while specific alloy is less important than broad classification it's still extremely important. That being said, axes aren't too demanding in their steel choice, but there are some steels that are known to be more or less difficult than others to heat treat with good accuracy and repeatability. That can play a big role as well.
    Storm Crow and BG_Farmer like this.
  14. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012

    The problem with 4140 is than by the time you've tempered it for toughness, say 500°F, you've already dropped the the RC hardness down to about 50. That's still OK but a higher carbon steel will easy hold toughness to 55 RC or higher.
  15. Kevin Houtzager

    Kevin Houtzager

    Jun 25, 2017
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
  16. Kevin Houtzager

    Kevin Houtzager

    Jun 25, 2017
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
    Square_peg likes this.
  17. Park Swan

    Park Swan

    Mar 15, 2016
    1050 will work fine, 3v would be great. Those are both ends of the price spectrum, everything in between is good too, as long as the geometry and heat treat are on.
  18. walkbyfaith777


    Dec 8, 2010
    I cant say which steel would be the best. Some are better than others. What I can say is that 4140 is not second rate steel. It belongs in the group of steels that are suitable for axes hatchets and tomahawks. I make tomahawks and fokos for a living. When I started I experimented with a lot of different steels. I decided to use 4140 only because it impressed me , not for any other reason. I could use any steel I wanted , but for me it is 4140. If you come across 4140 that doesn"t hold an edge well, it"s either not hardened correctly or tempered at too high of a heat. btw I also like 5160.
  19. Ugaldie

    Ugaldie Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 27, 2013
    Some axemakers use tool steels for their axes. Some use "common" tool steels like Precision axes.
    "1 1/4" X 8" tool steel blanks cut from bar stock, 23 lbs each"

    Others use more complex tool steels like Brute Forge,
    They are not the only axemakers using this steel. There are others makers who use other tool steels, but as Kevin said there are more factors to consider. In my opinion having a top notch heat treatment is more important than having a top notch steel. Look at this, very few (if any) tool steel axes produced for wood working would stand (without major geometry change) the beating this 1045 steel wood splitting axe suffers in this video,
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2017
  20. serotina


    Dec 9, 2005
    My preference is for a simple carbon steel, around RC 55. The reason is that its easy to file in the field if you need to, whereas exotic, uber-tough alloys that will cut chains tend to be a bear to sharpen.

    One of the fire axes at our VFD is a Velvicut - I love using it, but hate sharpening it and those aren't even all that exotic. Our fire axes are my one exception to this preference, since they will be used to cut wood with nails and bolts, through roof shingles with mineral coating, or used to grub around stumps and downed logs on urban interface fires. Since we are a predominantly truck-based department we have several available and we don't have to field sharpen them.

    I do like exotics for hand plane irons, and to some degree pocket knives. An axe that is carefully honed for what seems like hours will cut beautifully vs. one that got a quick hit with a file, but is the result worth the effort? Not to me, but then that's in the use mine see - file them for a couple minutes and get back to work.
    David Martin and Trailsawyer like this.

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