The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Axe

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Edition of 1920. See also Axe on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

AXE (apparently an original Aryan word), a long-handled tool for wood-cutting. Its essential feature is the helve, though a certain shape is imposed by the nature of its service. The chipped flint of the oldest Stone Age was a tool of all work, to crush, dig or cut (rather, bruise off), as occasion demanded, and was too heavy and shapeless to be used except by hand. As soon as one was shaped and sharpened to admit of tying a handle to it for a heavier stroke, the axe came into being and was probably the earliest implement thus differentiated. So natural a device was separately invented by each race early in its history and made of the material at hand: flint in England and America; whinstone or granite in Ireland and by the lake dwellers of the Continent; bone by the American Indians and Eskimos; while stone axes are still used by some of the South Sea Islanders. In all these cases and until the use of metal, the handle was secured with a thong, as piercing with an eye was impracticable. The first copper and bronze “celts” were made in the same way. But when casting had become familiar, it was seen that there was no difficulty in casting a hole to thrust the handle in, making a much surer and heavier stroke; and with this “eye” the modern axe appeared. The bronze axe was lightened and better shaped, and in its turn displaced by iron, for which, with the progress of invention, has been substituted an iron butt inset with a steel cutting part. The old hand forges have for some generations been replaced by immense establishments with developed machinery. The American process consists of cutting the butt from a piece of white-hot iron, punching the eye, then reheating and shaping it by pressure between concave dies; again heating, cutting in the edge a groove, into which the arched steel edge-piece is set, then welding the two and drawing out the axe to a proper edge by trip-hammers at a white heat. The next process is hammering off the implement by a combination of hand and machine work and restoring the shape lost in drawing out It is then ground to symmetry, hung on a revolving table in a furnace and heated over a small coal fire, at a peculiar red heat, determined by the eye; cooled in brine and then in fresh water and removed to another furnace, where it receives the last temper. It is next polished to a finish that shows every flaw and enables it to resist rust and enter wood easily; then stamped, the head painted to prevent rust, weighed, labeled and packed for sale.