What’s my axe?

My brother gave me an axe head he bought in a market.  It has proved to be rather a mystery:

What I know about it so far is: It was made by Wm. Greaves & Sons at Sheaf Works, Sheffield, UK.  This firm existed in the nineteenth century :

From “The Cutting Edge” a catalogue of items in the Hawley collection
displayed at the Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield in 1992. The back of this
book contains short histories of the firms which made the tools displayed.

“They (Wm. Greaves & Sons) soon established a large American clientele, and in 1825 built the famous Sheaf Works, the first integrated steel works in Sheffield.

The Sheaf Works was situated alongside the newly opened Sheffield Canal
where Swedish iron bar was offloaded directly into the works to be
converted into steel and goods which were manufactured on the premises.
The canal and the use of steam engine power provided a more efficient
system of production as previously many separate operations were required
for the manufacture and movement of goods.

By 1833 files and edge tools were added to the cutlery and in 1849 the
company started to produce railway springs.  The firm closed in 1850.”


English: Steel melting house where was made cr...

English: Steel melting house where was made crucible steel, Samuel Osborne & Co, Sheffield  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


So it’s pretty old.  Even made of “Electro Boracic steel”, Which is either crucible steel with boron salts added or just a promotional wheeze.

The size is 13 and a half inches (count ’em) from what would be the poll to the foremost part of the edge.  It has no poll, showing its age here.  The edge is very heavily curved, which I assume was done to stop it getting stuck in whatever it was cutting.  It is a long, even taper with no flattened cheeks.

I’ve mounted it on a pick shaft, as I believe all axes of the period were hafted on straight handles.

It is VERY HEAVY about 7 and a half pounds, excluding the shaft!

In use the weight and the length seem to suggest it was not swung as a felling axe, unless someone with very mightily strong wrist muscles was able to keep it horizontal.  I can’t for about two swings without pain in the wrist, but I’m a bit old too.  This suggests it was either swung between the legs or with a vertical chopping motion.  There are a couple of similar examples kicking about described as mining axes, but they seem later, having polls.

It is quite a beast:

Any ideas anyone?

Getting rather autumnal in the woods these days and a chill in the morning air with mists.  The sycamore leaves are just about all off – they’ve suffered black spot badly this wet Summer.  Beech leaves beginning to look quite pretty.

11 thoughts on “What’s my axe?

  1. That was my thought too (mortise axe), but aren’t they typically straight, both in their cutting edge (which, admittedly, may have been modified) and also on the top and bottom edges (that, is parallel to each other, rather than flared) and also with a striking poll?
    Very cool axe, either way.

  2. It’s a merrick or Westmorland axe, often used in the northern counties for felling. Became obsolete in the mid nineteenth century, according to Salaman…

  3. I have similar mortise axe. The handle is 17″ from the top of the blade to the bottom of the handle. The blade is 8 1/2″. The cutting edge is curved not straight. No maker mark

    • Hi Ernest! That’s another use for that style of axe. I think the answer for the English version turned up though in my next post

      Whether used for ice or felling, it is a monster!

      Kind regards,


Comments are closed.