Houten socketed axe

Found: Houten, Netherlands
Age: app. 1000 BC

Earlier this year I had the pleasure to be able to meet the finder of this beautiful socketed axe, and study the axe up close. Because of this I was able to get a much better feel of the shape of this type of axe, which until then I'd only known from photos. As the finder was going to visit the metalworkers weekend in Archeon, I thought it would be a great idea to try and cast this axe.

More about this axe can be found here.

The model to make the moulds was made from clay and sand. Unlike the previous models I made for socketed axes, I included a stand in this model. This stand enable me to make the hole for the core of the mould, as well as make the model stand upright while forming the mould halves around it. This meand that making the mould was a lot easier then previously.

To make the mould, I made two equally sized flat pieces of clay, tempered with sand, which I then formed around the model. After these halves were made to fit and properly finished, they were put aside for several days to let them dry. This firmed up the clay, so I could use the mould to form the core. By making the core several days later, the core would shrink further and therefore always fit after all the parts are fully dried. To ensure a succesful casting, I prepared three moulds. On the photo one of the se moulds can be seen after firing.

Casting result
To my surprize, all three moulds gave me a succesful casting! For each casting, I heated the mould halves next to the fire, and the core inside the fire to make it extra hot. This was to limit the amount of cooling of the bronze as it flows through the channels. As alloy I used roughly 12% tin and 2% lead. The lead, as well as the higher tin level, enhances the fluidity of the bronze, which makes it flow easier through the channels. It also drops the melting point of the bronze, which makes it easier to melt, and lets it stay liquid longer during casting.

Socketed axe 1
Here's the first axe. Strangely all three axes have a rough surface on one side, the first 2 cm from the cutting edge. This might be because the moulds were covered in sand there during firing, so these parts didn't oxydize well enough.

Socketed axe 2
 Here's the second of the three axes.

Socketed axe 3
And this is the third of the three axes. On this one the decorative wings aren't as clear on one side, due to slinkage problems. With this casting, the core came floating out of the mould. But fortunately my colleague pressed down the core just in time, so this axe fortunately came out fine.
Casting sprue
This is a good example of what the filling of the casting channels looks like after the core is removed around it. Very similar sprues have occasionally been found. In the Netherlands, several examples of these sprues have also been found.
Finished axeheads

Socketed axe 1
This is the result after the sprue and flash have been removed, the axehead polished and the edge hardened by hammering. This is done with modern tools.

Socketed axe 2
This axehead is finished in the same manner. However, here I also added the facetted decoration which is present on the original. This is done by hammering shallow channels in using a bronze punch, and some grinding to smoothen the channels. The latter was quite probably done with the original as well.

Socketed axe 3
This is the last of the three socketed axes. It has also been finished with modern tools.
Fully finished and hafted axe
Socketed axe 2
The haft is made from an ash branch with side branch. It's made using a bronze axe, knife and chisel. The axehead is secured using a rope made from willow bark. To protect the axehead, I've also added a leather protective cover.