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Finnish/Earlier Scandi axes - Kirves

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by Agent_H, Sep 10, 2016.

  1. Agent_H

    Agent_H Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    I find the old-school collared Finnish/Swedish/Karelian axes pretty interesting. I know most of the forum members who post here are primarily interested in American patterns and their histories. There seems to have been three major producers of axes/steel tools in Finland: Strömfors, Kellokoski-Mariefors, and the Billnäs Ironworks. I guess that a way to approach it is: 1) Notable makers, 2) Patterns, 3) Head/Bit construction, 4) History, and 5) Handles/Hafting.

    I invite anyone who can add pictures, information, history, their own stories, or make corrections/clarify if you see something you know is out of line (Jake Pogg…). I should probably post the links that I used to find this info and where the pictures came from but I started snagging the photos for my own reference to the models and only later thought of posting it here and don’t have all of them saved.

    If you read this and your picture was lifted and posted here and you want it removed – please just say so and it will be done.



    This is a quick rundown of the Billnäs Ironworks history in regards to traditional Finnish axes. The following is translated from Finnish using Google chrome then combed through to align the syntax, morphology, and semantics to make it read easier in English while staying true to the intended message – as far as I can tell from Finnish while not speaking it.


    https://probillnas.fi/historia/ - Village of Billnäs homepage.

    BILLNÄS'S HISTORY

    Ruukki establishment of the Mustio river beach

    In June 1641 Finland received, from the Mountain Master Carl Sten, a construction bill authorizing the construction of an ironworks in the Northern Administration, at the village of Mustio, on the second lowest set of rapids. There was already a water mill established at the location.
    Time and space were favorable for the establishment of the ironworks in the remoteness of Billnäs, Finland. The Swedish-Finnish Empire was spectacular, ranging to Central Europe. The 30-Year War made iron sought after and an expensive raw material. On the other hand this changed the country and brought them to more efficient methods of iron production. Already present in Belgium and northern France the areas shifted skilled blacksmiths, blast furnace, and coal burners.

    The Billnäs ironworks operation at this location was acceptable. Interrupting the Mustio River’s flow at Billnäs was a rock precipice of more than 6 m high rock - large enough that dam structures were not needed. Transport links were good: the ironworks passed through the Turku and Vyborg that joined the Great Coastal Road (now called the "King Road"). This was located near the Pohjanpitäjänlahti Bay at the Skuru Harbor through which iron ore was transported and prepared. The surroundings provided plenty of forests; wood needed for iron smelting and the manufacture of coal used in forging.

    “Ironing out” the initial steps in Billnäs

    Ruukki was originally part of a blast furnace and Bar hammer. A blast furnace, in which iron ore is melted takkiraudaksi (Iron alloy of 4-5% carbon) was located next to Karjaanjoki River Maasilta (bridge?) The Hammer Smithy ironworks area refined the pig iron, making it stronger.

    Billnäs was only the fourth industrial ironworks in Finland (it was preceded by Suitia, Antskog and Mustio). All four ironworks were founded upon Lohja found in the Ojamosta iron ore deposits. However, Ojamo ore turned out to be low quality. In the 1600s to mid-early 1800s nearly all Finnish ironworks used ore brought in from Sweden.
    The location of the blast furnace was poorly chosen, and was finally destroyed by the flooding caused by tired masuunipadon peasants in 1659, it was established to replace the Fagervik ironworks, Inkoo 1646 and the Skogby ironworks, and Hankoniemi in1682. Up until 1883, these three ironworks belonged to the same company.
    The Great Plague (1700-21), this was a difficult time for Finland and its young industry. Ironworks stood empty and dilapidated, the Russians looted their contents, and the plague devastated the country and killed Ruukki municipality’s population.

    Booms and Setbacks

    A new boom began, when all three ironworks were transferred to Hising (crowned Hisinger) - owned by the family in 1723. With the Billnäs River on both sides of the beach they build the new Bar hammer ahjoineen and kookkaine waterwheels, and the large coal room. In particular, Johan Hisinger was a hard-working builder who more clearly than anyone else has left its mark on these ironworks building stock. The forged iron initials JH still speak to his endeavors. Johan Hisinger also developed the agricultural Ironworks and established their connection with the gardens and farm tool industry. Finland's first potatoes were cultivated in Fagervik, so this novelty was known early in the Billnäs area.
    The Billnäs ironworks on the oldest part of the north bank of the river was destroyed by fire in 1775. The fire spared only the two small residential building, located in a sheltered area hidden next to the cliffs. They are now the oldest buildings in Billnäs. Ruukki's current infrastructure was created after the construction of the fire.
    In the mid-1800s there were reforms that resulted in increases in the Billnäs Ironworks' main product of pig iron. In addition, forged nails, axes, shovels, horseshoes and shipping guarantees. Products sold particularly to Tallinn and other cities of the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland and St. Petersburg; domestic demand was lower. The village’s first ironworks mansion, Villa Billnäs, a wooden structure was built in 1882.

    The future of the old Billnäs Ironworks was, like most of the other ironworks in our country, under attack in the early 1880s. Old fashioned production methods were not able to compete with large European and American factories, and their activities gradually faded away .
    A new kind of mass production took hold and more focus on furniture building.

    Billnäs’ savior turned out to be an engineer, and later CEO Fridolf Hisinger Leopold, who was owner of the ironworks in 1883. As the lively construction season began, the focus of production ushered in a new era. On the site of the old workshops rose an industrial plant, which was prepared by mass-production in the country by new technology and methods. Door handles, axes (in the 1890s up to 40 different models), hammers, pickaxes, Kihveli, etc. The products soon earned a good reputation and production volumes grew steadily. In particular, the larger tool orders went to the Russian army and led Billnäs ironworks to a new golden age. In the peak of the year in 1915, the Ironworks employed 1,072 employees.
    Large-scale office furniture manufacturing in the Ironworks was started in 1909. American models produced from Polish oak via Billnäs furniture became a standard throughout the country. Manufacture of furniture did not end until the 1950s.

    The wooden ironworks mansion burned down in 1915, with a large part of the ironworks, also was lost the record archives. The current "stone castle" Villa Billnäs was built on the same stone footings.

    Fiskars company time

    After the First World War, the ironworks export connections to the east broke down and the main market area became domestic. In 1920, Billnäs Ironworks was incorporated into the Fiskars Corporation, and such. Tool manufacturing continued in the old halls. Further Fiskars modern production facilities on the outskirts of the old iron works produced world-renowned scissors among other implements.
    The next major breakthrough in the history of Billnäs ironworks began in the late 1970’s, with the heavy metal industry, and employment fell drastically bottom. The old ironworks buildings are no longer used in modern industry, ironworks and industrial activity dried up in the mid-1980s. Historical precedent threatened to disappear due to inactivity brought about by decay.
    Preservation and development of Ruukki create the perfect setting for renewal.

    1983, The Municipality in the North established a company named Kiint. North Ruukki Oy Industry. State aid allowed the company to acquire the essential elements of the Billnäs and Fiskars Ironworks, a total of more than 110 buildings, of which about 60 were Billnäs. The company's main objective was defined as cultural and historical preservation of valuable ironworks milieus and diversified development of municipal businesses. The company has throughout its existence struggled with financial difficulty, but still sought to implement its allocated target. In recognition of the preservation of cultural heritage, Ruukki Industrial Company was awarded the prestigious "Europa Nostra" award in 1988. The work to develop the ironworks sites and to preserve the architectural heritage is still on going.

    Billnäs - A lively village

    Billnäs Ironworks is gradually regaining its position in the region, as an operational and cultural focus. Manufacturing companies operating in the area of opportunities (Fiskars and Fundia) thanks to Ruukki have retained its original industrial character. Frustrated survivors of the premises changed with the new companies, for example. Building a pharmacy, they have enhanced the overall look of the ironworks.

    Billnäs Ironworks photos

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2017
  2. Agent_H

    Agent_H Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    [​IMG]

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    Model 13

    [​IMG]

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    Model 21
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    Model 24?

    [​IMG]
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    Model 40/3
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    Model 51
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    After Fiskars took over the ironworks it appears they continued with the old methods for a spell then the shapes changed with the introduction of mass production.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2017
  3. DeadboxHero

    DeadboxHero Knife Reviewer, Collaborator, Sharpener Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 22, 2014
    Just got researched up on this topic a few weeks ago.

    Glad to see someone else is also fascinated with such an exotic tool to us Westerners that has such a pivotal and rich history with the forging of Finland


    This was the axe that carved Finland into an independent country with the burn farmers.

    There is a damn good write up here about the complete Finnish Axe history.

    https://nordiskaknivar.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/the-finnish-axe-by-marcus-lepola/

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    This is the Billnas 12.3 the most popular pattern of the 19th and 20th centuries

    It was an all purpose size and patter especially since most families could only have one axe.

    Notice something?

    It's about the same size as the Fiskers X15, GB SFA and Rooster Woodcraft axes

    Which are all that perfect size for everything ~2lbs with a 23in haft

    Also interesting is the use of birch wood for handles which is why the design had the collar to help with the durability

    Remember that Hickory is only in America

    Very cool,

    BTW It's not just your average birch used but it has an ageing process. A family would pass on their aged birch wood for handles to their children.

    Fascinating.

    Here's a cool video of an old Finnish man expertly carving a Billnas handle with great skill not seen today.

    His old weathered hands carve the handle masterful with his will used Puukko

    [YouTube]nEZ0a3RLlEM[/YouTube]

    Such skill is lost to time.

    Also noticed he is not using sand paper but a metal card scraper to Finish his handle.

    It was said that if it took all day for a man to make a handle and hang his axe he was worthless as a man.

    Quite harsh😂😂
     
  4. rjdankert

    rjdankert Basic Member Basic Member

    Mar 10, 2011
    Thank you for sharing your research. Very interesting topic.

    Bob
     
  5. Hacked

    Hacked

    892
    Jun 1, 2010
    Lots of good information, from what I understand the old socket style axes are getting rather hard to find. They are the ones that come to mind first when I here Finnish axes. Thanks for taking the time to put this all together!
     
  6. Agent_H

    Agent_H Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    Collared axes from the region(s)

    Here is a link to a smith currently making collared/inserted bit axes in Sweden. Their site shows each step of the process of making the collar and inserting the bit as traditional Finnish axes were.
    http://forgedaxes.com/?p=1186

    Another insert bit montage of Finnish axes:
    [​IMG]

    These are from the Kellokoski forge I believe.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    Bob, please feel free to add – I only know what you are reading here. I had been saving pictures and was looking at examples to help me hang one. Just thought it might be interesting to others.


    My pleasure – I’m having fun looking stuff up and find it interesting. I acquired three of the Kemi heads as impetus to learn about them. I learn better when I "do". I would imagine they aren’t something we would find a lot of around here (“here” being the US and Canada). If you find something interesting, share it :thumbup:
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2017
  7. rjdankert

    rjdankert Basic Member Basic Member

    Mar 10, 2011
    I've watched that video many times over the last few years. I love that old guy.

    I've always wondered about the head he was hanging. How did you determine Billnäs?

    It is hard to see so I may be wrong, but it looks like he's using a piece of broken glass to do the final finish (no puns please).


    Bob
     
  8. Agent_H

    Agent_H Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    Deadboxhero, thanks for the “kirves” material.

    Your observation is pretty interesting too. I would say you are right on for a general purpose axe. The model 12.3 was 1.1kg or like 2.4lbs patterned on the 12.1. Like a boy's axe patterned after a 3.5lb version, the only difference being scale.

    I get what you are saying with comparable axes too. Fiskars bought out Billnäs and then the shape evolved somewhat with more current production methods and then later to the overmolded synthetic handles… I have some pictures of what I think fall into that transition period. The numbering also changed along the way - numerically as well as the slash and period in the model numbers. Something to look into.

    Those from that “transition” period seem to be more available than the older ones right now. They actually look like they would be fun to use.

    The Mariefors-Kellokoski are almost identical and used the same pattern numbers for the most part - even after the 20th century changes in production methods.
     
  9. Agent_H

    Agent_H Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 21, 2013

    My current guess is a 12.3 or maybe the 12.2.

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    His has the cut out on the front of the socket and the cut out in the bit where it joins the eye. The 1-11 don't have that cutout at the bit and the 13+ don't have the same combo of those or if they do they seem to be a very noticeable shape.

    The one he is using looks like the same pattern but a bit slighter in build. He might be using a 12.3 to hang a new 12.2 From what I am reading that pattern is the iconic "Kemi".

    Billnäs or Kellikoski is hard to tell but it certainly is patriotic with the Finnish flag on it.:)
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2016
  10. rjdankert

    rjdankert Basic Member Basic Member

    Mar 10, 2011
    Another flag:
    [​IMG]
    Iisakki Jarvenpaa Oy

    Bob
     
  11. markv

    markv

    Sep 8, 2004
    fantastic writeup. thanks for posting.
    i've never seen one of these axes in person so to speak, so this is next best.

    buzz
     
  12. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Mattias also forges traditional Nordic scythe blades. :thumbup:
     
  13. Dusty One

    Dusty One Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 12, 2004
    Great Thread....Thanks for taking the time !
     
  14. Steve Tall

    Steve Tall

    Aug 28, 2010
    Thanks, Agent_H.
    I'm struck by the level of industrialization already present in the "old world" during the 1600s.
     
  15. jake pogg

    jake pogg

    221
    Dec 20, 2015
    Yes,Agent_H,and everyone else,thanks kindly for taking the time to gather so much interesting data.

    As a smith,i'm particularly interested in the construction details.If it's ok with everyone,i'd like to say a couple of words about some of the axes above.

    This ancient type of construction comes,of course,from the time when it was way more economical to wrap the steel around the future eye(vs slitting&drifting).
    Thus the welded-on poll,to balance the tool that would otherwise be somewhat heavy in the blade.

    Later,as the industrialisation was catching up,the machinery allowed for that solid billet open-die forging illustrated above on those stage by stage photos(they originally were taken by Jacob Neeman,John's brother,and kindly sent into circulation on the web).

    But many smiths,like Mattias,still work in the traditional manner.

    That very old axe shown above(too bad there's no numbering system for files on here....and i'm worthless with "multi-quoting",sorry...),differs slightly from the way Mattias does it:One can see a spur extending from the steel bit,that forms the front wall of the socket.
    That is the technique often used in these wild-looking Piilu,the hewing broad-axes so peculiar to the Finns.

    When one watches the videos by and about GB,often one sees their shop-foreman,a fellow named Lars Egander,a fantastically knowledgeble and skilled smith.
    Lars has published a book on the history and the technology of Swedish(mostly)axes,within the last few years.
    (i'll let Agent_H,or someone else with the like,superior,computer skills,to see if there's any info from that book that can be posted without offence to the author et c.).

    Another incredibly skilled master axe-maker is Hovard Bergland(here too i'll defer to the better internet-researchers...).

    I suppose that looking deeper into the history and the construction details is,or can be,very constructive,even for people who are primarily interested in the american axes.As nothing in the world is isolated,so knowing a bit about the genesis of the (incredible)american direction in axe-making(and using),can only contribute to the Quality of one's understanding...

    Respect,and sorry for the not very strictly informative ramblings of an axe-freak...
     
  16. rjdankert

    rjdankert Basic Member Basic Member

    Mar 10, 2011
    Found this link on another forum.

    Lumberjacks compete public 1945 (click image to go to page):
    [​IMG]

    Bob
     
  17. John A. Larsen

    John A. Larsen

    Jan 15, 2001
    First, Thanks to Agent_H for posting all the information and rjdankert for the link to the wood cutting competition. Back when I was in High School, my Father was a Captain in the Merchant Marine and brought home what he said was a "Finnish Woodsman" axe that I think he actually bought in Sweden. I used it a lot and before he died I asked If I could have it. It is a Billnas 12 2 and still has blue paint on the head. It is 25 inches tall, with a handle that is 20 1/2 inches. I also have an old Billnas e-tool, not SA marked so could be before Finnish Independence. I also have a US linesman leather pouch with a TL-29 in it, but do not have the correct linesman's pliers. A good friend of mine in Finland sent me a Billnas made linesman's pliers, that fit perfectly in the US leather sheath. A few year back I was in Fiskars and my friend drove me over to the old Billnas factory. One thing that has always impressed me was that the Billnas axe came SHARP, unlike the axes I see in modern day hardware stores.
     
  18. Agent_H

    Agent_H Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    You might have to take the lead on the head design from the standpoint of a blacksmith – I can appreciate the work but I haven’t ever done anything like that. The two gentlemen you mentioned - Hovard Bergland and Lars Enander both have books on their research/work – I noticed Bergland’s is translated to English as well. I’d like to get my hands on copies to read them. Digital formats would be great but maybe that is insurance that they don’t get posted all over instead of bought as hardbacks…

    I think that was well said Jake. Everything we have came from the trial and error of history – from somewhere.


    John, I would get a kick out of seeing a picture of your axe. Very cool thing to get passed down. I kind of think that length of handle sounds versatile.


    Speaking of handles for these axes…

    Here is an illustration of an axe labelled in Finnish (for search terms I guess)

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    Some blueprints of sorts of handle dimensions:

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    Along the lines of being shorter than the average American felling axe, the Finnish handles seem to have some other differences. Just from pictures/reading it looks like the older handles range from pretty thick (birch) to pretty thin (birch and hickory). On the rusknife forum, one of the members mentioned that there are new production handles being made for them that aren’t available to export. If they are the ones attached to some of the axes he has posted it seems like those are stamped with the length on them in millimeters. The older looking handles have a very defined hook or drop in the grip to the swell. Mushroom flairs, large/rounded knobs, and some pretty interesting work seems evident:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    But the more “recent” handles look more like what I am familiar with. The Finnish museum site I looked at referred to them as being “Americanized”. That might be something lost in translation but I’m under the impression that it isn’t the head but rather the handle style on some of them.
    https://museot.finna.fi/Record/lusto.M011-29233
    [​IMG]

    I see the term used both for the head patterns and the traditional patterns that have a more modern handle on them. Both Billnäs and Kellokoski had actual lines referred to as Amerikkalainen that were shaped more like the American pattern counterparts.

    [​IMG]

    This is an interesting site were one of the members carves out a handle aimed at looking like a traditional Finnish handle.
    http://www.trapperman.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/5380602/Making_axe_handles_and_birch_b

    The wedge system was called a “snake” on a site I can’t find again right now:

    *This is from Woodtrekker Blog

    http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com/2012/07/finnish-axes-part-5-hanging-finnish-axe.html

    [​IMG]
    The socket eye on the Finnish axes are different enough that it is taking me quite some time to fit a head to a handle properly. I am falling into the “worthless guy who needs more than a day to make a handle”…



    Side by side. American 28” fitted to a head and a 28” Kemi handle (the one is not fitted to that head, it was just on the bench next to the door on the way out).

    [​IMG]

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    From the Slovenian axe thread a while back.
    [video=youtube;iGwNQM5cGU0]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGwNQM5cGU0[/video]
    Here is a capture of that axe we were talking about in that video. Think it looks like something from the catalog scans?

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2017
  19. Hacked

    Hacked

    892
    Jun 1, 2010
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2016
  20. rjdankert

    rjdankert Basic Member Basic Member

    Mar 10, 2011

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