On the Origin of Phantom Bevels

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by Square_peg, Mar 25, 2018.

  1. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Here I will put forth a supposition on the origin of phantom bevels. I've been toying with this idea for a few years. The idea is that old axes with worn heels and toes were taken to the blacksmith who pushed material from the cheeks out to the heel and toe giving the axe a new life.

    While I lack certain proof of this origin I'm certain in my own mind that phantom bevels evolved in this way. It's such a natural progression that I don't doubt it occurred independently in logging camps across the NE - likely in the 19th century, possibly earlier.

    Presume you're working in a mid-19th century logging camp somewhere in the NE. Presume further that your axe was a major expense and that rather than replace it you were likely to take it to the camp blacksmith for repair or re-steeling. Most large camps had a blacksmith on site to keep tools and rigging in good repair. Consider that these old axes would have been made with wrought iron bodies. Wrought iron moves much more easily under the smith's hammer than modern steel does. A smith might, rather than adding steel, choose to move some material from the fat cheeks of that old axe up to the heel and toe. In the process the cheeks would become thinned at the top and bottom (the areas that would most readily move to the heel or toe).

    Loggers would have found these repaired axes to penetrate deeper and release easier while still 'popping the chip' with their high centerlines. Others would ask for their axes to be repaired in the same way. Suppliers, who aren't selling as many axes because these loggers prefer their repaired axes, would decide to copy the new style. And voilà, phantom beveled axes are being produced.

    As I said, I have no proof of this occurring but I can present the evidence which lead me to this theory. Have a look at this old felling axe from the Northeast.

    [​IMG]

    It's heavily worn but still has very thick cheeks - lots of material there to work with. By hammering bevels into the top of bottom of those fat cheeks a smith could give new life to that axe. Here's an example of an axe that has forged been in this manner.

    [​IMG]

    It's been hammered so thin that the top (most wear occurs at the toe) is thinned almost to a knife edge.

    [​IMG]

    It's so thin it has warped! Several times I almost ground that thin bent edge off before I realized its importance! Glad I never did that.

    Now have a look at a few worn old axes. Can you see that these old thick-cheeked axes could easily be repaired by the method I've described?

    [​IMG]

    What do you guys think, especially those of you with some blacksmithing experience? I'm convinced this is how bevels began. Perhaps old logging camp journals will one day confirm this.
     
  2. jake pogg

    jake pogg

    Dec 20, 2015
    I think that the reasoning above is clear,logical,well-found in what historic data available to us,and in all ways a sound piece of reverse-engineering a forging technique.
    Great old axes,total plausibility.
     
  3. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    I had a vague notion that this is how bevels came to be. Then one day I was considering how to 'restore' that old hammer poll felling axe ( a gift from JB Lyttle - thank you very much!).
    [​IMG]

    I could see it had the typical wear pattern, most heavily at the toe but also at the heel. I thought about re-steeling it but it seemed difficult to add steel just where needed (heel & toe) and troublesome to add it to the whole bit only to file away the extra in the center when I was done. I was thinking these old axes were typically made with inserted steel bits that reach far back into the cheeks. Then it dawned on me that the way to repair it would simply be to move metal from the cheeks up to the heel and toe. I thought about what this would look like and realized right away that it would look like phantom bevels.

    Then I considered that repairing an axe in this fashion could only be done once or maybe twice before the cheeks became too thin to supply the necessary metal. That's when I thought of the ultra-thin beveled axe I had out in the garage and had an Ahaaa! moment. The thin-beveled axe was thinnest behind the toe but still very thin behind the heel. I looked at the two of them together and it just clicked - this was obviously how bevels came to be.
     
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  4. jake pogg

    jake pogg

    Dec 20, 2015
    I think you're very much correct.
    And,specifically as far as re-steeling the edge,
    It normally involved reshaping the entire blade considerably as well.

    Here's a good thorough approach:

    Also,one of the things that i see in the video that further undescores how right you are in this theory is how that man uses every advantage available,electricity,arc-welding,et c.It's typical of a very practical attitude long a trademark for smiths:if it Can be done,And saves time/energy/material/expense-then DO it.
     
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  5. phantomknives

    phantomknives

    Mar 31, 2016
    I think someone should take a no name chinesium head and grind the heel and toe then try the method above
     
    Brian Rust, Maine20 and Square_peg like this.
  6. 300Six

    300Six

    Aug 29, 2013
    Sounds perfectly logical to me! For some reason Canadian-made axes never featured phantom bevels. Of course Morley Walters was raised in the 1870s and lived his whole life in the heavily logged Ottawa Valley and would have been well aware of this 'fashion' but never bothered to implement it throughout the 5 decades that he was President of Walters Axe.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2018
    Square_peg likes this.
  7. Hickory n steel

    Hickory n steel Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 11, 2016
    It definitely sounds right to me.
     
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  8. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    When dealing with a worn axe with an unknown amount of steel left in the bit I'd think it an easy and more effective practice for a smith to just forge weld on an overlay.
     
    jake pogg likes this.
  9. Agent_H

    Agent_H

    Aug 21, 2013

    I'm watching this again. Thank you Jake.
     
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  10. junkenstien

    junkenstien Gold Member Gold Member

    888
    Feb 15, 2017
    That one is great,I like his brother hanging his cane on the horn.
     
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  11. Brian Rust

    Brian Rust

    762
    Nov 14, 2017
    I can remember posting one of my shapleigh’s diamond edge felling axes and the toe was worn. You had suggested to bring out some of the steel to fix it and as I thought about it looked at it I thought it would give it a phantom bevel look. Never crossed my mind it’s how they came about.

    I love the thought process in this. Very very cool!!
     
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  12. gben

    gben

    501
    Nov 26, 2014

    The conversation according to you:

    Lumberjack: Hey Mr. Logging-Camp blacksmith! The edge of my treasured axe that my living depends upon and which was a major expense for me has had it's edge almost worn down to the base wrought-iron metal. Can you fix the edge now before it gets too bad and is harder and more expensive to repair?

    Blacksmith: No, wait until it gets worn way, way down so that it will be much harder and more time-consuming to repair, and will only be repairable in a way that leaves it very thin and much weaker than before so it will be sure to break in daily hard use! Work will be much harder for you while you are wearing it down like this as the axe-head will be misshapen and will need sharpening much more often since the hard edge is gone, but it will be worth it in the end....

    Lumberjack: Okay, makes "Perfect" sense to me! Thanks for your brilliant logic and insight!

    You answered your own question.
     
  13. 300Six

    300Six

    Aug 29, 2013
    I suspect there had to be enough bit material remaining in order to pull this off. Presumably this is where 'insert' bits triumphed over 'overcoat' bits.
     
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  14. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    That's exactly why this type of repair was possible.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2018
  15. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Only if you knew that your bit was inserted rather than overlaid.
     
  16. 300Six

    300Six

    Aug 29, 2013
    Presumably you had to have complete faith in the smith's judgement of how to repair your otherwise derelict formerly-expensive tool. I would imagine Plan B (inserting another bit) involved additional cost and would have been an option. Any grade of steel was enormously valuable and difficult to obtain in the early to mid 1800s and settlers went to great lengths to scavenge nails and other metals from the aftermath of house fires and ship wrecks. We overlook, today, how much revered the local or resident blacksmith was for pioneer living and off-the-beaten-track (fishing, mining and logging) endeavors.
    The phantom bevel is a north American phenomenon (far as I know) and as Square_Peg suggests probably the outcome of limited availability of tools, scarce resources, and slow outcomes due to insurmountable time and distances in trying to do things the European way. That commercial axe makers in the US began to emulate the shape of successfully refurbished axes doesn't surprise me and in fact is an astute revelation on Peg's part.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2018
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  17. gben

    gben

    501
    Nov 26, 2014
    Right, so now we have the logging company which has enough resources to be a logging company in the first place in every way, but only enough money to hire a blacksmith with no material to do repairs with, not enough to hire the other blacksmith with the materials to do the job...... What's next????

    Logging company: "Well Mr. Blacksmith, sorry we would like to hire you but we were looking for a blacksmith with just enough tools so he has to do half-ass repairs and invent "phantom bevel" axes with no hard edge and no more. If you have enough of the proper tools and materials to do the job correctly and keep our loggers and company in top shape to do the job we can not hire you. "

    Mr. Blacksmith: "Well that it too bad, but you are in luck as I know where you can find a blacksmith who works cheaper than I, and who does not know how to hammer-weld steel to steel or to wrought iron, but only how to flatten out wrought iron period. His name is Snuffy Smith and here is the address of his shop..."
     
  18. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    All I said was that you'd have to be certain that your bit was inserted in order for that kind of repair to do its job. Welding on a fresh overcoat bit would still cost less than buying a brand new axe made from scratch and you'd be assured that there was steel in your edge. As far as depth of the steel goes, it entirely depends on how the axe was originally made. It's entirely possible that an inserted bit axe was made with a very shallow piece of steel to begin with, or that an overcoat bit could have been done nearly the whole depth of the bit. So knowing what you start with would be absolutely necessary for this method to have any impact.

    Personally I wouldn't find it at all surprising if it was simply the result of deductive reasoning, much like the development of most other features of hand tools over time.
     
  19. 300Six

    300Six

    Aug 29, 2013
    There's always naysayers but that's OK. That's what keeps these forum discussions lively and encourages people from all walks of life to offer up their opinions and for others to seek out anecdotal or literature answers. Socked away somewhere I've got 3 or 4 metal detector-unearthed Upper Canada pioneer-era (1800 to 1870) axe heads that have tapered sides and high cheeks (and distinctly non-modern profiles) that aren't stamped and I'm willing to forfeit one or two of these to have someone expertly dissect them for a close look. I suspect there are folks out there such as jake pogg that can 'read' metal in much the same vein as I can 'read' wood. ...And that might begin to generate meaningful and realistic answers.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2018
  20. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    I mean, it's entirely possible that this hypothesis is correct, but I personally find there to also be a lot of other plausible explanations for why an axe would develop that form other than a cheapskate's attempt to ride the "E" line as many miles as possible instead of making a proper repair. I doubt an axe repaired in that hasty manner would perform so well as to impress people and spread as a practice so prolifically. Again--maybe I'm wrong, but I do remain skeptical while being open to further evidence.

    The example with the almost knife-edged bevel may very well be a factory second from a smith that was just getting trained up. The major manufacturers regularly sold mixed lots of second-rate heads at a steep discount, unmarked, typically noted in their catalog as "when available", so they were actively sold to the open market where they'd then have the opportunity to be worn down in use.
     

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