Axes and the History of the Axe
Axes have been especially prevalent these days, with the emergence of the sport of axe throwing across the world – but it’s a well-known fact that axes have been used for thousands of years for much more than throwing. It’s one of the oldest tools used by mankind, after all. Before the modern axe, the stone-age hand axe was used without a handle – only later to be fastened to a wooden handle. The earliest examples of handled axes have heads of stone with some form of wooden handle attached in a method to suit the available materials and use. Axes made of copper, bronze, iron and steel appeared as these technologies developed. Axes these days are composed of a head and a handle.
In folklore, stone axes were sometimes believed to be thunderbolts and were used to guard buildings against lightning, as it was believed (mythically) that lightning never strikes the same place twice. This has caused some skewing of axe distributions. Steel axes were important in superstition as well. It was rumoured that a thrown axe could keep off a hailstorm. Sometimes an axe was placed in the crops with the cutting edge to the skies to protect the harvest against bad weather. An upright axe buried under the sill of a house would keep off witches, while an axe under the bed would “assure male offspring.”
Axe Throwing in Entertainment
Axes are also predominant in Viking culture, as evidenced when Alex Høgh Andersen, better known as Ivar the Boneless from History TV’s hit show Vikings, visited our BATL Toronto location to film a segment in anticipation of the upcoming new season. It’s no surprise that he was a natural.
Most modern axes have steel heads and wooden handles, typically hickory in the US and ash in Europe and Asia, although plastic or fibreglass handles are also common. Modern axes are sorted by use, size and form. Hafted axes with short handles designed for use with one hand are often called hand axes, scout axes, or hatchets – but the term hand axe refers to axes without handles as well. Hatchets tend to be small hafted axes often with a hammer on the backside (the poll). As easy-to-make weapons, axes have frequently been used in combat.