Retrotechtacular: An Ax Factory of Yore

retrotechtacular-ax-factory

When your mind’s eye thinks of an ax factory you may envision workers loading blanks into a machine that refines the shape and profile before heading to an annealing furnace. But this is Retrotechtacular, and we’re tickled to feature a look at a different time in manufacturing history. This ax factory tour looks at every step in the manufacturing process at a factory in Oakland, Maine. It was shot on film in 1965 just a few months before the factory shut down. [Peter Vogt] did a great job of shooting and editing the reel, and an equally fine job of converting it to digital so that we can enjoy it on his YouTube channel.

Above you can see the automatic hammer — known as a trip hammer — that is driven by cam action. At this point a lot of work has already been done. Blanks were cut from steel bars by two workers. These were shaped on the trip hammer before being bent in half to create the loop for the ax handle. From there a piece of high-carbon steel was added to form the cutting surface. This brings us to the step above, shaping the two glowing-hot pieces into one.

We don’t want to undermine the level of craftsmanship, and the labor-intensive process shown off here. But we can’t end this write-up without at least mentioning the kitsch that is smoking cigarettes and pipes on the job. At one point a worker actually lights his pipe using a the glowing-hot ax head.

To give you an idea of how this contrasts with modern manufacturing, here’s How It’s Made episode on axes (although we think whats being made would more appropriately be called hatchets).

[Read more...]

Gilded Hello Kitty ax made using electrolysis

Ummm…. cute? For the Hello Kitty fan who has everything?

Yeah, we’re really not sure what’s going on here. It’s an art piece on which [Denis] spent a lot of time. He polished it, etched it, painted it, applied gold leaf, and drilled a hole for a charm. It’s that hole which interested us the most. He had a heck of a time figuring out how to make a hole in the hardened steel. The solution that finally worked was to use electrolysis to bore through the metal (translated).

[Denis] first made a small depression where he wanted the hole. This took time, and pretty much ate through the engraver bit he was using. But it was just enough to hold a drop of saline. He connected the positive side of his power supply to the ax head, then dipped the negative lead into the drop of saline. Each time the drop turned black he wiped it away and replaced it with fresh solution. Just five hours of this and a pack or two of cotton swabs and he was through.