Monday, June 25, 2012

Finnish Axes Part 1: History - Billnas

For a while now, I have been following a series of post by a fellow blogger, OZme. He is a Japanese guy who currently resides in Finland. He noticed, just like the rest of us, that there is very little information on Finnish axes, both in terms of history and characteristic features. The series of posts that I have been following, try to provide a bit more information on the subject. Since the subject is so rarely discussed, I thought I would share it with you here with his permission. I will go through the whole series here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Please visit his blog, Bush n’ Blade for more information.

Probably, I am not very suited person to talk about this topic as I am not experienced as much as other hundreds, if not thousands of axe man, woods man and bushcrafters out there.  But I have not seen much information about Finnish axes on internet and I start noticing growing interest on Finnish axes. So I decided to share what I know and my thoughts about Finnish axes.

Please understand that information you will see might not be true / correct because I am writing these post based on my research (which is very limited due to my lack of language skill and limited access to information) and observation. Some are what I see, feel and speculate and other are based on what I read or heard. I will provide the information source if possible. If not, I will state that the information is by speculation and/or observation.

Finnish Axes:

If you hear "Finnish axes", the first picture comes to your mind probably is the modern Fiskars axes. Those really are excellent axes; affordable, available, easy to maintain, cuts and sprits well, light weight and almost indestructible. But that is not kind of axe I am going to talk about it in here. What I would like to talk about is the good old / traditional Finnish axes.

Different Traditional Axes

In the picture, you see  Finnish axes and Swedish axes.  The one on right most is unknown in origin. There is no traceable making on it except that it most likely a smith forged.

As you can see that Finnish axes have quite distinctive look. Narrow and long blade shape, top tip of the blade edge is lower than top of axe, has sleeve on eye….  But before moving on to look at each axes, I would like to point out that all of these axes are factory made (except the right most one) and it is quite safe to say that these are “hardware store axe” of that time.

Let’s look at the each axes closer.



         The image is taken from the Billnas catalog of 1928.




History in brief:

- Billnäs Bruk or Billnäsin tehtaan osakeyhtiö (Billnäs Ironworks), knowne as "Billnäs" was founded in June 1641 by Carl Billsten, the founder of Billnäs Ironworks.

- Billnäs moved to Hisinger family's possession in 1723. Johan Hisinger was especially active in building and developing the Ironworks’ operations.

- In 1883 the ownership of the Ironworks moved to Fridolf Leopold Hisinger. With the influence of the new owner, the old workshops were turned over to production plants and the production focused on doorknobs, axes, picks etc. In the busiest year 

- in 1915 the Ironworks employed 1072 people. The production of the office furniture started in Billnas in 1909.

- In 1920 the Billnas Ironworks was incorporated into Fiskars Corporation. The manufacture of old tools was continued. 

- In the late 1970s the old manufacturing facilities of the Ironworks became obsolete to the use of modern industry and the operations in the Ironworks decreased in the mid- 1980s.

- And in 1983, the Billnas Ironworks has forged the last axe.



On the left in the above picture is a No. 300 (800g) and to the right a 1123 (1200g)

And here, I have got 2 axes from different period. The model N:o 300 has clear characteristics of mass manufacturing period. But the model seems to be existed since 1928 with different N:o.  checking from the Billnäs catalog of year 1928. There is a model N:o 61/2. Which has the same profile and specification. So it could assume that the one I got was after the reduction of product range.

The other one, N:o 1123. This was estimated as the model from pre-chainsaw era. (by the person who is more knowledgeable on this topic). As I have got this axe, it did not have the characteristics of mass manufacturing. Also the model number is punched with old numbering system.


In the picture above is a head with with the punch out mark on left and right without.

The N:o 1123 was little modified by me. The sleeve goes to helve as can see on  N:o 300 was cut off about 1cm short. I have done this to fix the unbalance caused by shortened blade length.

On the other hand, N:o 300 is varialble specimen as near perfect in condition. It has the head mass of almost same as when manufactured (assuming N:o 61/2 on year 1928 catalog is the equivalent model). Also the helve seems to be original Billnäs standard parts. (assumption based on “Luettelo Billnas'in Takeista 1928_01_01_1928.pdf” Page 77).


I must confess that at the time I got N:o 1123, My knowledge of re-handling Finnish axe was none. So the one you see on picture is fitted with Swedish style helve. Which makes this N:o 1123 a not great axe. Why? The reason was hidden in N:o 300.... but I will talk about that later.

To be continued to the next post, "Axe Talk - Kellokoski".

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