This past week we were really happy to be able to donate a prize for the Valley Of The Sun Cutting Tournament in Phoenix, AZ. When Phil Martin and Brittany St. Leafy first contacted us about this event we really wanted to give them a sword, but we have such a backlog of orders right now that we really couldn't justify bumping a paying customer's order to donate a prize. However, we are pretty current on orders for Dane Axes right now, with an average wait of just a few weeks from order to delivery. These two handed axes are something that many HEMA practitioners have never used, at least partly because there are no extant sources on how exactly to fight with these early medieval weapons. Dating mostly to the 10th and 11th centuries, these weapons predate the earliest European fighting manuals by hundreds of years.
Nevertheless, there are clear similarities between cutting with a medieval longsword and with a two handed axe. In fact, we would argue that the use of this weapon is more similar to fighting with a sword than to the later poleaxes used in armored combat. First of all, these axes are really not choppers like modern wood axes, nor are they for breaking armor like later poleaxes. Instead, these are hewing axes designed to cut lightly armored foes. The blades on these axes are only 1/8" thick, with a hardened tempered 10" long curved edge. This provides an extremely acute geometry, while the curved edge makes hewing cuts function almost like a draw cut, similar to a saber.
An image from the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry featuring Guy, Count of Ponthieu holding a similar axe.
Although we have cut tatami with these axes many times, we were excited to see highly skilled cutters give it a shot. Check out Phil and Brittany's respective YouTube channels here for lots of great sword-related content.
Check out our full line of axes here, and some awesome cutting skills below.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.