After a hiatus of several weeks, Log Lines returns. We haven’t been idle these past few frosty days.
Last year the Museum received a grant from MassHumanities to produce a short film about one of the most remarkable tools in our collection. In 1928, a man named Reuben Sibley donated a shipbuilder’s axe to the growing collection of artifacts displayed on board Constitution. According to the family story, Reuben’s great grandfather Jacob Sibley had used this axe in the 1790s to shape timber for the ship. This puts it among only two tools know to exist that were used to create the frigate.
|Jacob Sibley’s axe. USS Constitution Museum collection|
We wanted to make a reproduction of the axe that visitors could touch (albeit safely!) and that we could actually use. We turned to blacksmith Derek Heidemann of Resurrection Iron Works in Millbury, MA. Derek has honed his skills by working in a nineteenth-century forge at Old Sturbridge Village, and has reproduced countless period artifacts. Accurately reproducing the axe has proved to be quite an undertaking, however. First of all, it is huge! With a head 11 1/4 inches long, it is nearly twice the length of a common felling axe. Nevertheless, Derek was up to the task. Using two pieces of genuine nineteenth-century wrought iron, he crafted a thing of beauty and utility.
To make the axe, Derek and his “striker” Dave forge weld the two halves of the blade together. First they heat the metal to about 2400 degrees. After prying open the two halves, Derek sprinkles borax between the parts. This acts as a flux, which helps prevent oxidation of the surfaces to be joined, while lowering the melting point of the oxides that do appear. The piece goes back into the forge to raise the temperature and then they beat the blade with a forging hammer and an eight-pound sledge.
UPDATE: The video is now complete!