Friday, November 15, 2013

Wooden Axe

For Paulus at Silk Road Rising, we needed an ax for the final scene (a decapitation that is pretty awesome and very theatrical). Initially the ax was only going to be raised in the air, then we planned for lights to shift away from the executioner to someone holding the decapitated head (more on that in a future post). The look of the entire show is very utilitarian and "constructivist". I went to Menards and bought this basic ax.  
As rehearsals progressed, we realized that stopping at the top of the ax swing was not going to work, we needed the actor to complete his swing of the ax back down. This was all very theatrical, and blocked so that the actor being beheaded was in no danger. In order to protect our actors it was very important to have an ax which was lighter and easier to control. 

I remembered, several years ago, having a similar problem while working on the murder mystery weekends at Allenberry Playhouse. My master carpenter at the time used a large chunk of wood to cut and shape a wooden axe head to fit onto a pre-fab ax handle. I decided to try to recreate the project. 

First, I took mulitiple photos of the real axe in order to figure out the shape. 

Next I sketched out a basic shape onto a piece of 2x6. I cut the shape out with a jigsaw and began shaping it on the belt sander, slowly rounding out the back side, and narrowing the front to a "sharp" blade edge. I also used a set of chisels a few times to remove larger wood shavings and speed the process. 
Here is the mostly finished blade.
 One of the biggest challenges was cutting out the center hole in the blade in order to slide it onto the ax handle. I ended up taking large chunks out by drilling through with various sizes of drill bits, then taking out the bits in between with my chisels. 
 Replacement ax handles, like this one can be easily purchased at most hardware stores.
 I painted the ax with several coats of metallic black spray paint, sanding between each layer to smooth the finish. Then fitted the ax head onto the handle and added a touch of silver to the blade edge. 
Even from a few feet away, people were surprised to discover the ax wasn't real. 

Thanks to Naugy Peterson for coming up with this elegant and sturdy solution the first time. 

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