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Joe Vachon, USA

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Joe describes himself as a cottage-industry blacksmith.  After learning the fundamentals of steel in art school, he smithed from a teepee on a permaculture farm, and later worked and lived out a mobile blacksmith shop. (Pictured above, photo credit to Durango Herald.)  He now lives in Oregon.
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Joe makes a variety of items besides axes and often works with very carefully chosen scrap steel. He also buys steel; he likes O1 tool steel, which is a high-carbon steel with tungsten, chromium, vanadium and manganese. O1 is known for its superior edge retention, as well as its ability to not deform, chip or fracture. This is due to its ability to be very hard while maintaining toughness ... not something most tool steels are capable of.
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Axe bits are usually made from 5160 steel from truck leaf springs, O1 steel used to make drill bits or W1 steel.  (The W indicates water-quenching in the hardening process and the 1 means 1% carbon, which is a high carbon level.)  W1 is an old tool steel that Joe feels is great for an axe. At present, Joe has been working with Mild Steel that are cut-offs from projects at a local ironworks. Most steel is mild steel ... also called low-carbon steel. The mild steel is tough -- meaning it can bend without breaking -- but also relatively soft. Which is why he will use another type of steel for the cutting edge. 
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Knowledge of the various types of steel used in manufacture of machines over the ages guides his selection of steel from scrap yards. Generally, Joe uses heat to harden his axes to about 55-57 Rockwell. Joe's axes are truly hammered out by hand ... one guy with a hammer. Joe doesn't use any power tools except a 100-year old Champion Number 0 12-inch Grinder, a belt sander and a buffer for final sharpening. Joe tells me 97% of the work is done with human power and coal heat.
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Joe's axes are made to order.
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