Boarding Axes From the Age of Sail  Hache d’abordage, Enterbijl, Entrebil, Änterbila,  Entrebile, Hachas de Abordaje
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Boarding Axes by Nation

As all collectors of antique weapons will know there are always pitfalls in the form of replicas and reproductions some of which may be artificially aged to catch out the unwary. Collectors of boarding axes, however, have two additional problems and these are the identification of private purchase or non-regulation types and the mis-identification of spike axes used for other purposes, the most common of these being fire axes.

See Not Boarding Axes page.


Boarding Axe

26” x 11”

Scout Axe

14” x 6”

Boarding Axe and Tomahawk

Private Purchase British/US c. 1770

Length: 26” (66 cm)

Blade - point: 9” (23 cm)

This axe shows some British features, langets and spike but with a flared blade. It is so poorly made that it was most probably manufactured by a blacksmith in America late in the 18th century, when weapon manufacture was notable for its poor quality. The hammer welded seams are coming apart in places so that the method of its construction is known. Two flat iron plates cut out to shape including the langets and then formed into shape and welded together with a steel inset forming the blade edge.

Its story may be imagined: ordered by a British Captain at a port on the East Coast of America from the local blacksmith to replace lost or damaged equipment it then served for a few years as a boarding axe but when the ship was re-supplied from home or obtained better quality axes it was sold off or even dumped ashore. There, not being much use for felling or cutting wood on farm or homestead, it was traded to the native Indians as a tomahawk.

It was recovered by a previous owner from an auction, sold as a trade tomahawk with the handle wrapped in mangy fur and with a bunch of beads and bedraggled feathers still attached.

The holes in the shaft are not woodworm but where the decoration was attached.

Private Purchase French(?) c. 1780

Length: 34” (86.5 cm)

Blade - Point: 12.75” (32.5 cm)

This axe has French characteristics with four sided spike, thin front and rear langets and large crescent shaped head.

The handle flares out at the end and has a rack number 6 impressed into the wood. Wood and steel are all coated in a black protective coating.

Identifying a private purchase axe

Remember what the axe is for - review the Form and Function page where these aspects are covered in more detail.

There is no totally foolproof method but consider first the form. The axe should be shafted for use by one or both hands, be light like a battle axe, have a curved blade, a significant spike and protective langets.

This can only be a guide as, of course, there are straight edged examples and many handles have been cut down during or after their service life. So the function must also be considered.

Imagine in battle conditions, on a heaving, swaying deck running with blood and water, where speed is essential as the ability of the ship to manoeuvre and thus to fight and possibly to survive is at stake, will this axe you are thinking of buying do the job?

Can you use it to cut through and separate a tangle of rigging on the deck at your feet; drag sections of it behind you to the ship’s side, turn and lift it to waist height to get it over the side when it may be smouldering or perhaps on fire? Can you spike into a broken spar and drag it to the rail; can you imagine yourself prying a 3 or 4 inch diameter red hot cannonball out of a smouldering bulkhead with musket fire whizzing round your head? Would you be happy going into combat with this axe if your life depended on it; is it big enough to deflect a cutlass blow and smash an enemy’s head with a counter strike?

If the answer to all this is yes than you may well have a boarding axe. On the other hand if you are looking at a small hatchet with a short spike which means you’d be on your knees to cut or drag anything at deck level, burning your fingers long before you got that cannonball loose, and run through by a cutlass before you got anywhere near your attacker - it probably isn't.

Merchant ships outnumbered the vessels of the regular navies, and in the age of sail they were almost as well armed as warships, whether for protection or as privateers preying on others of their kind. These ships were often armed with regulation patterns whether supplied or purchased from their governments or simply captured. There were also private purchase weapons made by companies or in small numbers by local blacksmiths.

Due to the lack of written information, the small number of surviving examples, and the large number of spiked axes in various forms it is very hard to be one hundred percent certain about identification but I hope the information on this page can at least provide some guidance.

British c.1830 - c.1860

Maker: Brooks Brothers, Sheffield, England.

Length: 22” (56 cm)

Blade - Point: 10.5” (27 cm)

Several examples of these are known so it was likely they were produced in numbers. Col. Rankin identifies one of these as “ a British type frequently used in the American Navy” so it appears to have been purchased by governments as well as merchant fleets.

It features a deeply arched crescent blade with long slender pick and side langets and is clearly marked with the manufacturer’s name.

Private Collection

Private Purchase British/US c. 1770

Length: 28” (71 cm)

Blade - point: 8.75” (22.5 cm)

This axe is an early example and is crudely manufactured probably by a blacksmith in America around the time of the Revolutionary War. It could have been included in the British section but as it is not a full regulation pattern even though it shows most of the British characteristics it has been included here.

Private Purchase

Boarding Axes

Pirates, Privateers and Merchant Ships.

Updated Aug 2016

Pirates Lair Collection

Seaxe Collection

It is apparent from examining private purchase axes that the manufacturing companies tended to combine the cheapest form of production with the best features of known patterns. The flared or crescent blade with integral side langets and flat sided spike reflect this, and it crops up frequently enough to suggest a pattern of its own. This of course can only be part of the story as there were many makers and variations.

For the reasons already stated this study cannot be conclusive and the bar for inclusion on this page has been set high with the intention of creating a solid baseline of examples with which to compare. Therefore the identification of additional axes to include in this database remains an ongoing project.

Private Collection

Private Purchase British/US c. 1830

Maker: F. Barnes & Co

Length: 26” (66 cm)

Blade - point: 11” (28 cm)

To the right is a close-up of the head of the axe shown above and on the Home page.

Seaxe Collection

This is another boarding axe with crescent shaped blade, side langets and flat spike.

Made in Sheffield, England c. 1850.

Pitt Rivers

Scandinavian Private Purchase c.1810

Length: 28” (71 cm)

Blade - point: 9” (23 cm)

This axe closely resembles the Danish/Norwegian 1810 issue although it has a smaller head than the regular model with the emphasis on a long and slender spike. In common with other Scandinavian axes it is more weapon than tool.

The rather rough build quality suggests it is more likely of Norwegian manufacture.

Private Collection

Private Purchase French c. 1836

Maker: Coulaux -  Klingenthal

Length: 21” (53.5 cm)

Blade - point: 10.25” (26 cm)

Although at first glance this French axe appears to be a regulation 1833 model, the deeply struck stamp of the manufacturer ‘Coulaux’ positively identifies it as a private purchase.

Under the 1810 and 1823 government contracts with the Klingenthal arsenal the Coulaux brothers who oversaw the business were only permitted to add their name to weapons produced for the commercial market.

After 1836 production for government contracts was wholely moved to Chatellerault while Klingenthal continued to produce tools and weapons for private purchase and it remained in the ownership of the Coulaux family until 1962 when it finally closed.

Private Collection

Private Purchase British/US c. 1830

Maker: Wolff

Length: 20.25” (51.5 cm)

Blade - point: 8.5” (21.5 cm)

This is another private purchase axe using the side langet format similar to ones above. This axe is of higher quality than some, being well made and finely shaped. Note the swelled end of the handle to assist grip and prevent it slipping out of the hand which also incorporates a hole for a lanyard.