What is a Dane Axe? [2022 Update]

Updated on September 16, 2022 by

Dane axes are two-handed weapons made famous in the medieval period by the Vikings of Northern Europe. The typical characteristics include a prominent horn on the toe and heel of the axe bit and a complex, lightweight, high carbon steel edge.

The Dane axe evolved into the halberd and poleaxe, leading to other weapon improvements over time. They are not used in modern times as they don’t cut wood properly.

History of the Dane Axe

Early Vikings were thought to have used heavy axes that were difficult to use. The first evidence of the improvement of Dane Axes is between the 9th and 11th centuries, as the weapon started to gain popularity outside of Scandinavia.

Elite warrior groups often used Dane Axes throughout Europe, including (source):

  • Anglo-Saxon England Huscarls
  • Byzantine Army’s Varangian Guard
  • Irish Gallowglass Mercenaries

Famous historic Dan Axe wielders (source):

What is a Dane Axe? [2022 Update]
What is a Dane Axe? [2022 Update]
  • St. Olaf, King of Norway
  • King Stephan of England
  • Richard the Lionheart, King of England
  • Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland
  • King John II of France
  • Bertrand du Guesclin, the Eagle of Brittany
  • Geoffrey of Lusignan, Lord of Vouvant
  • Olivier de Clisson, Butcher of Breton

The Dane axe started to phase out in the 14th century as it evolved into the poleaxe and halberd, and the last evidence of its use in combat was in the 16th century in Scotland and Ireland.

Features and Design

The main feature of a Dane axe is the extended handle length with the prominent horns on the toe and heel of the axe blade along with a swept forward shape. They also had a reinforced bit with higher carbon steel, which gave the edge a harder and sharper design.

This combination of design characteristics made the Dane axe extraordinarily lightweight and maneuverable. During the 9th to 11th centuries, this significantly improved the weapon systems, making it popular amongst Scandanavian countries and wider Europe.

The handles were most likely made from Oak or Ash, the most popular tool handle throughout Europe at the time.

The photo below shows the stereotypical design features of the Dane axehead:

What is a dane axe

Size and Shape

Dane axes are long weapons with light, thin axe heads. This makes them highly maneuverable. Combining this with the hardened edge turns this into a superior weapon to the alternate weapon systems of the time.

The shape of the axe head makes the Dane axe stand out. It has an extended heel and toe in both directions (as opposed to a Bearded axe that only has the extended heel). The shape also often sweeps forward.

Some of the key design features of a Dane axe include:

  • Thin 1/16 in Thick Blade
  • 8 to 12 inch Cutting Edge
  • 2.5 to 5 lb in Total Weight
  • 36 to 48 inch Handle

Modern Dane Axes

The Dane Axe evolved significantly since its initial popularity and is considered the ancestor of the halberd and the poleaxe.

Dane axes are not produced commercially due to their primary function as ancient combat weapons. To get your hands on one, your best chance is to go through medieval enthusiast blacksmiths or custom order.

A few places to buy Dane axes, both replicas and functional axes, online include:

  • MDM Axes
  • Skjaldborg
  • JellingDragon
  • Make Your Own Medieval

The light head design of a Dane axe means that it isn’t suitable for chopping wood, and its long handle makes it unsuited for delicate tasks such as carving. Dane axes are a combat weapon, making them less useful in modern society.

Dane Axe vs. Bearded Axe

Dane Axe vs Bearded Axe

Dane Axes are often mentioned in the same sentence as Bearded axes, although they are very different designs.

Dane axes have a much longer handle and are more similar to a halberd, while a bearded axe is generally more like a wood chopping axe on a shorter handle. The Dane axehead is also deliberately designed to be thin and more maneuverable for combat. A bearded axe is often designed for a more workmanlike function.

The long handle of the Dane axe also makes the extended heel less valuable. The bearded axe handle length means that your top handle will be on the axe’s throat and protected by the beard. The Dane axe is more likely to be used with your top handle towards the belly of the axe handle.

Key DifferencesDane AxeBearded Axe
ShapeSwept Forward with Extended Toe and HeelExtended Heel
Best Suited ForPurely Combat WeaponCombat Weapon and Delicate Carving Tasks
Handle Length36 to 48 inches24 to 28 inches
Total Weight2.5 to 5.0 lb2.5 to 3.0 lb
Table comparing the differences between a Dane Axe and a Bearded Axe

Conclusion

Dane axes are a fascinating innovation that gave the Viking warriors a significant edge in combat. The design features made the axe lightweight and maneuverable, although not very versatile for domestic tasks. They are not readily available by modern axe manufacturers. Still, you can get your hands on them from medieval blacksmith enthusiasts, or it might even be an interesting DIY project to complete yourself.


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Michael Culligan

I am a lumber worker who performs logging services for the forestry industry. I have spent years honing my skills and experience to become a well-rounded axeman. I'm exited to share my knowledge of axes and lumber tools with everyone to help.