Forging the Future: Canadian blacksmiths preserve traditional techniques


A Biscayne Trade Axe made by Les Forges in Montreal

The tech blog Wired has been re-releasing their archives, and this one crossed my trawl. There is a group of blacksmiths in Montreal that are trying to preserve and pass on the traditional metalworking techniques of those who provided tools to the legendary voyageurs .

From WiredUK:

Les Forges de Montréal aims to address the dwindling number of masters of metalcraft. “Our mandate is to preserve and share traditional blacksmithing techniques,” explains Mathieu Collette, founder of Les Forges. “[We] conduct research and host demonstrations, inviting masters to share what they know.”

Collette’s main area of research is in recreating edge tools. “I’m researching the Canadian Biscayne trade axe,” he says. “It was exchanged with the natives for fur, which was taken to France. Unfortunately, the Industrial Revolution killed the blacksmith, so now I have to rediscover how those axes would have been made.”

The ultimate aim is to build an online archive of blacksmithing knowledge, accessible to all, and built from crowdsourced information and metalwork “recipes” passed from master to apprentice. Time is not on the project’s side, though. “We’re going to lose blacksmithing if we don’t link together,” Collette warns. “There are no [new] masters, so if this is not done in the next ten to 15 years, it’s going to be too late to collect the knowledge from the old masters. The desire is to assemble the expertise gathered so far into a framework for an encyclopaedia of blacksmithing, a resource that blacksmiths everywhere could consult and contribute to.”

Digging deeper, I went to the LesForges site to find out more about the axes.

From LesForgesdeMontreal:

“The choice of the Biscayne axe is significant on a couple of levels. First, until very recently, the axe would have been considered one of the most important tool in anyone’s possession. Prior to the industrial revolution, these tools were fabricated in the smithy. Second, as a matter of cultural heritage of Quebec and for that matter the Americas, the Biscayne axe was critical in the early development of the new world. It accompanied the early settlers from France and quickly became an important item of trade with the native Americans.”

The site has some really cool pictures and much more information for those who want to dive into the weeds. I have been trawling several blacksmithing sites and have been coming across some great stuff.  I hope you do as well.

The video below shows Mathieu Collette forging one of these historical axes.



Forging of a Biscayne Trade Axe from Dan Nyborg on Vimeo.


  1. Spencer says:

    Kudos to these smiths for bringing back to life an important skill and tool.

  2. Ken Hamilton says:

    Bonjour all,
    Any thoughts about the NORMAL Biscaynes being all “iron” and then CARBONIZED afterwards, as opposed to welding a steel bit into the edge?

    While admittedly there seem to be many that have (apparently ?) steel bits added, this could have been done later, as a French Canadian blacksmith repair, after a hard usage in N. America? The 200 year use here in N. America shows a wide variety of sizes, marks, and subtle differences in the cut at the “choil” (some are crude cuts, some are straight, some are “V” shaped, some are round, and some have three facets.
    Further, we all have to differentiate the difference between the LARGE 16th cent. Basque
    versions and those ones of diminished sizes during the 17th cent. post ca. 1600 during the “Norman” era, whereby the SMALLEST of the Basque ones (single poincon mark) is as large as the “large” 17th cent. versions (with Three poincon marks).

    Just thinking out loud here.

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Forging the Future: Canadian blacksmiths preserve traditional techniques

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