This paper presents the results of a metallographic examination of Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age axes from the Northalpine region of central Europe. During this period, different types of copper were in use: arsenical copper, Fahlerz copper and tin bronze. We examine if and to what extent the different properties of the metals used were known to prehistoric metalworkers and actively manipulated in the production of the axes. The development of methods of casting and smithing is discussed. Both aspects contribute to our understanding of the nature of prehistoric technological change. During the Early Bronze Age of the Northalpine region, different traditions of early metallurgy can be identified, which differ in their use of Fahlerz copper, their attitude towards tin alloying and the use made of tin bronze in the production of the axes. These traditions can only be adequately described by reference to both composition—that is, access to different types of copper as well as tin—and knowledge of the production techniques provided by metallographic data.