As 2017 dawned, we found ourselves moving into a 1200 square foot shop on the banks of the Fore River in South Portland. For you history buffs, our shop location was once home to the New England Shipbuilding Corporation complex which made Liberty class cargo ships for the war effort between 1941-1945.
Our shop would be about where buildings 2 and 3 are on this photo. You can see the west shipyard in the upper left of the picture across from which is downtown Portland.
After being crammed into our 8’ x 8’ space at the Open Bench Project our new space seemed luxurious. We immediately got to cleaning, painting and framing in an office.
Once we got the shop organized, we needed to fill it with axe making equipment. A hydraulic press, forges, power hammer and other shop upgrades were all on our shopping list. Since our financial reach exceeded our grasp, we turned to crowd funding. With the help of two talented film makers, Chris Battaglia and Adam Shapiro, we made a pitch video and launched an Indiegogo campaign.
With the help of more than 200 backers we quickly exceeded our fund raising goal allowing us to start ordering equipment and get to work.
The first piece of serious equipment that we ordered was a 25 ton hydraulic press from Coal Ironworks of Indiana. The press arrived on a hot August day, was wheeled into position, and put immediately to work.
The most unique piece of equipment we bought in 2017 was a hundred year old Ober duplicating lathe to make axe handles. My high school friend Mike Lesich and I drove to a small farm in Wisconsin in November, picked it up and then drove almost 24 hours straight through to bring it to South Portland. Thanks Mike for the use of your trailer and making this crazy trip with me!
Spoiler Alert! Mike and I would drive back to Wisconsin in 2018 to buy a second Ober lathe. Can't get enough of a good thing!
We thought bringing axe making back to Maine was pretty cool and apparently so did some in the media. Maine The Way, a quarterly magazine devoted to all things Maine, picked us as one of the stories for its inaugural issue. We got to work with renowned photographer Greta Rybus who shot pictures of us out “working” in the woods and in our shop.
We also got to preen for the television cameras when Steve Minich of Portland's WMTW did a story from our shop in October. You can watch this golden oldie here.
By the end of 2017 we had laid the groundwork for forging our Allagash Cruiser axe. We had the equipment, we had settled on a pattern (a Maine wedge pattern boy's axe borrowed from the wall of the Patten Lumbermen's Museum), had begun to build dies for the hydraulic press, and found a source of Maine ash handles for the axe.
2018 would be our year bring the Allagash Cruiser to market. It was time to put up or shut up. Cue sweaty palms and sleepless nights . . .