News – Brant & Cochran

News

Axes? Why Axes?

Axes? Why Axes?

A December, 2019 article in the New York Times, Our Lives In the Time of Extremely Fancy Axes, by Alexandra Marvar asks some of the questions that we get all the time:  “Why are you guys making axes?”  “Who buys them?”  “What do they do with them?” and “Are you guys nuts?”  Here is our take on those questions.

Why axes?  What draws us to them? 

Stories.  An axe is a communal tool.  In most instances when you are using an axe you are chopping wood to make a fire --- in your fireplace at home, at a campsite, at a cabin.  So when you grab that axe you are transported to a good memory.  For me those memories include chopping wood to put in our woodstove when the power was out on a winter's day to make grilled cheese sandwiches for my kids or bringing wood back to our family campsite on one of our many trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota.  Axes tell stories.  I am sure you have one too.

The axe also connects us to our past.  In his book on American Axes, Henry J. Kauffman writes, “It is probable that no other tool has ever played so important a role in the development of nations as the axe has in North America.”  Using an axe whether in your backyard or in the wilderness connects us to all those axe users that came before us.  Those who used it to make a shelter, build a cook fire, and truly fuel the growth of America.

[Photo courtesy of Patten Lumberman's Museum]

But why is there more interest in axes now?  In a plugged in, always on, virtually connected world people are increasingly looking for something real.  Authentic.  Personal.  The outdoor economy (gear, travel, experiences) is growing at a rate faster than the economy as a whole.  The maker movement in which consumers want to know who is making their goods, where their money is going, and how their goods are made is on the rise.  Finally, we are seeing the sunset of the throw away economy.  Consumers are demanding that their products be made to last.  They will spend more money to buy one quality tool instead of junk at a big box store that they expect will break and need to be repurchased. The axes we hand make in our South Portland shop are part of all these trendlines.

Our customers are buying our axes for all these reasons.  They are arborists, foresters and surveyors using them in the field as a tool for work.  They are outdoor enthusiasts taking them camping, canoeing and hiking.  They are owners of camps and cabins using them to feed campfires and fill woodstoves.  They are homeowners who chop wood to put in their firepits and fireplaces.  They are people who appreciate a craft-made, heirloom quality tool.

So we may have been (are?) nuts to have started an axe company.  But it has been a joy to watch our skilled blacksmiths hammer out our Allagash Cruiser and Dirigo Belt Axe, to listen to our customers stories about why they are buying and using our axes, and to join in the great tradition of axe making in Maine.

 

 

 

T.R.'s Axe:  The Story of John King and the

T.R.'s Axe: The Story of John King and the "President's Axe"

At our last open shop event our friend Howard Hardy traveled down from Oakland with one of his more unique Maine antiques:  a “President’s Axe.”  

In August, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt was making a campaign trip to New England. One of the stops on the tour was to be Waterville, Maine.  Nearby Oakland (once known as West Waterville) was home to many axe makers:  Emerson & Stevens, Dunn Edge Tool and John King’s company among them.    Knowing that the President was an avid hunter, John King decided to make a special axe for him. 

The “axe” King made had a two-pound head hafted on a hollow oak handle into which was screwed a 14” long hunting knife with a black walnut handle. The head also had a claw for pulling nails.  Quite the multi-purpose tool!

[photo of a President’s Axe auctioned by Martin J. Donnelly on July 21, 2018 for $748]

When the President’s train pulled into Waterville, John King’s axe was presented to him by William T. Haines.  According to an account in the Pittsburgh Press on September 30, 1902:

“The President made a few remarks in acceptance, smiled as though he was much pleased with the gift, and waved his little axe triumphantly at the crowd as the train pulled out.  Since then John King has received a letter conveying the thanks of the President, and of this he is very proud.”

 

[Picture Source: http://maineanencyclopedia.com/roosevelts-in-maine/]

So enamored of this unique “axe,” T.R. had his secretary send a note to John King asking that another one to be sent to his son Kermit who was attending school at Groton. 

King Axe then began producing “The President’s Hunting Axe.”  Some of these were marked “KING” on the knife blade.  A paper label calling it a “Sportsman’s Axe” was put on some others.  It is unknown how many of these were made by King Axe, but they occasionally come up for auction. 

A unique piece of Maine history – the President’s axe (maybe to be re-created by Brant & Cochran?).

Sources: Tom Lamond, “The President’s Hunting Axe w/Knife in Handle,” Fine Tool Journal; “John King, Oakland, ME Who Made the Hunter’s Axe, Presented to President Roosevelt,” Lewiston Journal Illustrated, August 30, 1902, "Hunting Axe for President," Pittsburgh Press, September 30, 1902.  All collected in Art Gaffar’s Axe and Edge Tool Makers of Maine (August, 2018 ed.)

Focus On Friends -- The Patten Lumbermen's Museum

Focus On Friends -- The Patten Lumbermen's Museum

If you follow our comings and goings at Brant & Cochran, you may have seen pictures of us up at the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum every May and August.  We love being invited to participate in two of the museum’s signature events:  The Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival the third week of May and the Bean Hole Dinner the second Saturday in August.

Opened in 1963, the museum transports visitors back to the glory days of the lumber industry in Maine. 

There are nine buildings on the museum campus to explore.  The reception center contains a library showing films (including our favorite From Stump to Ship made in the 1930’s) and numerous pictures of logging and life in Maine lumber camps.  The museum also maintains a very large on-line photo gallery.  

Once you walk out of the reception center you can visit a working blacksmith shop, the Mt. Chase fire tower equipment shed, and a single 1820’s camp (shown below) and double camp complete with “dingle” (look it up!).  These two structures provide a real “insider” view of what life was like for loggers in a remote, cold winter camp.

There is also an impressive (to us of course) collection of axes and other vintage logging tools on display.

It was from one of these walls that we borrowed an axe to make the pattern for our new Allagash Cruiser Maine wedge camp axe.

New to the museum is an enclosure to display the museum’s steam powered Lombard log hauler – one of only 83 manufactured in Waterville between 1901 and 1917.  These machines were the first tracked vehicles ever commercially produced and are precursors to today's bulldozers and tanks.

Just last month the museum added the Kennebec to its collection.  The Kennebec is a tug boat built in 1956 and used to tow logs from lakes in Western Maine to coastal mills until her final log drive in 1976.

After visiting the museum, check out the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.  The park’s north entrance is just down the road from the museum. 

Your favorite axe makers will be on hand for the museum’s bean hole dinner on August 11.  For information on the dinner and the museum visit its website

We hope that you get the opportunity to visit the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum.  Of course, you can also support the mission of the museum by joining us as members here.  

See you in Patten!