I bought a $100 axe head this past week. I’m guessing that sounds expensive to you, because it did to me at first. It’s an unused, 3.25 lb Emerson & Stevens, made in Oakland, Maine in 1942. The thing about axes is that they’re not making them like they used to. Before the days of the chain saw, when men were using axes every day as part of their work in the woods, the quality of the steel in axes was outstanding. These days, except for the Gransfors axes coming from Sweden, the steel isn’t of the high quality you’d expect from a first-class tool. I’ve got a few old axes – not enough to make me a collector, but definitely enough to make me an enthusiast. I got one from Don Merchant a few years ago that’s another beauty from Oakland – A John King, likely made in the mid-1940’s as well. I’ve also got a few old Snow and Neally’s from when they were still stamping their name into the steel. My three year old son will someday need a good axe, so maybe I’ll give one of these when he’s 30. Or 45. Yeah, 45 sounds more like it.
I’m always on the lookout for old axe heads. Other than this one, I’ve only spent more than $25 on one other – the rest were all less than $25, with many being less than $10. Compared to the price of a new Gransfors axe they don’t seem that expensive. Even the $100 head i just bought was a bargain when looked at like from this perspective. They’re shipping the new Gransfors American Felling Axe for about $150. I haven’t seen one, but if you’ve used one let me know what you think of it. Eventually I’ll probably pick one of these up, too.
I firmly believe that it’s the user, not the tool, that does the work. But a good tool in the hands of someone who knows how to use it can be thing of beauty. And since I see the axe as the most useful tool a person can know how to use, learning to use one should be high on your list of things to do if you’re planning on a life outdoors. I use one just about every day.
I’m planning on running a standalone axemanship course this year. It will probably be one day, with the option of sticking around for a few more to carve a handle. If you’re interested in something like this let me know.