Axes We Love

by ziggy on February 11, 2014 -- 6 comments -- Follow

John Neeman Tools Goosewing Broad Axe

The very artful John Neeman Goosewing Broad Axe

I spend perhaps an inordinate amount of time looking at images of axes. There’s just something about them. I think that axes will never go out of fashion, nor will they cease to be useful in their multitude of functions. Over the hundreds of thousands of years they have been in use by humankind, any number of styles, shapes, and sizes have been made to perform a variety of splitting, chopping, and shaping work. It’s the sheer variety, and the craftsmanship that I am most attracted to, I think. Of course I love using them, too, probably more than any other hand tool.

To celebrate the axe and the people who continue to make them, here is a selection of 26 modern day (steel) axes made by a variety of craftspeople that are beautiful, functional, and swoon-worthy.

John Neeman Tools

John Neeman Tools put out some stellar quality hand tools, as many people have seen through their extremely high quality photo and video presence online. Their axes are definitely a standout. The small team of craftsmen are based in Latvia, where they do everything from forge the steel, handle the tools, create the sheaths, and promote the final products through stunning videos and a popular facebook presence. It’s just about the best combination of old and new — creating extraordinarily well-designed and timeless tools with traditional skills, and promoting the stuff through very modern means.

John Neeman Bearded Broad Axe

John Neeman Bearded Broad Axe sitting atop a hewn log

The bearded broad axe, pictured above, is my first love. I happily stumbled upon their broad axe design before their website was created, and managed to acquire one before the demand storm struck. It’s a stunning tool, and even professional hewers agree! I hope to have more much time with this tool over the years.

Robin Wood Edition Carving Axe

The Robin Wood edition Carving Axe with gorgeous shaping and haft

This is John Neeman Tools’ take on the carving axe pattern, with an exceptionally clean blade design. Just look at those lovely curved lines. The s-curve handle looks equally well-done. I could never justify getting another carving axe myself (yet?), but this one would be a top pick. Read more about this one from Robin Wood himself.

Svante Djarv

Svante Djarv is a very small family-run operation based in Sweden, where they make no more than 4000 tools each year. Among the tools they forge are some rather unique axe patterns, which command a rather high price tag. Given the tiny nature of the business, and the apparent quality of the work, I imagine the investment is well worth it, but I have not had the pleasure of using their tools. One day, perhaps. I often joke that if I ever have a child, I would first hand them a froe and club, and soon after that, one of Djarv’s “baby axes”.

Svante Djarv Carving Axes

The full range of carving axes from Djarv — note the textured handles

Pictured above is the Djarv line of carving axes, ranging from a 1.3 kg weight model with a 14 cm edge length, to 0.8 kg and 10 cm, and finally the “baby axe” with a weight of 0.4 kg, and a 7 cm edge.

Svante Djarv Timber Axe

The particularly mean-looking Timber Axe

This beast is their Timber Axe, a single beveled model for hewing work. It’s unlike most other broad axes I’ve seen, which raises questions in my mind about what particular hewing purpose this axe may be best suited for.

Svante Djarv Viking Axes

The Viking Axes, senior and junior

Of all the Djarv axes, the Viking axe models are the ones I most covet. The pattern is based on an original axe dated from the middle ages, found in a field on the Swedish island of Gotland. These look like they are absolutely ready to do some carving.

Nic Westermann

Nic Westermann, based in the UK, has been forging steel for 16 years, and up until fairly recently was doing more decorative work than tool production. However, based on how well his tools have been received, he  has transitioned to making tools the focus of his work. One look at his axes will give you an idea of the skill Nic employs.

Nic Westermann Carving Axes

Various carving axes forged by Nic Westermann

Here’s a nice selection of Nic’s carving axes of varying shapes and sizes, all the way from big-bearded (bottom) to more compact models (top). These are simply beautiful tools, and the handles are particularly well-carved themselves.

Nic Westermann Carving Axe

Beautiful carving axe with excellent hand-carved handle design

In a word, nice.

Hans Karlsson

Hans Karlsson makes some of the finest woodworking tools around, including adzes, gouges, and knives, although his line of tools includes but a single axe model, the sloyd axe. It’s yet another carving axe, good for hewing and carving spoons and bowls. You can watch this axe dance (briefly) in a video with Peter Follansbee. Karlsson is based in Sweden and runs a family-sized forge.

Hans Karlsson Sloyd Axe

Hans Karlsson Sloyd Axe for shaping and carving

Gransfors Bruks

Gransfors Bruks is one of the bigger names when it comes to modern axe manufacturers. They are easily the biggest outfit of any mentioned here, though still a tiny company by comparison to most. Perhaps their biggest claim to fame is having switched from an industrial mass production model back to hand production, thereby increasing the quality of their wares. Their trademark is the stamp that adorns each axe head that leaves the company: the initials of the blacksmith who made each tool.

Gransfors Bruks Axes

The Hunters Axe and Small Forest Axe, similar but different

Above are two similarly sized axes, the Hunters Axe (left) and Small Forest Axe (right). The Small Forest Axe is one of their more popular models, especially among the bushcraft types. The Hunters Axe is more of a specialty axe with rounded poll, designed to beat the hide off of an animal without damaging it. Of course, it’s still a very versatile tool despite that. I’ve got one and love it dearly, and it finds it’s way into my building projects all the time.

Gransfors Bruks Carving Axe

The popular Swedish Carving Axe from Gransfors

You can probably tell by now that I have a thing for carving axes. Well, here is yet another. The Swedish Carving Axe from Gransfors was originally designed by famed wood carver Wille Sundqvist, and is one of the top picks out there for spoon and bowl carving. It’s heavy enough to do some serious and effective hewing and shaping, but once you choke up on the handle, it becomes a much more precise and delicate tool. It’s a keeper.

Gransfors Ancient Historical Axes

Some of the models in Gransfors’ exotic historical axes collection

Lesser known among the Grandsfors axes is their line of so-called “Ancient Axes”, reproductions based on historical patterns. Just look at that wild Danish Broad Axe on the far left. These are very neat, and very pricey indeed.

Wetterlings

The other thing about these axes I’m choosing to show? I’m realizing that many originate from Sweden. Perhaps for good reason. Maybe I’m biased, but there are apparently quality axes just oozing from the borders out there. Wetterlings is commonly compared to Gransfors — their line is similar, but less expensive.

The Bushman Axe is a newer model, co-designed by Survivorman Les Stroud. It’s specifically for the bushcraft community, and features a hammer neck. It’s that kind of all-around tree-felling, chopping, and splitting axe that you’d want if you only had a single axe with you deep in the woods.

Wetterlings Les Stroud Axe

The Bushman Axe, designed by Les Stroud

Autine

Autine is blacksmith John Neeman’s new label. Not to be confused with… John Neeman Tools. Confused? You should be. If you’re interested, here’s the story about John’s split from Neeman Tools to form his own forge. Under the label Autine, John Neeman produces much of the same line of tools from the original company, but with a few new items of his own design. The axes take center stage, including these two gems below.

Autine Butchers Axe

Autine Butchers Axe, with an incredible polish job… easy to clean off the blood, I’m sure

The polished Butchers Axe is a marvel of a mirror finish. Intended for butchering and dividing up meat, the axe has an exceptionally clean finish that suggests the tool should be very easy to clean and keep in good shape once the dirty job is over. It’s striking.

Autine Finnish Splitting Axe

The unique Finnish Splitting Axe, ready to work

The Finnish Splitting Axe has a mirror-finish blade, nice handle protection under the head, and a very odd handle. I can’t actually speak to the benefit of the sudden crook in the handle end, but I often wonder how it works in use. Does it help or hinder the ol’ wrists? Either way, it’s a fine looker.

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Well, there you have it — 26 axes that are beautiful and functional, and made with great care by a variety of craftspeople. Best of all is that you can feel good supporting any of these companies and individuals, as they are very small outfits dedicated to preserving the skills that support high quality tool production.

Additional images from the following:

http://expressionsinthegrain.blogspot.com/

http://www.spooncarvingfirststeps.com/

http://www.blogcht.com/blog/

http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com/2011/05/gransfors-bruks-hunters-axe-review.html

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Mark Angelini February 11, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Great list.

I would add Dan Roesinger’s axes to list: http://www.stark-raven-studios.com He produces beautifully functional carving hatchets and other axes up in very northern Wisconsin. I am a happy owner of his Scandi carving hatchet—I use it as my main tool (you can actually see me use it in the video on his site). I used the GB carver for a year or so before moving on to Dan’s. I love that axe as well. I’ve also got one of Nic’s bearded axes on order. Can’t wait to give that a whirl. Also hearing very good things about the HK axe. Thank goodness tools are such a good investment :)

Mark Angelini February 11, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Oh, and the infamous Ronnqvist viking axe. Lots of talk about that one as well.

Janne February 16, 2014 at 10:53 am

Gotta love these too, I have owned and used one for ten years, and it has served me well:
http://www.roselli.fi/tuotteet/kirveet-ja-mut-tyokalut/

Patrick Lepage March 4, 2014 at 6:22 am
aaron September 5, 2014 at 9:42 am

A good list.

I have a gransfors felling axe, a svante little viking and I have the neeman tools finnish splitting axe, bearded broad axe and robin wood. The gransfors is great, although I had to send it back as the tip of the blade chipped off! Never seen that before and did not expect it from those guys. The svante axe is magic! Very nice to use and handles nicely, although it doesn’t come with a leather sheath but I will be getting a couple more items from them for sure! But the neeman tools are king in my opinion. They are just that good. I have also the drawkives, froe, chisels and a few more on order. I don’t mind investing this kind of money into hand tools this good. The neeman tools are simply the finest out there, if you have the money and use them a lot, I would get in line and grab at least one or two of their beautiful tools.

There is a guy in England along with westerman, Nick Johnson, also making beautiful hand forged tools
http://www.knivesbynick.co.uk/tools.htm

The raven axes look very interesting too. Also a heads up to other hand forged tools, check out buffalo forge tools, dictum tools in Germany, they stock there own and also some austrian style ones as well as the usuals like gransfors and wetterlings.

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