I’ll admit, I spend perhaps an inordinate amount of time looking at images of axes. There’s just something about them. I think it’s their timeless functionality and often downright fashionable nature. 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, carving, 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 hand forged 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.
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.
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 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”.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
In a word, nice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: