I am a man who owns too many axes, it must be around 100 or so including a dozen by Gransfors Bruks, many antique English ones from the heyday or the British tool industry and perhaps some of my favourites a dozen or so antique hand forged laminated Japanese axes. I use axes every day to carve wood, I have carved in many countries on three continents and taught a great many people to carve. I was taught to use an axe 25 years ago when apprenticed to a forester who learnt his trade before chainsaws. I have used carving axes made by Gransfors Bruks, Svante Djarve, Hans Karlsson, Steffan Ronquist, Nic Westerman and cut and ground my own designs from axes that were not what I wanted so I have plenty to compare to and a good idea of what makes a good carving axe.
Last summer I discovered the website for John Neeman tools and for a while chatted with Jacob the carpenter who does much of the design work and fits the handles and leatherwork, eventually we worked out a design for a new carving axe that would have all the qualities I was looking for. By this time though they had a wonderful youtube video showing how their tools were made, it went viral and they were swamped with orders.
Well that just made me want my axe even more. Eventually the guys got on top of their backlog and I was told my axe was in the forge. By now I was so keen there was no way this tool was ever going to live up to expectations, and then it arrived, and surpassed all my wildest hopes. Just look at it.
Looking gorgeous is no good if it doesn’t work so I took it straight to the workshop to see what it could do. The bevel was not quite as flat as I like so I changed it a little, once that was done it worked like a dream. It is lighter than many carving axes but has the same length cutting edge as the heavier Gransfors. It has the pointy tip that I love from the Gransfors but the long beard I love from the Japanese axes. When you own a hundred axes any new one has to be pretty good to get a look in, already this one has become my favourite, I use it for everything.
Now the sad news.
Today I am distraught, yesterday someone passing my workshop opened the door and stole my axe. I never lock the workshop in fact I leave the top half of the doors open and people walking the footpath enjoy looking in. In 17 years I have never lost anything. The first 2 weeks I brought the axe home every evening a little like Gollum I didn’t really want to be parted from it but yesterday when I came home for lunch I left it in the workshop, when I went back it had been taken.
I am very saddened, it has always been a nice reinforcement of my belief that people are mostly good that 100,000 people walk past my workshop each year without taking anything. I guess that makes 1,700,000 good folk before the one bad one. Now I don’t know what to do, do I start locking the workshop? do I just not leave shiny new looking tools there that could tempt people? They left my antique Romanian adze which would have been irreplaceable and my ipod though that is ancient and probably of no value.
I am sure the person who took the axe can have absolutely no understanding of how much that tool meant to me. To have thought about it for over a year, to have had it forged for me by such a great team of craftspeople, to have used it every day for such a brief period. Yesterday afternoon I was so upset I could not work, I turned a couple of bowls but I just felt terrible. There are different ways of learning not to steal, you can just not do it because your folks told you not to do it and that works. Or you can try it out and find that actually that thing you stole always has a hollow feeling. If I had taken that axe I might google “John Neeman axe Robin Wood edition” and I might get to this blog post. When I learned about not stealing I also learned the benefit of forgiving and moving on. So my light fingered friend if you are reading this, believe me I can totally understand why you coveted that axe but it ain’t yours and never will be. If you return it to me I will forgive you and I will give you a free place on one of my carving courses and teach you how to use an axe better than anyone you know. Have a look here for courses