John Neeman carving axe Robin Wood edition

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.

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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¬†

37 Responses to John Neeman carving axe Robin Wood edition

  1. J Privott, Maker. October 10, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

    It’s disappointing to hear of the lost tool, but more so about the loss of your sense of security. We can hold out for the best – that someone will recognize their transgression and take the hardest step – to overcome shame and acknowledge the wrong. Many things could be said of who took it, but it would do little good. I hope you see your hatchet again and get back into the ‘swing’ of things until then.

    • Robin Wood October 10, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

      Thanks Joseph, that’s how I feel. I won’t hold on to grief and anger I have learnt that is more damaging than letting them go, who knows what the future holds. Next week will be good.

    • Robin Wood October 10, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

      I should maybe point out that this is a once only offer, I don’t want to encourage a rash of axe thefts from folk who can’t afford courses. :0)

  2. Richard Kennedy October 10, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    Robin so sorry to hear about your misfortune I hope that the person responsible is fortunate enough to read this and take you up on your offer for it is an opportunity not to snub! The chance to learn from a mastercraftsman such as yourself is something not to ignore. On a light hearted note given your suggestion I wish I was in possession of the axe so I could take you up on your generous offer. It is a shame that given the 17 years of no incident this had to happen however I hope it is an isolated occurrence and that you can move on from it soon. Wishing you well.

  3. Brian douglas October 10, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    Robin , I know how you feel i saved and saved my money for a long time over the last year to buy some nice tools to carve spoons, and i went to a local craft show i was carving away and the owner of the show told me to come and eat dinner, so i put my prize possessions in a little box my Grandfather made 50 plus years ago. When i came back Tools and box all was gone !!! First i was so mad! , And then it was like i lost a loved one. The tools can be replaced with in time. I will just have to save more money, But my little box was the only thing i had from my Grandfather. It makes me cry to this day! God Bless and maybe we shouldn’t be so trusting, BUT I HATE TO BE SOUR ON LIFE!! But they will have to answer not us -Brian Douglas

  4. Tim Connolly October 10, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    There is nothing lower than someone who would steal the tools that a man uses to feed his family.

  5. Bryan October 10, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

    I found your blog and website because of your axe, and was very happy for it. It is a wonderful look into charmed craftsmanship, and it really fits that you mention you learned forgiveness when you learned not to steal. That said, I’m impressed you were able to turn anything formal. Abstract and expressionistic would be all I could manage… I hope your axe finds it’s way home.

  6. Andy Collier October 11, 2013 at 12:37 am #

    So saddening to hear that the product of a partnership between my two favourite craftspeople has been so callously taken from you!

    But heartwarming to read your offer for forgiveness!

  7. Marshall Gorrow October 11, 2013 at 1:01 am #

    Robin, I am very sorry to hear that your treasure carving axe was stolen. I hope that is returned to you so that you can hold it in you hands once again.

  8. Ian Nairn October 11, 2013 at 5:34 am #

    Bloody hell! You are one very gracious man. As said I wish I was in possession of said axe so I could take you up on that offer, but then I would not want to be that type of scum. The axe looks beautiful and I really do hope you get it back, lets face it, it may be worth speaking to your local A&E because as we axe users know all axes have a sole and a spirit. A stolen axe will not be happy and it will harm the user as soon as it can. Lets hope karma come into play and you receive what you deserve as does the thief.

  9. Lee Roe October 11, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Hello Robin,
    I was linked to this blog by a member of a forum/group I run called Countryside Adventures and I was upset that someone had been robbed of a prized piece. Then when I actually read this blog and saw the sheer gorgeousness of the axe in question I was so angry and frustrated at the same time because I couldn’t do much to help, however I hope many more people come from the link on our site and see the axe and read this terrible story and maybe just maybe they will see sense and return the axe to you. I am humbled by your offer of forgiveness toward the person who stole it and the way you have put across your reasons for redemption and forgiveness are a credit to you and I sincerely hope you get it back soon. I have now pinned the thread so that it stays at the top of the page on our forum in the hope that the more people see it the more chance we have of getting it returned to you. Best of luck.

  10. Christo October 12, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Grieve for what has been lost, look forward to what will come. Hope that the hands that have taken from you will bring it back. Blessings

  11. Andy Ryalls October 12, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Hi Robin

    Why do I have this feeling your axe will come back one day. I will send out my search party and leave no stone unturned.
    I feel your pain and draw strength from your forgiveness to this person.

    Best regards

  12. Olvin Smith October 13, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Really sorry to read this, I know how I would feel if my favorite axe or tool was stolen, but like you would really want it back.
    Hope it gets found, I know there are now a lot of people looking for it.

  13. Higgs Murphy October 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    Robin, I have had a whole shop of tools stolen overnight, tools that i started buying as a teenager, some that could never be replaced. It’s like learning you have cancer; first denial, then anger, sadness and acceptance. I am very attached to my tools, but in the end they are only things, means to an end and one learns to let go. And in the letting go there is peace. The result of this unfortunate incident is that you grew and made a very generous offer, John Neeman Tools felt your loss and made you a new axe and your community is stronger for it. Carry on sharing your skill.

    • Robin Wood October 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

      That is exactly the process I went through. I particularly remember the denial phase. I went in and out several times, turned things upside down ran through lots of scenarios to see if I could have taken it into my van or another part of the workshop. It took about 25 minutes to mentally to stop denying what had happened. Anger and sadness were all mixed up together and acceptance took most of 24 hours, had I written the blog post the night of my loss it would have been different. I had a second axe on order with John Neeman already, there were a few tweaks I wanted and they have generously bumped that one up the queue and are making it this week.

    • EJ October 14, 2013 at 7:22 am #

      ^ That’s it right there ^
      Biggest thing for me in these type of situations is that terrible feeling of mistrust of people in general, that stays until I can shake it off.

      • Robin Wood October 14, 2013 at 7:46 am #

        Yes EJ the fear of crime is often worse than the reality and trust takes time to rebuild. I just remember those 1,700,000 people that have walked past the workshop door. I won’t be starting to lock the door and I won’t be expecting another theft.

  14. Tom Wylie October 14, 2013 at 11:10 am #


    Don’t let the evil in life drag you down; that said, given that it only takes one bad apple to ruin a barrel, you may want to lock up before they visit again. Those that have passed before will not notice, those that are passing a fresh will not know; only the thief will be be aware. It isn’t how much are the tools worth, it’s how much they are worth to you. Secure your future. T

  15. Garth October 14, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    It only takes one idiot to spoil years of traditional trust and honor. Too bad because the thief has no idea what the value of that axe truly was to its owner, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken it.

    If the thief is ever found, I say his repayment to society would be to make at least 20 comparable axe’s AFTER he mastered the talent to achieve a reasonable look alike. Truly, by that time, the thief will have been rehabilitated to the point he would never take another persons tools now knowing the sweat and efforts going into one resulting in total value.

  16. Jamie October 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    Hi Robin
    I think your course of action is probably the best you could do in the circumstances. Glad to hear a response to theft which doesn’t involve tarring and feathering. Hope you get what looks like a lovely axe back. Don’t know what I’d do if someone ran off with my Granfors. All the best.

  17. ToneWood October 18, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

    Oh Robin, how awful :(. If it shows up, it’ll be easy to spot – especially as your name is engraved deep into the handle! Is it a one-off or will this become part of the John Neeman product line?

    Although you more than anyone will appreciate the handcrafted nature of this tool, it is just a tool at the end of the day. Worth keeping some perspective: nobody was hurt, you have your health – everything else is small stuff compared to that.

    If it shows up on ebay I’ll let you know. Keep a check on gumtree – a friend’s stolen bike showed up there. Might be worth posting a reward notice somewhere.

    Security camera?

  18. Son Dao October 19, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    So sorry to hear of the theft. That is sad after all the years of security you have enjoyed.

  19. JustCurious November 6, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    Do you recieve a commission everytime someone purchases an axe with your name on it?

    Or is money, beneath you, allowing you to concentrate on meeting interesting people…? ^^

    • Robin Wood November 6, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

      Well just curious money is certainly not below me, I need to live, pay the mortgage and feed the kids same as anyone else but I don’t receive any commission. Handwork takes time and it is best if the craftsman can sell direct to the end user without any mark up or commission otherwise things get expensive. I am paying for both the axes same price as anyone else, the first one and the replacement they are making for me, thankfully Jacob likes my work too so I am paying in bowls rather than cash.

  20. Ian February 11, 2014 at 9:58 pm #

    That is a thing of beauty! I was surprised by the edge though – I had expected a flat grind, is that one of the tweaks in your second one? I was just dribbling at the screen a minute ago on the John Neeman website and I think I can understand how you must have felt on first finding it. When you say you use it for everything, is there anything it isn’t good at? Anyway I’ll have to get one one day. I hope the first one turns up!

    • Robin Wood February 11, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

      Yes it was specked with flat grind but lost in translation. The second one came with a much flatter grind I don’t mind tiny convex, the Japanese tend to have a little convex but the original pictured here was way too convex. I ground it flat and it worked a treat whilst I had it.

      • Ian February 12, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

        I just found a Gransfors axe I haven’t seen before which looks similar, though an actual viking design rather than an original design – I rather like it but it commands the same high price of the one above:

        I think your Neeman looks better balanced – perhaps you have compared them?

        • Robin Wood February 13, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

          The GB Viking is a sweet tool but really very tiny and light in the flesh.

  21. Dana Roo February 23, 2014 at 7:23 pm #


    This moves me to the core. I was drawn here while simply looking at the incredible work of John Neeman. I saw an image of your axe and had to see more. I then read your piece above. It filled me with excitement. I relate wholeheartedly to the feel of a good tool in hand, and also the wait/anticipation for a special tool. Moved to near tears with the theft. I have some “Gollum” in me as well. But finally filled with hope at your response toward the person who felt they had to take it.
    All in all, you are on solid ground brother! I could only hope that somewhere in this person’s journey they walk back through the door you’ve left open to them and join you on solid footing.
    All the best!

  22. Jim October 13, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    Hi Robin

    I learn a littler more about woodworking and a lot more about a great approach to life.

    Thank you for sharing

    Kind regards

  23. Rick Bowles December 2, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    I am reading this well after the fact. So sorry for your loss, I hope you have left the trauma of the violation behind you by now. I read “The second one came with a much flatter grind . . .”, and I trust you have a replacement now. This doesn’t change the past, but, a replacement will certainly help you move on. Good luck!

  24. Nathan March 1, 2015 at 6:01 am #

    I’m so sorry you lost your axe. You’ve inspired me to find one of my own. You kept a very positive mood in your post, and i imagine that must have been very difficult. thank you!!!

  25. Andy Ratcliffe March 14, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    I’m looking very hard at the “Robin Wood, carving Axe” by John Neeman.
    Do you know if the “current edition” features your revised “Tweak” with regard to the grind?
    It is without doubt the most beautiful axe. I suspect even with the 6 month waiting list it will be well worth the wait.

    • Robin Wood March 16, 2015 at 5:30 pm #

      Andy I am afraid I can not answer that question. The second axe which I received was not as convex on the bevel as the first but I still reground it to be flatter as I wanted it. I let Jacob know and hoped that future axes would come dead flat on the bevel. I could not afford to buy a third to check. I would perhaps ask for confirmation that the bevels are flat when ordering. The forging and the handles and leatherwork are all gorgeous.

      • Andy Ratcliffe March 16, 2015 at 7:12 pm #

        Thank you Robin, most useful information, I’ll speak to Jacob to confirm the current spec. I’ve been saving hard for a while now, just the 6 month wait to contend with ……. A minor point !

        • Bob Duff April 4, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

          You’d better be prepared for a wait. I’ve been waiting for over a year now to get my carving axe. No word when they will make it.