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Trolling the Garrett Wade site today, I came across this “solid, dependable, Swiss-made axe,” pictured above. From the site:

“We think that because of their size, they are designed for campsite and clearance work. The Chopping Axe (that’s what we are going to call it) has a 23″ handle and weighs almost 5 lbs. The neck is so deep (2-1/2″) near the head that it seems almost ‘reinforced.’ This has to be deliverate. Its unusual weight gives it great momentum (power) when swung.”

The smaller camp axe is described as having a 15-1/2″ handle and weighing 2-1/4 lbs. It seems its only claim to fame is being “Swiss-made.” Pricing: $50 for the bigger model and $39 for the smaller one.

Maybe I’m just a little jaded, but that seems pretty damn steep for an axe. And did I miss something, or is there any reason that Switzerland is famous for axe-making? (I get the watch concept, but stores are already overrun with machine-assembled quartz-”movement” watches shipped from Switzerland. Does it really matter if the low-cost-labor-run assembly factory is located in Switzerland? Does the air there render quartz vibrations more accurate?)

Seriously, Amazon turns up a 5 lb. model with a 26″ handle for $22. And Northern Tool carries a 2.2 lb. camp axe [What’s This?] for just $9, complete with a hickory handle. And you can get a full-steel model with some bells and whistles at pretty much any sporting goods store for half the price of this “Swiss-made” treasure.

Now if you just like the look of it, I can see that. And there’s nothing wrong with, say, buying one of these to display above your fireplace or something. What the hell; I don’t buy everything in the world for practicality, either. But I can’t see springing for one of these over the cheaper alternatives for actual use. How different will it look after a few actual uses? Will that pretty red paint still be there? What happens when that handle stamp is covered in grime?

Am I wrong? (Seriously, let me know. It wouldn’t be the first time.)

 

36 Responses to How Much Is An Axe Worth?

  1. RayZee says:

    You must have never heard of Gransford Bruks. The claim to fame for these axes are the fact that they are hand made and each axe head has the initials to the person who made the axe. This company prides themselves on quality and if the axe ever fails, will take the cost of replacing the axe head out of the maker’s salary.

  2. Andy Mangold says:

    Don’t forget about Best Made Co. axes; as much as 400 a pop: http://www.bestmadeco.com/collections/axes

  3. rg says:

    Ah, but they’re not just selling an axe — they’re selling a dream. As the ad men say, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak”.

    For many people, buying stuff isn’t about a cool, rational cost/benefit analysis, but more about filling some sort of psychological need. They buy “exclusive” “hand-crafted” items to make themselves feel special, and make a statement about themselves — ie., that they are special.

    Look at half the crap in a Lee Valley Tools catalogue. Mixed in with the useful stuff are items that make it pretty clear a large proportion of their customers are retired yuppies with too much money. These are people who want to send the message to their friends that they are Olde Tyme Craftsmen, with special jigs and a $200 chisel — not just some chump who slaps together crooked bookshelves in his garage once every two years.

    As long as there are people like that, there will be people like us who buy the same items for ten cents on the dollar at the next garage sale when they get bored of their expensive toys.

  4. Bob says:

    Those look like some nice entry level axes, but I’ll stick with my Granfors Bruks splitting axe. :-)

  5. Josh says:

    Most newly made axes these days are garbage. You want quality for low price, troll Amazon for old American made axe heads. You want new quality, you have to pay. Can’t say anything about the ones listed here, no experience with them.

  6. “…will take the cost of replacing the axe head out of the maker’s salary.”

    I’m not really sure how I feel about this. Would I treat the tool more carelessly knowing that it’s built to withstand the abuse, or would I treat it more carefully, knowing that if something happens to it some foreign craftsman is going to pay (literally)?

  7. RayZee says:

    I would use the tool as it was meant to be used and be done with it. If you are using something to just abuse the hell out of it, don’t waste your money on a axe that costs $250.00. Harbor freight can hook you up with a $5 axe. I think they do that to really show the craftsmanship in each axe that was produced and its for someone who is going to buy it to keep in mind that this is a quality tool that should be taken care of appropriately.

  8. asdf says:

    Actually, those Best Made axes look like two-piece heads. Stick with the flea markets and yard sales.

  9. I’ve always thought that the Swiss make some fine cutting steel, but I am a little bias. Have a look at another high end Swiss manufacturer of axe’s.
    http://www.lie-nielsen.com/catalog.php?cat=558

  10. asdf says:

    Metallurgy makes a big difference in a cutting tool. Prewar, two-piece axe heads had a high-carbon steel part that took and held a good cutting edge, and the rest of the head was made of softer steel to handle shock. Axes are a tougher engineering problem than chisels.

    Modern metallurgy makes it possible for folks like Gransfors Bruks to make one-piece axe heads that take and hold an edge very well (not as well as a good old-fashioned axe, but vastly better than anything from Harbor Freight), and also stand up well under the shock of use. They’re not cheap, but they really do things cheap axes don’t.

    But you don’t have to go boutique. You can find old two-piece axes in flea markets and yard sales. You can see the join in the head. Easy to spot. They’re really cheap, too, and I’d rather see them valued as tools than bought in bulk by interior designers, hung on the walls of Cracker Barrels, and thrown in a landfill when the restaurant closes.

    But if you want to cut roots, use a soft axe from the hardware store. I keep one around for that kind of thing. Hard, high-carbon steel chips if you hit a rock. Bad news.

    Those absurdly expensive axes from Best Made look like two-piece heads to me, but their site doesn’t say (their stupid yuppie customers don’t know or care, I bet), and it’s hard to be sure without fondling one.

    For a new high-end axe, these Swiss things are pretty affordable. I wonder how good they are.

    Anyhow, those old axes were the chainsaws of their day, but the chainsaw of today is (duh) the chainsaw. That’s unless you’re on a canoe trip or something; in that case, hit the flea markets. Or if you’ve got a few bucks to waste buy a Gransfors or a Best Made. I’ve got a flea market special myself.

  11. craig says:

    You missed the part where these axes are 30-50 years old. Seems like a good deal for a quality vintage axe. And You can’t be serious when you compare it to the amazon or a $9 northern tool axe?

  12. Hi Chuck,
    As tool sellers, the question you pose is one we ask ourselves everyday. As tool users, we do the same math in our heads as everyone else, balancing quality and craftsmanship with price to determine the true value of a tool we hope to be using for many years. It’s a valid question, as the vigorous comments it has solicited show, as is the follow up, “Is this axe worth the price?” Though we can’t guarantee what your answer would be if you bought it, we do guarantee that we have asked and answered that question for ourselves before we will sell it.

    Garrett Wade has been selling axes since the day we first opened the door in 1976. Some of our suppliers we know as friends – we’ve been to their home factories and in some cases even their homes. In our experience, these proud craftsmen are the opposite of what you describe as “low cost labor assembly”. To see the kind of skill and craftsmanship that goes into a fine axe, I invite you to check out the album of our visit to the Wetterlings factory in Storvik, Sweden.
    All the best,
    Petra

  13. Mackenzie says:

    “Modern metallurgy makes it possible for folks like Gransfors Bruks to make one-piece axe heads that take and hold an edge very well (not as well as a good old-fashioned axe”

    Sorry but that is just absolutely wrong. I forge in a smiths shop every day and have worked under some of the best American colonial historical smiths for the past three years. While old forged felling axes with welded in steel bits can be wonderful tools, they were not welded with soft body’s and steel bits for strength. They were built this way because steel for the cutting edge was vary expensive. Steel today is not expensive compared to what it was. Modern steels are extremely sophisticated and designed for exacting tasks. Tools steels of the past were vary simple and in general one type of tool steel was used for all applications. This is not ideal one type of steel can not perform in all applications. Modern steels for good axes (AKA not cast HF crap) can be hardened on the blade but also left softer in the body by a process of selective tempering. A good tools require good materials and time. This makes nice tools expensive. Cheep tools and crapped out at the speed of light out of crappier materials, and they are sold for cheep prices

  14. David Stephens says:

    I have to agree with those who use or admire the Gransfors Bruks. I’d used a cheap splitting maul for years. Every few years, I’d start looking at others, thinking a heavier head would make the splitting easier. Then I got a GB splitting maul. It was 1/2 the weight (8 pds) of my “monster splitter”, was easier to control and split easier.

    It’s not just the materials, it’s also the design. If you look at ax catalogs of yesteryear, there were hundreds of variations for different types of work.

    Just look at the Axe Book for some further thoughts.

  15. helmut says:

    With so many people frothing at the mouth with indignation, it’s sometimes useful to remember that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

  16. Brau says:

    I don’t honestly know what makes a good axe, but the ones I’ve kept are the older ones that I’ve inherited through generations. There’s something about the newer ones that seem to jam more often and cut/split less well. I presume it must be like hammers where the angle of the head and the curve of the hitting surface make a huge difference, and it’s often in the small details where the cheap brands fail.

  17. PutnamEco says:

    Just like a knife, sometimes an ax is a life or death tool of survival. Would you put your life on the line by saving a couple dollars with a tool of dubious quality?

  18. Keith says:

    @rg

    I think you are spot on with that rant. And I thought I was the only one with that sort of viewpoint. I’d like to hear your comments on TV content as well … cause it su**s too.

  19. craig says:

    GW’s prices tend to be a bit high, however those aren’t bad for good>high quality tools.

    there are good enough, inexpensive axes out there, but not many. none of them live at harbor freight. if for no other reason than the the helves they supply are too brittle for regular use.

    the swedish axes have developed an overpowering mystique. sharp as knives, very well made and for the most part overpriced. they are designed for northern european woods and may or may not perform well in your woodlot.

    the real benefit i see in the scandinavian axes is in the fact that they are still using them as tools not toys.

    i have several axes that i actually use. a couple of estwings for limbing, an old council for heavy work, a pulaski for grubbing out stumps and a wetterlings for hunting and camping. most of them are 30-50 years old.
    i have considered replacing them with something newer but the current crop of tools seems inferior in quality.

    by the way, if you buy that “chopping axe” run out and get a new full-size helve for it. five pounds on the end of a two foot stick is going to wear you out.

  20. JKB says:

    You can get a nice tool from a cheap on if you take the time to dress and edge it properly. Yes, the steel might be a bit less quality but usually the big difference is in the finishing, that is where the expense arises from having skilled craftsmen balance, edge and dress. It takes time which is expensive.

    And, of course, as you learn what is needed for a good edge, etc., you learn how to spot the decent underlying material that can be improved.

    If productivity is your goal, then buy the expensive, expert finished tool but you still need to learn how to maintain that edge.

    BTW, an axe or knife is the most dangerous thing you can have in a survival situation and they should be used a little as possible. When you are cold, wet and tired handling a tool that if it slips can make a bad situation into life or death is not the way to go. Keep a saw for survival cutting and keep the axe for when you are rested and in a good cutting situation. Not to mention, few people today are truly experienced with handling an axe well much less in adverse cutting conditions.

  21. rg says:

    @ Keith

    Yup, agreed. The content sucks.

    I’ve got rabbit ears and refuse to pay for cable. Even then, I only watch broadcast TV about once every few weeks. Anything still worth watching can be downloaded.

  22. Dave says:

    Those Garrett Wade ad writers crack me up. They put those “British Army/Navy Knives” in their catalog some time back, and described the can opener as something like a “blade in the form of a hook”. I e-mailed them and told them that was a very traditional form of can-opener. It’s probably not prudent to have someone who doesn’t even know a plain old can opener when they see one write a description of a pocket knife. They rewrote the ad, largely parroting what I’d said, throwing the word “British” in there somewhere and generally making an awkward mess of it. I thought that was funny. After some permutation, it’s now described as “a hooked blade in the form of an old-style can opener”. It’s not an anything in the form of a can opener, it IS a can opener, and that’s all they need to call it.

    • Aggy says:

      Love this comment, conjures up visions of Basil Fawlty “It’s a bl**dy can opener, for crying out loud!”

  23. Charles says:

    Both Gransfors and Best Made axes are incredible tools. I have a smaller Gransfors and a Best Made felling axe. Yes BMC axes can be as much as $400 but that’s only the painted handles, which I could care less about (though they are nice to look at). An unpainted Best Made axe is $158, which is a bargain considering its design, construction and superior materials. Aside from restoring an antique, I don’t think there are better axes on the market right now than GB and BMC. Most of these other companies get their steel forged in China. BMC heads are drop forged in North Carolina by 4th generation smiths, and Gransfors are drop forged in Sweden by some of the best in the trade. If you don’t have the money or don’t care about a good axe, then of course just buy a cheap plastic axe at the hardware store! It’s like anything else. If you don’t care about a nice ____, don’t buy a nice ____.

  24. Peter says:

    Gransfors, Wetterlings, and Best Made are the best axes in the world, all priced about the same. If you want to buy all-american then go for Best Made. One forge in Japan is making some real gems but they are pricey and then of course there are racing axes being made in New Zealand, but those are like axes on steroids. To my knowledge no one is making axes in two-three pieces as they once used to. And the yellow handled axe is not meant to last, and when they break – they will break – good luck replacing the handle, and good luck disposing of that handle in any environmentally conscious way. Nothing beats a wood handle- anyone worth his salt should know that. Bottom line: one good axe can last a lifetime, so why not invest in one that you can take some pride in? Be it pride in its quality and or its origin… or even just pride you get from the shear pleasure of using it. Nothing is worse than a poorly made tool.

  25. Hi Dave,

    You’re absolutely correct. The catalog copy is in error. These knives feature a sheepsfoot-type blade and a traditional can opener. I don’t know how this happened, but we’ll get to the bottom of it. Thanks for the heads-up.

    That’s the reply I wrote when you contacted us about the British Army Navy Knives, Dave.

    At Garrett Wade, we go through multiple drafts of copy on every product featured in 14 catalogs a year as well as constantly on the website. Despite our best efforts, even obvious mistakes can be overlooked. When they do, we correct them. We’re especially grateful for customer feedback like yours, as I previously tried to express to you. I remembered our exchange as honest and straightforward, Dave. Did I really leave you with the impression I could not recognize a can opener blade? Or is this just trolling and sniping?

    Petra

  26. Dave says:

    Now Petra, I never said you were the one who made the original errors. Your replies at the time were very gracious. Someone in your organization, however, didn’t know a can opener when they saw one, and that person was writing the description for a product they weren’t competent to describe. And even now, why not just call a can opener a can opener– or I suppose, since it’s British, a tin opener? An obvious familiarity deficit is definitely a handicap to anyone who sells, promotes or reviews products.

  27. roger says:

    WTF!! Where are the high quality boarding axes?? When I’m going over the rail of a pirate ship I want something I can depend upon to clear the way in front of me. Arrgggghhh Matey!!

  28. T-Wave says:

    To Peter:

    …one good axe can last a lifetime, so why not invest in one that you can take some pride in? Be it pride in its quality and or its origin… or even just pride you get from the shear pleasure of using it.

    When my grandfather, who grew up during the Great Depression, got married his father-in-law gave him an ax with a note that said “If you keep this sharp you will never be cold or hungry.” That ax is still around, but it must be about half the size it originally was from being sharped so much. Needless to say, it never was.

    He’s gone now, but his sons continue the tradition: still razor sharp.

    What an Ax, what a Man! (with a good woman, too!)

  29. T-Wave says:

    Needless to say it was never dull that is

  30. Dave says:

    I just received one of these axes from Garrett Wade. I have to say on first look I’m having trouble buying that it’s actually Swiss made, or even made by a quality axe builder. The head seems nice enough, good heft, shaped fairly well, but every other aspect of this axe says import copy. I’m not an axe expert, but I am a product designer and overseas sourcing manager – I see poor execution of good ideas all the time. The red paint has dripped down onto the raw wood handle (pretty sloppy in anyone’s book, and seems rather un-Swiss), the hotstamp on the handle is blurry, not crisp, and is simply a cross and the number 86. There are no other marks of any kind on the axe. The handle is just plain odd; it’s short, straight, and has a large flat on the back next to the head. It looks like they took a stray lot of pickax handles and remachined them to fit these heavy heads. I just don’t really get it. Overall it’s about as inelegant a design as I’ve seen in a tool, like some bizarre dwarf battle axe, and I’m not sure I’ll hang onto it, even though it supposedly has a story behind it and it would fit in the lid scabbard of my small chainsaw box. My vintage Hudson Bay and my new Vaughan Feller (nicely done work axe at half the price) may have to wait for a partner. I’m eyeballing the new stuff with the Husqvarna label – apparently made in one of the great Swedish axe shops but without the high price tags – as well as the Wetterlings and GB of course. Petra at GW: What’s the complete back story on these?

  31. Arthur says:

    My fiancé ordered me a “Best Made” axe for Christ­mas in early Decem­ber 2011 with some other gear from their web­site. After months of wait­ing the axe arrives in mid May 2012 with­out any of the other stock we ordered or a rea­son as to why it was not shipped. Where’s our refund on the stock that didn’t arrive? Im not wast­ing my time again writ­ing them an email, they can keep our cash — emails you send them either go to man with­out fin­gers or some­one who would rather not reply.. We wrote them an email every 3 weeks for 5 months and only got 2 fee­ble, very vague replies.
    Prior to deal­ing with them I held the Best Made Co ideals close as I had been look­ing for an out­doors com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in qual­ity & unique prod­ucts for every­day use. For a pre­dom­i­nately online com­pany their cus­tomer ser­vice is atro­cious to say the least.
    The axe head qual­ity seems to be good how­ever he hick­ory han­dle on the axe has a very large knot right near the head of the axe where the wood needs to be strongest. Dur­ing the 5 month wait I ordered a grans­fors axe; its qual­ity is supe­rior by a long shot.
    To their defence the pack­age did get lost in the mail — how its takes 5 months to rec­tify is beyond me. Im guess­ing they’re not look­ing for repeat busi­ness; there were no attempts to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion at all on their behalf.. My advice is to AVOID AT ALL COSTS, Im flum­moxed with the experience.
    Best Made Co
    Where great mar­ket­ing col­lides with hor­rific service.

  32. AxeEnthusiast says:

    I apologize for digging up an old thread, just thought it should be put out there that Best Made Axes are actually Council Tool Velvicut axes that are “dressed up.”

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