Normally, I buy old, neglected tools and refurbish them. It’s cheap, and it makes me feel like I saved something from going to waste, or even like I conserved a piece of history. Conserving a piece of history can take a lot of elbow grease, though. I don’t use power tools to grind or sand, so I often spend hours scrubbing and grinding the tools back to life. A few weeks back, I was in the market for a new axe and I didn’t feel like waiting until I stumbled into the right one at a flea market, or spending the entire night on restoring it. I decided to buy a new axe. It had to be something special, though. Not just something from the DIY store. I considered buying a Gränsfors Bruks (those things make me drool a little), but decided I didn’t want to spend that much right now. Then I stumbled into De Wit, a small, local tool manufacturer that specializes in garden tools. They sold several types and sizes of axes. I decided to go for the “Forest Axe” with a 1250 (2.8 pound) gram head and 700mm (27 1/2″) ash handle. It cost a little over 40 euro’s. (And you may have seen it already in a post I made about some leather projects, including a sheath for this thing.)
When I got the axe (I had to order the thing), I was a bit disappointed. The handle was hickory, not ash. Nothing against hickory, I just don’t like that they shipped the wood half way around the world when they could’ve used perfectly fine local ash. The wood’s grain was oriented diagonally, which is better then across the handle, but still not ideal. Part of the wood was darker, and looked like heart wood to me. I’ve always heard that there shouldn’t be any heart wood in a tool handle, but I’m not sure if it’ll hurt. The axe’s head was covered in a thick layer of lacquer, and so was the hickory. The edge was not sharp. At all. I spent an evening grinding the edge and cleaning up the rest of the axe head and handle. I finally covered the wood in my hard wax, which gave it a really nice feel.
After cleaning up the axe, I took a closer look at the axe head. It was stamped, but not with the De Wit brand. De Wit was founded in 1898, and this stamp clearly had the date 1799 in it. The brand turned out that of Krumpholz Werkzeuge, a German forge that makes garden tools. All the very same models that De Wit sells. So, it turns out that De Wit doesn’t forge all of it’s tools, but buys some (or all?) from Krumpholz, slaps on a sticker and a handle with “De Wit” stamped in it, and sells them as their own. This was the biggest disappointment of all. I chose De Wit because I wanted to buy something local, which turned out to be an axe head from Germany with a handle from the USA.
The weekend after I got the axe, I went to a flea market in Makkinga, Friesland, which is about 50km from where I live. It’s one of the best flea markets for buying tools in the North of the Netherlands. I found this little Sandvik hatchet. It had a 600 gram (1.3 pounds) head and a handle that looked like beech. Normally, I wouldn’t like beech for an axe or hatchet handle, but for a hatchet this small,it’ll do fine. It was pretty rusty but still had a good narrow edge. I paid 6 euro’s for the thing, took it home and spent a few hours on it (probably less than on the De Wit axe). I polished the edge until I could shave my arm with it. It turned out to be a lovely tool. I use it to chop down little trees, carve wood, shave off bark, et cetera. It’s a really versatile little thing.
The contrast between these two stories illustrates that, while it may take a little work to make antique or other older tools work, they’re often well made and worth the effort. It may seem fast and easy to buy a new tool, but most manufacturers don’t pay enough attention to detail and finish (I’m not talking about Gränsfors Bruks of Lie-Nielsen, those guys are great. Great, but expensive). If you want a premium tool but don’t have the money, you’re much best off saving an old tool from the garbage bin.