Best Made Co.
A wooden handle and a piece of steel. It’s a design so foundational that it must be encoded deep within our DNA somewhere. For millennia it has shaped the landscape of human civilization, both as a tool and a weapon. But while the axe may be man’s earliest invention, it has lost almost all of its significance in the digital age.
Work is done with a mouse-click now, not with our hands. Our furniture and homes come pre-fabricated, and we warm ourselves with natural gas pumped to our doorsteps. Whether it’s good or bad, our survival no longer depends on being able to properly swing an axe.
It’s within this context that Best Made Co. and founder Peter Buchanan-Smith carved out a new purpose for this ancient tool. While it was once used as a way to conquer nature, Best Made Co. is hoping that the axe can be used to restore interest in the outdoors and to foster appreciation for the wild.
One look at a Best Made axe reveals that they’re not the common hardware store variety. Although they can be purchased unpainted, the axe handles are usually adorned with colorful, limited-edition paint jobs inspired by everything from presidents to maritime flags to avian celebrities. A designer by trade, founder Buchanan-Smith started painting the axes as a way to pay homage to the tools and spirit that they embody.
“The tradition of adorning tools is a long and storied one,” explains the Best Made website,” upon which we are proud to have cast a bold and fresh coat of paint.” Although Best Made axes have hung in the Saatchi Gallery in London, and are favorites of websites like Pinterest and Tumblr, they should not be mistaken as designer pieces. Each is hand-crafted and purpose-built to be the best axe on the market today.
The axe head (a Dayton pattern, for those aficionados out there) is drop forged in North Carolina by fourth-generation axe makers. The hickory handle comes from a secret source in the Appalachian mountains, and must be hand-carved to achieve the perfect curve. Final assembly and painting is done in Best Made’s Manhattan studio before it is packed in a wooden case and shipped to the customer.
The end result is a masterpiece that looks beautiful up on the wall, but calls out with raw energy to be carried off into the woods to do what it was designed for.
At first it all seems so contradictory. Axes are used to cut down trees, and this is supposed to encourage conservation? When you examine our modern relationship with nature, however, the mission of Best Made Co. makes more sense. Our urban lives have become so insulated from the natural ecosystem that we enjoy the illusion of being totally independent of it.
We breathe air-conditioned air, drink spring water from plastic bottles, and stare at an ever-growing number of iDevices without ever having to consider the impact it all has on the environment.
Nature is always “out there” and conservation is just something that gets discussed over craft beer at the corner pub. It’s easy to lose sight of how inseparable our lives are from the natural world, not just materially but mentally and emotionally as well. Take an axe into the woods and you are quickly reminded of this deep connection with nature. Whether clearing a patch of forest or chopping firewood, there’s nothing vague about the impact you are having on the environment. You learn to appreciate the resources available to you, and work to sustain them for future generations.
Rather than inducing customers to level every tree in sight, Best Made Co. and their axes foster stewardship and appreciation for the natural world.
Since 2010 Best Made Co. has slowly expanded their product line to include Japanese hatchets, rare and limited edition books, and organic maple syrup. While they may not relate directly to the axes that helped build the company, all their products embody the principles of quality design and craftsmanship, simplicity, and appreciation for the environment.
The Best Made team also operates a blog that recounts their adventures in “Lumberland”, their secret wooded getaway in upstate New York. There’s no question, however, that the axe still remains at the core of the Best Made community. The company’s most recent project has been to teach axe restoration techniques so that the tools of a bygone era can be brought back to life and put back to work.
A wooden handle and a piece of steel. That may be all an axe is, but at Best Made Co. it seems to represent a whole lot more than that.