I was rather taken with this little story from the Gränsfors Bruks "Axe Book" (which is available to download in 8 different languages here):
In pre-industrial time all axes were hand forged to styles decided upon by the way they were used, the preferences of the carpenter, and the skills of the smith. Then, with 19th century industrialisation, came a boom in demand for axes and the means of mass manufacture. Production shifted to factories and designs gradually changed, influenced by streamlining production and lowering costs, often at the expense of the functionality of the tools.
Gränsfors Bruks started making axes in 1902 and moved with the times, competing for the mass market, until in 1989 the skilled craftsman-designer Hans Erik Persson took the bold move of stepping back to the pre-industrial era. He started re-designing their range of axes with a focus on the needs of the craftsmen who were using them and also decided they should have a natural forged finish to show the quality of their manufacture. (Mass-produced tools have their surface imperfections hidden by being polished, filled and the surface painted.)
So, Gränsfors make specialist axes and employ around a dozen smiths, each ‘signing’ the axes they make with a stamp with their initials. Whilst they do use modern machinery (see the video below) there is clearly still considerable skill in the process. The company pride themselves in the quality and durability of their produce; whilst they cost more than their mass-produced rivals, they last so long and work so well that a craftsman would not wish to replace one on a whim.
I must add that I am not just saying this because they have kindly donated tools to our event. Robin and I have been teaching spoon carving courses for several years and have built up a collection of Gränsfors Swedish carving axes for participants to use along with a few Wildlife Hatchets for those who favour something smaller. They have seen long, hard use and are excellent tools!