Gränsfors Bruks are a small company who forge rather nice axes in Sweden. They started forging axes in 1902 but the advent of chainsaws and the move to mass produced drop forged axes meant that the company was strugging by the 1980's. In 1989 they took the bold move of choosing to market themselves on their traditional workmanship. Where all axes at that time were ground all over the surface Gransfors started to leave the forging marks and they get the smiths to mark each axe with their initials. They also talked to various top woodworkers and redesigned their range to suit particular needs. My favourite the "Swedish carving axe" was designed by Wille Sundqvist.
I bought one of the first in the UK about 1995 (actually I couldn't afford one back then but swapped it for a bowl) and it is as good as new today. This change in direction was a very wise move and allowed Gransfors to survive and thrive whilst other axe manufacturers were going out of business.
This short video shows the technology used to forge most Gransfors axes, it is fast but there is no time for error by the smith.
If you watched that video and thought it was fast and efficient you may be surprised that it was outdated technology in the 1980s. So what was replacing it and how are most axes made today? I can't find a video of drop forging axes but this one shows sledge hammers being made in Korea which is much the same process. It is amateur hand held video but an unusual glimpse inside such a factory. It is actually a good way of producing axes quickly if there is good quality control on the grinding and finishing but I like to support European companies and I like to think that the workers can be proud of the skills they need to develop and have some variety in their work. I know I would prefer to work at Gransfors than in this workshop but at the same time I am fascinated by the speed and efficiency.
In the UK celebrity endorsement of Gransfors by Ray Mears has helped sales particularly of his favourite small forest axe. Personally I find this axe too much of a compromise, I like the small one handed axes, either the carving axe or wildlife hatchet and I like full size axes for felling and firewood, the one in the middle does niether job very well. This is Ray comparing 3 Gransfors axes.
Being a small company with limited production Gransfors do not normally offer sponsorship so we consider ourselves very privileged to have been given some tools by them to send out to Japan for the Kesurokai event. The ethos of Kesurokai or kezuro-kai is the sharing of tools and techniques. The Japanese really appreciate high quality tools and interestingly favour well made new tools to old ones. In Europe we often favour old tools and often hear "they don't make them like they used to". In return for Gransfors generosity we shall be providing them with photos, and hopefully video too, of the tools being used on the project.
These are some of the tools we shall be sending out, particularly the big broadaxes, and drawknives for hewing and peeling softwood logs. Gransfors also do a range of completely hand forge axes and I am told one of the best hewing axes is their "1800 model broadaxe" but sadly these are only made occasionally and they didn't have any stock for us to take to Japan. I look forward to trying one some day.
And one final video to show the difference between forging methods, this one again from the Gransfors workshop but showing "hand forging" although it still uses power hammers there are no moulds or formers everything is done by eye. The second half of the video shows the axe being used to hew timbers for a log cabin.
Just to show that I use these axes myself this is a vid of me carving a spoon blank with the carving axe, currently without sound due to a dispute between Youtube and WMG but hopefully enjoyable without sound. Folks that have been on my carving courses will hopefully recognise all the various different cuts and not spot any dangerous ones.