Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pretty Axes

Lest you think I've played another practical joke on you and used my ninja photoshop skillz to lure you into thinking that some manufacturer has morphed a workhorse of a tool into frilly eye candy, I assure you.....the images you are about to see are real.

Peter Buchanan-Smith, owner of Best Made Company, and a graphic-designer-turned-axe-painter, sells hand-forged axes made by an undisclosed company in Maine.

Apparently, the fashionable axes are well-made. And people are buying them.

The New York Times wrote an article about it here.

As woodworkers, what do we think of these? Do we dismiss them as unnecessarily-decorated tools? As croquet mallets with a serious business end? As functional works of art?

Is decorating a tool necessary? No. Have craftsmen decorated their tools for centuries to make them more attractive? Yes.

Think of chip carved 16th-century Dutch planes and the carved router plane at left.* The carving lends nothing to the workability of the tool, and yet, the maker felt compelled to add ornamentation.

Are some forms of decoration okay, but not others. If so, why?

*The 18th-century router plane image is from Sandor Nagyszalanczy's book "Tools Rare and Ingenious: Celebrating the World's Most Amazing Tools."