With the building of my new farm workshop a couple of years ago, I have had an ongoing “work-in-progress” of building storage areas, transferring my tools from my old shop to the new one, and sorting through them to decide what I want to use, store or discard. This has been a daunting challenge, but one that I have thoroughly enjoyed.
Recently, this focus has been directed to my woodcutter’s axes and saws. I never realized what an assortment of these vintage tools I had in my shop. Most of them belonged to my grandfathers and/or my father, but a few of them I have no idea of their origin. Only one of them I actually purchased myself, and it was a single bit Kelly Perfect axe that I bought in the 1960s in Norfolk, Va. I used it primarily for splitting firewood for a wood stove in my workshop.
As I sorted through my old tools, I was particularly impressed with the quality of workmanship contained in each piece, even the relatively new axe that I had purchased. It still had Kelly Perfect/True Temper proudly stamped across its face. The steel rang like a bell when struck, and the edge as sharp as a razor when honed to perfection — real quality American craftsmanship.
I did a bit of research on the Internet about their origins, and by far the most prominent manufacturer was the Kelly Axe Company of Louisville, Ky., and later Charleston, W.Va.
All of my traditional double bit axes were made by Kelly Works/True Temper. An extremely old brush axe with a “J” shaped blade was made by Kelly Axe and Tool Works. Perhaps my oldest tool is a very large broad axe manufactured by E.C. Simmons, Saint Louis. Such an axe would have been used to hew or flatten the sides of logs for building log cabins and barns. I have a small broad axe style hatchet that I have been told was used to make wooden roof shingles. Another small hand axe was stamped Genuine Norlund, an axe of unknown origins.
These axes, along with cross cut saws, are representative of an era when our forefathers hacked out a civilization from the vast American forests. Manufacturers recognized a need for quality axes, hoes, pitchforks and other tools, and since earliest times provided Americans with what was required to tame the frontier.
A few years ago, my neighbor Roy Bell lamented to me that he couldn’t find a decent hoe to use in his garden. I can easily commiserate with him. All my hoes that I have used farming and gardening are becoming worn out from years of hard use. Although terribly worn, my favorite is a Belnap Bluegrass, and I have an old True Temper that is still useable.
Yes, I am just a nostalgic old man, but I miss the days when I could go to Carter Ivy Hardware and buy a quality hoe, axe or claw hammer, knowing it would serve me for decades. I miss being able to buy products stamped “Made in USA,” knowing it would be of the finest quality available.
But with our new global economy, I suppose our competitors from abroad also have their own axes to grind.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org