Dating back to at least the Stone Age, the axe has a long history of specialized uses. From splitting wood to harvesting timber to ceremonial symbols, the axe is a true workhorse when it comes to tools. While other modern gadgets try to compete, there are few instruments that provide the same ingenuity and advantages as the axe. Partners Mark Ferguson, Steve Ferguson, and Barry Worthing of axe restoration company Brant & Cochran joined Open Bench Project in early 2015 to explore their business idea, and today are doing their fair share to ensure that axes continue to be used and treasured for generations to come.
Make. Educate. Curate.
While Brant & Cochran is focused on the future, they have a fascinating history. Mark and Steve’s grandfather, OG Leland Ferguson, was born in 1909 in southern Kentucky. He moved to Detroit in the 1920’s where he worked in automotive plants, eventually becoming a master mechanic. After World War II, he started Brant & Cochran (as the silent partner) to purchase military surplus machine tools. The business closed in the 1970’s, but his grandsons brought back the company name to honor him when they started their axe restoration business. Interestingly, the logo and font used for their marketing came from a matchbook they found in one of their grandfather’s tool boxes.
“We see ourselves in the stream of makers that came before us. With that comes a responsibility to not just make a high-quality product, but to educate people on the use and care of axes and the history of axe making in Maine. So we make axes, we educate on their use and care, and curate the history of axe making in the U.S. – and especially Maine.”
Having outgrown their space at The Open Bench Project, they now operate out of their new shop in South Portland, Maine, the Brant & Cochran partners share that business is booming. Not only do they restore vintage axes, they sell axe care tools and accessories. However, the best part of doing business is the people they meet. Whether they are other makers at The Open Bench Project, their vendor partners, or customers, the help and advice that has come their way has been “unexpected, generous, and humbling.”
“That old saw ‘it takes a village’ is actually true. We could not be where we are today with the business without the help of numerous folks.” – Mark Ferguson
The most challenging part of starting the company, according to the partners, was not knowing the size of the market for high quality restored and new axes. They just had a hunch that there was a desire and need out there. So far, it seems they have guessed correctly! They have been surprised by the passion of people urging them on to bring back axe-making in Maine. On a more concrete note, the next most challenging part has been finding high quality handles.
It’s an inspirational story to say the least – full of history, passion, and drive. With an outpouring of support from the maker community, blacksmiths, wood workers, outdoors enthusiasts, machinists, engineers, historians, academics, and community leaders, there is an opportunity to learn from their success so we asked what advice they would give other entrepreneurs. Here’s what they said:
“One. Be bold. You need to have a strong idea, believe in the idea, and execute immediately. Two. Plan on the fly so that you can be nimble and quickly respond to new opportunities. Improvise. Three. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Realize what you are good at and what you are not good at – do the first one; find others to do the second one.”
Sage advice, indeed! If you’d also like advice on which axe to use for what, they can help with that. Mark’s favorite axe is a small forest axe to cut kindling before throwing it in the wood stove. In case you’re wondering, he doesn’t have a pet name for it, but thinks a Brant & Cochran axe would be the perfect accessory for Jack Torrance in “The Shining.” There is also the 5 pound monster felling axe, but it is not for the faint of heart! Fortunately, there are many options, so check out their website – maybe you’ll even find that perfect, elusive holiday gift for a special someone.
On behalf of the OBP, we wish Mark, Steve and Barry the best of luck as they enter the next chapter. We hope you’ll also follow them through their journey.
And then some,
Your Friends @ OBP