Thursday, March 18, 2004


Another great thing about living out in the country is all the chances you get to use tools, to learn about them and to appreciate them. In the country you do your own wood chopping, gardening, pruning, masonry, bucking, woodworking, painting, etc.-- in other words, tasks you're going to be doing over and over-- so your hands teach you the basic lesson real fast: get the best tool. Of course it will cost more than the stuff they sell in the corner gardening store, but as the Chinese say (no doubt they were talking about tools), "the cheap is not cheap, and the expensive is not expensive").

So my old Japan-made, broad-cheeked, practically unsharpenable, terribly handled and comparatively featherweight axe finally gave me enough blisters and dulling and sharpening hassles that I set out to find the finest quality woodsplitting tool, and I finally found it. Fortuitously, not long after that fellow upmountain gave me the small forest, I received my Gransfors-Bruks splitting maul, the finest of its kind I've ever seen, from the Swedish company that says it makes the finest axes in the world, and judging from this specimen of their work I'd have to agree. (It was made personally by axesmith Rene Andersson, whose initials are coldstamped into the maul head.)

Now that I've seen the quality of the maul, I'm going to get one of their axes too. It is perfectly balanced, superbly steeled, excellently handled, holds its edge yet is easily sharpened, and working with it makes wood splitting as pleasurable as all-out physical labor can be when you're using the finest tool for the task at hand. With my old axe I could backbreakingly split, say, this much wood in a couple of hours; with my new GB, I can split THIS much wood in half that time. And afterwards I can do more.

As anyone knows who works with hand tools, there's just something about fine quality that doesn't fade; there's a time- and hand-tested utility, especially in the ancient type tools like adzes and axes and knives, that just feels good to the hand. You're so much closer to the tool and its functions, since you wield it directly and the feedback is physical, not a matter of realtime megahertz. And the result is there before your eyes, there within your hands and muscles, who know when they're beholding and holding the perfect tool for the job.