GrayBear Axes

 From behind the tower of long rectangular wooden boxes he’s carrying, Graham Berry is visibly excited.

It’s the first time we’ve seen each other for a few months and as I help him unload I offer him a cup of coffee.

“Don’t go! Don’t get coffee!” he says, eyes sparkling. “Let’s look at these first.”

English born knife maker and master craftsman Graham Berry (aka GrayBear) does things with steel, wood and antler that actually drop the jaw.  What started out as a hobby after his wife innocently bought him a blade from an artisan maker in Sweden seven years ago is now an all-consuming, wee-hours-of-the-morning type obsession.  (Just ask her.)

Up until now, we’ve only seen GrayBear’s knives, including his KSS-100 made from Scandinavian reindeer antler (which he polishes by hand for hours until it gleams) and a scarily sharp Karesuando blade reinforced with leather washers and a stainless steel strip. It took him months to perfect the method to make these knives, and the construction of each one can take up to ten hours alone.

It’s clear that time is an important ingredient in each of GrayBear’s creations – he even hand stitches the double welted sheaths that each knife comes in himself - and his newest project is no exception.

As we slide the lid off the first box, Graham launches into an excited discourse about American hickory versus spotted gum, which holds its flex better and the heritage of each.

Inside the box is an axe – a surprisingly heavy one – hand painted with a gleaming white stripe that curves around its smooth handle and snakes up its spine.  

The axe’s head comes from the oldest axe makers in the world: Hults Bruks in Sweden.  They’ve been hand forging axe heads since 1697 and this particular curved blade has been tempered differently to the rest of the head, making it incredibly strong and powerful.   It’s about as long as Graham’s arm because it’s really a forester’s axe, designed for felling fir in Swedish forests.  Not like a hatchet (which is much shorter and more dangerous but good for carving) or an American boy’s axe, or a splitter which is designed for cutting along the grain of the wood…

“They call me axe-bore at home,” Graham says suddenly, “I could go on for hours about this.”

He does, and it’s brilliant.  He explains that some axe heads have one convex side  and one flat for more versatility of use, tells us about some guys in the Blue Mountains who are building a bush hut using the same methods that the original settlers did in the 1800s, and tells us how the builders of the ancient cathedrals used nothing but the edges of their axe blades to get the ceiling struts straight.

This is someone who lives what he makes, and he’s anxious to explain that he’s designed the axes for using, not just admiring.

“I didn’t paint the whole handle because that would make it too hard to use,” he says, sliding his hands down the long wooden handle from over his shoulder like he’s about to sling it into the parquetry.

“Obviously I wanted the axe to look beautiful but it’s important to me that it kept its integrity.”

We assure him it has. 

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GrayBear will be hosting an in-store session at the Sorry Thanks I Love You pop-up shop in Sydney on Saturday 6 September 2014 from 12.00pm at shop 2 on the ground floor of the GPO Building at No 1 Martin Place, Sydney.

Check out GrayBear's axes and knives or read more about him in our blog post here.