Beyond the Axe

‘Measure twice, cut once.’ Peter Buchanan-Smith appreciates a job well done and has made a living meticulously crafting axes by hand in his Brooklyn studio. As Best Made Co. expands we have to ask, is everything still wonderful?

AR — You’ve come a long way since launching Best Made Company in 2009. Looking back, what were the big learning moments in launching Best Made?

Peter Buchanan-Smith — The hardest part is learning to trust my instinct. To know that if I listen to what I believe, what makes me happy, that things will work out alright. And if they don't work out all right, then well, at least I have tried what I thought was right and can get on with figuring out the next step on the journey.

What would you say is now the bigger mission for BMC as a brand?

I enjoy making someone's life a little bit better, putting an extra skip in their step, giving them something to look forward to after a long week. I think the world needs more diversions that enable people to do good things.

BMC started as a creative project driven by a personal passion and has evolved into a full on business (recruiting, retail expansion plans, workshops and events, managing multiple product launches, etc.). Do you have as much fun managing as you have making?

I can only contribute to stuff that has tangible and meaningful results. Managing the human component is by far the most challenging aspect of running a small business—everything else is relatively simple in comparison. I couldn't ask for a better team though, and part of what makes them so great is that they are nuanced and complicated. Sometimes I dream about being in a workshop all day by myself, but then I wake up and realize I'd go out of my mind.

What is the most popular “non-axe” product that you have sold? Was it a surprise or did you have a feeling as you were making it that it would be a hit?

The beauty of our catalog is that everything—and I mean everything—sells and is out there pulling its own weight. The axes will always be the backbone to our operation, but they are no longer the breadwinner like they used to be. We are Best Made Company, not an axe company.

In your 2010 talk at the Walker Art Center, you developed the idea of “object, workshop, world .” Can you tell us more about that concept and whether it is limited to literal workshops or if it can be taken as a framework for businesses that want to tell their story?

For example… How many great businesses have been started in a garage? The garage (and sometimes the basement or attic) is the last frontier of the American household. It's where anything can happen, activities go unchecked and projects can be started and stopped with very little interruption to the day to day activity of the household. Entrepreneurs seek refuge in the garage so they can build things with their hands, get dirty, make noise, and in the best case those inventions, those objects, become pieces of a puzzle and intricate parts to a world much bigger than the entrepreneur himself.

Are there any particular brands you admire that you would enjoy collaborating with in the future?

Right now we are very happy doing our own thing. When we cross paths with the right person then we shall see, but in the meantime there's no plans for any collaborations.

There are multiple sides to the argument about the maker revolution we are seeing. Some are excited to see a fight against cheap and disposable products and a return to quality and craftsmanship. Critics say we live in an age with a “fetishization of the prosaic,” basically that the idea of creating a more luxurious version of a completely ordinary object is at best an “excess of authenticity.” What do you think the bigger picture is?

In the old days it took time and lots of money to sell a product. You had to open an actual store, publish a catalog or travel around the country going to craft fairs. In the old days it would have been preposterous for someone to start a business painting axes as I did. No matter what your theory of our axes might be, those first ones were, at the very least, a powerful vehicle for our message. Every day someone's out there proving that just about anyone can start an online business. What I'm most interested in is what those businesses have to say, and how that message resonates. Then how that business goes from being something small, something viral, something catchy, or something fashionable, into something timeless, substantial, and meaningful. The way we get someone's attention is very different now than the way it used to be 15 years a go, but how we sustain that attention hasn't changed in millennia.

Many young people are concerned about the lack of opportunity around. What would your advice be to individuals looking to build a creative business as you have done? Are there things you have learned that you wish you had known when you were starting up?

By virtue of just simply doing what you love to do -- no matter how seemingly small and insubstantial, weird or eccentric -- then without even knowing it you will find yourself working harder than you've ever worked, and soon enough you will find that nothing will stop you from accomplishing your mission.

The world has been very tumultuous lately—economically, ecologically and politically. James Bridle, influential writer and technologist, also criticizes the cultural obsession with nostalgia and vintage and argues that “It speaks of a deep fear of the future, the idea that authenticity that can only be authenticated in the past. That we've lost faith in a kind of kind sight for the future, is deeply worrying.” Do you think your customers—and axe restoration enthusiasts—truly fear the future?

Nostalgia has never really been part of the Best Made equation. The axe is literally the oldest tool to mankind—it is the alpha and omega—Best Made is just one tiny, infinitesimal speck on the long and glorious history of that tool. We sell timeless objects of exceptional quality that are meant to be used. What time period a Best Made product evokes in someone’s imagination is beside the point and not something we use as a marketing device.

What are you looking forward to this year and what position would you like to be in in ten years time?

The goal is always to gain more creative freedom, and find more happiness and reward in my work. Aside from that, it will be to develop more original Best Made products and stories.

The most interesting part of Best Made Co. might very well be that it exists. Some critics have been quite virulent towards the idea of turning an ordinary object into a work of art - and ultimately turning a profit on the operation. But that is beyond the point. The real message is one of hope - and courage- , for a young generation that is now more than ever empowered to create and build, however weird or simple the initial idea. In an influential blog post, Kevin Kelly explained that a “creator only requires a thousand ‘true fans’ to make a living” . Ultimately, the fact that Best Made Co. manages to prove this idea, and then some, with a product no one expected is what is worth taking note of — AR

No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.