S. Portland ax men honor The Pine Tree State

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SOUTH PORTLAND — When Steve Ferguson went to buy a Maine-made ax for his godson’s acceptance to forestry school, there were none to be found.

Where the banks of the Messalonskee River were once crowded with a dozen ax makers, the last Maine-made ax had been sold in the 1990s. Ferguson chose a Swedish design instead, but the experience of not being able to find an ax made in The Pine Tree State lingered.

One night, while drinking scotch with his brother, Mark, who was visiting from Cleveland, the pair decided to become business partners and start an ax company, later named Brant & Cochran. “We had no other experience, but we were good at drinking scotch,” Ferguson said with a laugh.

The business name, as with many aspects of the company, comes with a story.

The Fergusons grew up outside of Detroit, and their grandfather was a machinist for General Motors. He was also a silent partner in a company started by his friends when, after WWII, they bought surplus lathes, milling machines and drill presses. The company gave out matches with their logo on it, which was also a staple included in a toolbox their grandfather would put together for the men in the family for their weddings.

“But, we’re all outdoors people, and I’ve heated with wood for most of my adult life. So, that’s how this whole thing started,” Ferguson said.  “It’s really a bow to the rich history of ax making,” said Ferguson.

The brothers partnered with a friend of 30 years, Barry Worthing, and the trio has spent the last two years building a brand and a reputation. They now operate out of a bright blue building situated on the waterfront in South Portland.

For the wedding of the same godson, Ryan, the groomsmen were gifted restored axes, and the couple cut their cake with an ax. “It was awesome,” said Ferguson, who was also asked to officiate at the ceremony.

The business has taken on a weekend and nightlife, with the partners maintaining the regular jobs they’ve held for decades. Worthing, of Portland, is a nurse, Steve Ferguson, of Scarborough, is a school psychologist, and Mark Ferguson is an attorney based in Ohio.

The trio started with restoring axes as a walk-before-you-run strategy, all the while preparing to make their own Maine wedge design called the Allagash cruiser, a 2-pound, 5-ounce tool that came from a design found at the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum. The ax has a distinct angular shape and a fat end, called a pole. The implement likely evolved from a design to fell softwood forests in the state. The steel is made in Cleveland, and the handles are made from white ash harvested in Bryant Pond.

“In Maine, we’re practical and straightforward, and there’s nothing more straightforward than the Maine wedge; there are no embellishments,” said Worthing.

The restoration part of the business allowed Worthing and Ferguson the opportunity to understand the different styles of axes and what it took to put them together, and think about exactly what wanted to make, and what’s unique, said Worthing. The business is also connecting people to the history of what’s around them, such as if somebody discovered an old ax on a property they bought.

“It got our name out there – telling the story of what we’re doing, and that nobody was doing for more than 20 years,” said Ferguson.

Two forgers have now been hired, Gabriel McNeil and Nicholas Dowling.

The business will focus on crafting the Allagash cruisers, with about 20 to be ready for sale by the early summer, with a price point of $250 per ax.

Ferguson said people are done going to Walmart and the Maine Mall. “They want something richer than just buying a product. Come have a beer, bring your grandfather’s ax, and see our press and process,” Ferguson said of open shop days, the next of which is slated for April 6.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106, or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net

From left, Mark Ferguson and Barry Worthing stand before a practice chopping block in their Shop Portland workshop, holding Allagash cruisers, Maine wedge axes they are making and will be selling this spring and early summer.

Barry Worthing works on restoring an ax in his South Portland shop.

Steve Ferguson sharpens an ax blade at his South Portland shop Tuesday.

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