Photo by Derk's Works

Chop Shop

These aren’t your grandfathers’ axes.

Although they most certainly were inspired by them.

Photo by Derk's Works

Photo by Derk’s Works

Husband and wife team Benjamin and Cori Rowley of Yellowood Design Studio aren’t just clinging to the flannelled sleeves our newfound fascination with all-things-lumberback. They’re restoring axes (and some hatchets, camp, cruisers, andeven tomahawks) the old-fashioned way: one at a time and by hand.

It all started when Benjamin inherited his great grandfather’s axe, which wasn’t just another hand-me-down tool.

“This was something of his that I knew he used, something real,” Benjamin said. The axe had been sitting in the garage, rusting and collecting dust, so he decided to bring it back to life. It was during that labor-of-love process that Benjamin and Cori decided to turn their newfound passion into a part-time, garage-based business. Yellowood was born in 2010 with “Pappy” as Axe No. 1.

Benjamin is a commercial interior designer by day, and Cori an industrial designer. Both spend much of their time in front of computer screens developing spatial and product solutions for some of the world’s largest companies. They tried moonlighting as graphic designers, but that meant more time on a computer and they both yearned for something more tangible and useful.

“Making something that we are proud of and will be around long after we’re gone is important to us,” Benjamin said.

Everything Yellowood turns out is made by hand, and no two axes are alike—each is as unique as the individual customer that acquires them. They are a compilation of handcrafted goods and rescued materials, the steel axe heads typically sourced from flea markets and garage sales. They repurpose them for many reasons.

“Old steel was made differently, and there’s an abundance of these things sitting and rusting on the floors of old barns and basements that are overlooked,” Benjamin said. “It’s also greener and cheaper for us to use something that already exists than make a new one.” However, if demand exceeds supply, they have made inroads with a local blacksmith to keep things local and hand-forged.

Once the heads are restored back to their original sharpness and luster using a treadle stone, they are

Photo by Derk's Works

Photo by Derk’s Works

attached to new American-made hickory handles. The handles are hand painted, and if a customer has a special color request, it can be ordered. But it will take two to four weeks to complete. Cori then hand-stitches each leather sheath to protect the head…and the owner.

“We learned the hard way that the sheaths have to be triple-layered,” she said. “These heads are very sharp and can easily cut through a double layer of our thick leather stock.”

They hand-number and name each axe, giving them that extra special touch, and Yellowood logo is hot-iron branded into the sheath.

In case the Rowleys’ desire to forger a stronger relationship with the axe isn’t already apparent, they take it a step further each spring for their Axe Camp. They invite each and every axe sold from their store. Yes, you read it right—the axes are invited. If you own a Yellowood axe and you can’t make the trip, you can send a substitute with your axe. Camp is located in West Virginia at their old family farm. The three-day, two-night excursion costs $70 per camper. Tent space is included, as is Mama Rowley’s home cooking.

“Making something that we are proud of and will be around long after we’re gone is important to us.”

Axe camp is a chance to test your grit and what you and your axe are capable of.

“We put our products through their paces,” Benjamin said. “You’ll learn how to top a tree, limb a tree, and chop down a tree.” There’s also tomahawk throwing, and at the end of the last evening an “Axemanship Award” is presented to the most skilled camper.

 “It’s all about outdoor fun,” added Cori. “Since we create a product that is made for chopping, why not spend some time using them and enjoy spending time with other axe enthusiasts?”

 Since they are made with so much care and so much craftsmanship has been infused into them, it may be tough for some to even consider using theses heirloom axes for chopping. They are as beautiful as they are functional.

“It’s fine if people want to hang them as wall art—but America was built with axes,” Benjamin said. “These things are made to be used!”

The Crowleys are hopeful they can grow Yellowood, but remain a small, cottage business that will employ both of them full-time along with a few others who share their love for “new old tools.”

“We don’t want to get into any type of mass production,” Cori said. “That would take away from the hand-crafted, high quality products that we want to continually provide our customers.”

Axes are just the beginning—they’re already venturing into other hand tools like sledgehammers and saws, as well as fine leather goods.

“The big dream is to one day make handmade, high-quality furniture,” Benjamin said.

Fortunately, they have all the right tools to make that happen. 

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