Mark Ferguson of Brant & Cochran on Preserving the Traditional Craft of Axe Making in Maine

When Mark Ferguson’s brother, Steve, couldn’t find a high-quality, American-made axe for his son entering forestry school, the two men decided they needed to take action. Drawing inspiration (and the name Brant & Cochran) from their late grandfather’s tool supply business, the Ferguson brothers set out to honor the traditional craft of axe making while focusing on heirloom quality tools that can be passed down for generations. In his interview with MH+D Inside Out, Mark Ferguson discusses Maine’s axe-making history, the inherent satisfaction of creating products by hand, and the importance of a supportive maker community.

Q. What initially drew you to this craft?

A. Family history. My grandfather, Leland Ferguson, was born in a log cabin in Kentucky in 1909 and moved north to work in auto factories in Detroit. After WWII, he started a tool supply business selling army surplus machine tools—this was the original Brant & Cochran. Every summer during my high school and college years, I worked in small machine shops in Detroit for friends of my grandpa: an auto parts maker, a magnetic tool company, a plastics extrusion factory, all kinds of stuff. Even though I followed a far different career path by becoming a lawyer, I was always fascinated by machine shops and the talented folks working in them. Being part of a small craft manufacturing business now brings me full circle.

Q. What can you tell us about the history of axe making in Maine?

A. Due to the ubiquity of the logging industry in Maine, it was natural that edge tool making would follow. Maine became one of the largest axe-making centers in the country with much of it happening along the Messalonskee Stream in Oakland. Maine even had its own pattern, the Maine Wedge, which is the type of axe we make at Brant & Cochran. Companies like Emerson & Stevens, Spiller, and North Wayne Tool made thousands of axes after the Civil War until the last shop closed in the 1960s. There’s a neat video called Pioneer Axe on YouTube—it was shot by a Colby graduate, Peter Vogt, in 1964 and is a fascinating look at the tail end of the glory years of axe making in Maine.

Q. Why is preserving and reviving this traditional craft important to you?

A. Like logging, axe making is in the state’s DNA. When my brother was looking for a good American-made axe (if not one made in Maine) for his godson going to forestry school and couldn’t find one, it made him a little nuts. No axe making in Maine? It’s like finding no cheese making in Wisconsin. Unthinkable! In bringing axe making back to Maine, we hope to honor and spotlight the makers of the past while also building a craft manufacturing business to last the next 100 years.

Q. Walk us through the design and manufacturing of a Brant & Cochran axe.

A. The design is simple—we’re making a traditional Maine wedge pattern axe based on an axe head we borrowed from the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum. To make our Maine wedge axes, the Allagash Cruiser and Dirigo Belt Axe, we start with a billet of U.S.-made 1050 carbon steel, heat it using a gas forge, and punch the eye with a hydraulic press. Once the eye is formed, we start fullering out the bit of the axe, then grind it to the final shape. We heat treat the axe in kilns and then quench it using the waters of Casco Bay, as our shop is on the Fore River near Bug Light Park in South Portland. From there, we finish grind the axe until it’s wicked sharp, haft an Amish-turned hickory handle on it, and finally snap on a Maine-made leather sheath to protect it. When completed, we have an axe that Field & Stream Magazine has called one of the four best in the world.

Q. What makes the Maine wedge pattern unique?

A. The Maine wedge is characterized by a very large and heavy poll, which is the part of the axe above the handle, and a simple “V” shape from the handle to the cutting edge. These axes were made to slice through the frozen white pines of the northern Maine forests. I recommend visiting the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum, the Maine Forestry Museum in Rangeley, or the Maine Forest and Logging Museum in Bradley to see their collections of Maine wedge axes and get a real taste for what logging was like more than 100 years ago. It wasn’t for the faint of heart!

Q. What do you find most satisfying about your work?

A. There is something primal and satisfying about putting in a day’s work and then holding the thing you made in your hands. It can’t be deleted. It can’t be hacked. It can’t be made by AI. It can only be created by our makers working as a team to take a piece of steel and then apply heat, force, and skill to make an heirloom quality tool, which some also consider a piece of functional art.

Q. What makes vintage axes special and why are they worth restoring?

A. We do a lot of axe restoration work for folks who want to bring their grandpa’s axe back to life or fix up an axe they found in their barn or woodlot. The axe is one of those tools that people get emotionally attached to because it reminds you of sitting around the fire with family and friends, chopping wood to keep your family warm in the cold of winter, or using the tool when camping or canoeing. Each axe tells a story, and that’s really what we are restoring—not just an old piece of steel.

Q. What’s special about the maker community in Maine?

A. We wouldn’t be here without them. In 2015, we started in the Open Bench Project maker space at Thompson’s Point (our little 8’ x 8’ space is now the commercial kitchen at Brick South). We leaned on makers there for help and advice, many of whom are still working with us. The blacksmith community also helped us out, even when we had no idea what we were doing at the beginning—some would say we still don’t! Members of the Maine Craft Association, Maine Outdoor Brands, the University of Maine’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, and the New England School of Metalwork have all rallied behind us. It is the Maine way. You ask for help and help is given.

Check out all of Brant & Cochran’s Maine-made axes, accessories, and apparel at

Photography by Brian Threkeld of