Last Friday, I took a walk down Broadway to the “studio” of Peter Buchanan-Smith. Up five floors, I found the headquarters of Best Made Co., a maker of axes, camping and home goods, and other rustic accessories. Pieces quite simply, from another era. The pre-major corporation era, the pre-smartphone era, a time that beckoned quality, craft and utility over nearly everything else. The space, literally a workshop, is something that I was previously unaware existed in Manhattan-let alone Tribeca.
What started as a quest of founder Peter Buchanan-Smith to build a better tool has now evolved into a lifestyle. His axes (which start at $135), are capable of transforming not merely what they are chopping, but also the chopper. Buchanan-Smith, previously a graphic designer for Paper magazine and Elements of Style, founded the company based on the desire to live a better life: a life with in axe in his hand. To him, it was an “evocative tool,” that encompassed many “admirable virtues.”
Buchanan-Smith felt that a well-made axe could “not only function as a lifeline in the wilderness, but at home it could be a magnificent window in that wilderness and inspire people to reconnect with their hands, craft and nature.”
Best Made aspires to four “famous” virtues: compassion, courage, grace and fortitude; which they sell in felt badge form.
Their journey is one back in time, back to the sense of adventure that one possessed as a child. The products of Best Made Co. endeavor to inspire people to leave the city, to go outside and use their hands; to reconnect with nature. I have never been literally camping, but with their “Max’s Axe” (a nod to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Thing’s Are protagonist) in my hands, my inner Hemingway was awakened a bit.
Interestingly, many of the axes never realize that rustic fate, some never even leaving the city in which they were hand-painted. However their aesthetic appeal alone has been lauded in the design community. Filmmaker David Lynch owns one, as does Andy Spade. Seven of his axes live in the Saatchi Gallery in London. As simply pieces of art, they can add a touch of rustic edge to a modernized space in a bustling city.
Beyond those seeking axes for display purposes, Best Made appeals to a new demographic. People who are absorbed in the present, yet fascinated with the way things used to be. Those interested in age-old authenticity and handcrafted goods, quality construction and meaning. Those who fret over selvedge denim because of the process and get excited over waxed cotton canvas for its durability.
While their axes are made at an undisclosed location in Maine, Best Made doesn’t restrict themselves to borders. Buchanan-Smith grew up on a farm in Ontario, and cares more about quality than origin. They carry various items, many made outside of the United States (and by other brands), that are difficult to put into any single category. However they all share a few common denominators: the products are all incredibly well–made, carry utility and usually have a story or some other quirk associated with them.
Their First Aid Kit, intended for woodsmen, contains no band-aids; as a lumberjack rarely suffers an injury in which one would be useful.
Take for example the Handy Twine Knife. An aluminum ring with a steel blade that was invented in 1904 by James Caldwell. As the story goes, Caldwell ran a railway mail route and the use of a conventional knife to cut open bundles of mail left him all too susceptible to thieves. By using this ring to cut open packages instead, he was able to defend himself by simultaneously wielding a sidearm. Best Made sells the knife for cutting everything from fishing line to fruit. It is surprisingly sharp.
Their Alpine Rucksack, a collaboration with the century-old German company Seil Marschall, ($398), is the most beautiful backpack I’ve ever seen. The attention to detail on the bag is incredible; from the French-made canvas and vegetable tanned leather, to the solid brass hardware. It even has a natural buffalo horn drawstring stopper. The cerulean blue is nothing short of stunning, yet it still begs to get used and beat up.
Last month, they set up an experimental mini-shop (fittingly in a canvas tent) at Capsule, the fashion and lifestyle trade show in New York.
Best Made now ambitiously endeavors to release one new product each week. Most recently, this Duck Canvas Utility Tray. No easy task, but a virtuous one indeed.
If you share their lifestyle, or aspire to, connect with Best Made. They are active on social media, and their website and blog have become a sort of community, in which people can connect, chat, attend workshops and even go camping together.
Tags: American Made, Andy Spade, Artisan, Axe, Axes, Best Made Co. Peter Buchanan-Smith, Best Made Company, Camping Rucksack, craftsmanship, David Lynch, Lightning Bolt, Maine, Maurice Sendak, Max, Saatchi Gallery, Tribeca Axe