Ask A Tool Maker – Julia Kalthoff

Hi Julia, how are you?
Great thanks! I just got back to Stockholm from holidays in the south of Sweden.

How’s Stockholm these days?
It’s been pretty quiet the past few months. Right now, it’s like any other summer though, a lot of people are away.

Let’s talk about axes, shall we? 
Sure!

How did you get into axe making?
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my mother’s fabric shop, sewing dolls and clothes. I got used to working with fabric, a very direct material that is easy to grasp. However, at the age of 19, I became curious about metal. I could not understand how it is possible to pick up a piece of metal, heat it in a fire, shape it using your own body and end up with a shape that lasts for thousands of years. I couldn’t wrap my head around it… I found a forge which held forging courses. Being totally broke after an around the world trip, I asked them if I could pay for the courses by working for them, and they agreed. I got completely lost in the hot steel, the soot, like a new universe for me. The forge, Gränsfors, happened to make axes, and so I learnt about axe types and qualities, what they are used for and different types of steel.
The owner of Gränsfors also had another forge, Wetterlings, which happened to need a temporary manager. They asked if I could jump in, and I did. We started to improve the quality of the axes, and get the forge back on track. I learnt a lot about axe making during my time there. After a few years I felt that I had done all that I could, and decided to go to business school to re-claim my lost youth, haha. I had had so much responsibility at a young age. When I relocated for my studies, I really felt that I left axe making behind…

So how did you find your way back to it?
During my studies, I was thinking about what was next for me. It just hit me that “Omg, I can start making axes”. I didn’t actually feel done with axe making itself and still wanted to understand what creates that “holy shit, what an axe” feeling. Earlier, I did not have time to dig as deep as I wanted into what makes the difference between a good and a bad axe. Now I wanted to work until I found the answers to my questions and make my own axe.

Did you find the answers, because you ended up launching, right?
Yes I did! But I’m also still looking, because we continuously improve the quality at the pace we are able. I started working on my axe in 2017, with Beth Moen as main tester. It took us six months to get to a point where we were satisfied. Then I collaborated with a Norwegian doctor in edge tool metallurgy in order to select the perfect steel and forging method, and launched in 2018. Many people followed my work. Sometimes it stressed me out but I wanted to really take my time. It resulted in a waiting list and around 100 orders right when I launched. Since then I have made the axe over and over again.

What motivates you to keep going?
The different details in axes and axe making never stops to fascinate me. There are so many rabbit wholes to loose myself in, haha. I also like the idea that what I really do is to spread the calm and energetic feeling that comes from working with your own hands. Taking small creative decisions creates a nice state of mind. When I work, I feel like I can load the axe with this energy.

What’s the best thing with your profession?
Spreading the joy of crafting at the same time as I’m able to create a good life for myself and my employees. And I love to carve in fresh wood so I like the fact that I make a carving axe. Out of all materials, wood is the most fun material to work with, and out of all tools, axes are the most fun to create since they’re totally wild. The power of the axe is releasing.

What’s the worst thing?
The pressure to continuously live up to my own and others’ expectations. Everything we do needs to be top notch, and that can be a heavy load.

Do you have any role models?
Gabriel who hired me at Gränsfors and Wetterlings. He’s fun and a bit bonkers with his own compass. He has good values.

When you’re not making axes, what do you do?
Spend time in nature, cook, and chill…

Do you have time to chill?
I have just started lately, hehe… Reading fiction is the best way for me to not work, otherwise I just think about axes constantly.

How does the future look, and can we expect a new model?
I don’t want to scale up. I’ve been thinking a lot about a new model and I’ve been sketching. But I’m a bit worried that it might skew our current balance. Still, I can’t resist sketching…

When people read this, perhaps they start queueing up.
They already do. There is already a “if you release a new axe” waiting list

Is there anything else you’d like to let the readers know about?
That they are very welcome to visit the workshop. Sometimes we have axes available to purchase as well. And this autumn, we are holding courses in carving axe technique. Knife work, that’s like automatic, axing is something else, haha. Jokes aside, keep an eye on Instagram and Facebook. You can also sign up for our newsletter. I promise not to spam! I have never sent anything so far, but I will do a send-out about the courses. I hope it will be a bit like a seminar here in the workshop where people will be learning about axing and also exchange carving experiences.

That sounds awesome. We’d love to join!
You are very welcome to.

Cool! Thanks a lot for your time and see you in a few months!

Follow Julia on Instagram at @kalthoffaxes and have a look at her website visiting kalthoffaxes.se
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