Is There a Good Canadian Axe? – Here Are Your Options

Here in the Great White North; a land known for lumberjacks and vast wilderness – we have almost no options for axes made in Canada. 

Sadly, no companies manufacture axes in Canada anymore. Garant (based in Quebec) sells axes that are “assembled in Canada”, but the heads are made in China and the handles in Mexico. There are a couple of custom axe makers, but finding a vintage Canadian-made axe will be cheaper and easier to find.


Are Garant axes any good?

While the parts aren’t made here, Garant is still a Canadian company and one that’s been around since 1895. So if you want a decent axe that supports the Canadian economy, you should go with a Garant. They are in all the hardware stores.

And since they are the only game in town for “Canadian” axes, I’ll give you a mini-review on what to expect. 

The Garant axes are a good value work axe, better than your average hardware store axe like Yardworks or Husky. But they don’t come very sharp, or with a sheath, and the handles come thick and varnished.

Note: Garant axes come with a red-painted head. On my well-worn Chainsaw axe, the paint is basically gone from work and cleaning off rust with sandpaper (don’t store your axe in the trunk over winter).

Garant axe heads are classic but need sharpening

Garant axes don’t come sharp. The profile is fat, and the edge dull so you will need to do some sharpening to get the best results. They come fine for splitting, but not for real chopping.

Most of the Garant axe heads are a classic “Canadian”, “Zeek”, or “Hoosier” pattern, with a wide bit that flares out in both directions with a deep curved cutting edge. This is a great head design for felling trees or chopping branches, but not as well suited for bucking.

The profile is quite stout and wedge-shaped, which wont chop as deep but is good for clearing chips and helps in medium-size splitting tasks. I would consider this an okay option for a general-purpose “work axe”. 

Tip: Don’t store the axe in the blade cover once you start using it, the rubber can trap moisture against the steel and build up rust

Garant axe handles are well-shaped but varnished

While they need use some tuning, I really like the Garant handles as a base.

The overall shape is excellent, with a nice flared palm swell that locks in the hand. The handles come varnished (which is not great) and are thick (very common in axes today), but they aren’t the worst offenders. 

The varnished handle is the most annoying part. Varnish keeps the handle looking good on shelf, but is hard on your hands and will contribute to your handle drying out (and loosening) over time. 

I have articles on how to remove handle varnish, thin your handle, and how to properly oil your handle.

There is also a yellow safety grip which is textured paint. This works very well to create grip but is a killer on your hands if you aren’t wearing gloves. 

I added the lanyard hole and trimmed the handle slightly to fit compactly in the trunk of my vehicle above the spare tire.

I would remove both varnish and grip if I was going to use this axe in volume. 


Avoid Canadian Tire’s “Yardworks” Axes

This will be quick. Canadian Tire Yardworks axes are crap.

The handles are poorly shaped and inconsistent. The hang is bad, the head is small and dull. And they are only $10 cheaper than a Garant.

The replacement handles are also crap.

Just don’t.

Note: You can find old MasterCraft stamped axes but the heads are believed to have been made by Mann Edge possibly in the US/CAN.


Canadian Custom Axe Makers

Toronto Blacksmith Viking Camp Axe pictured above (Thanks Ben)

The small custom forges produce some nice axes, but they aren’t at a price point that’s for everyone and focus primarily on smaller camp axes or specialty pieces. And when I say small I mean they are shops of 1. 


Toronto Blacksmith

Now in St. Catherines, Ontario

Beautiful custom hand-made axes – no two are the same.

Paul Krzyszkowski is a blacksmith who’s quality is second to none. While I don’t own one myself – I’ve had the chance to use the one pictured above. And getting one of these axes is on my “list”.

He makes a beautiful range of unique and historical axes and even offers classes for you to make your own. Prices range from $250-$500, which is reasonable for a custom-made tool.


VintEdge Tools

Newmarket, Ontario

Restoration | Sharpening & Rehandling | Custom Leather Work

Ryan from VintEdge Tools finds and beautifully restores vintage axes. Including hand carved handles and leather work. A great option if you want an heirloom quality axe that was made (and then re-made) in Canada.

He’s worth the follow on Instagram, and can be contacted there as well.


Broad River Forge

Hanover, Ontario

Custom shop that can make all kinds of hand tools. Very impressive axes, currently (at time of writing) working on a special custom model to be sold by Buckin’ Billy Ray (Youtube).


Front Step Forge

Edmonton, Alberta

Run by Shawn Cunningham, this is a custom blacksmith shop that doesn’t just stop at axes. He does, hammers, punches, decorations, and anything else you might want. 

With Shawn, you can commission a piece that’s made for you and incorporate exactly what you want. He also has a good Instagram feed.


Restore a Vintage Canadian Axe

The only way to get a traditional, true Canadian-made, full-size or boys axe is to find a vintage axe or axe head and restore it yourself.

Vintage Garant axe I restored as a Christmas gift

There was a time when many regional, national and international axe manufacturers operated right here in Canada, exporting world-class axes across the globe. Some forges were even started before Confederation.

“The don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

As the “golden age of axes” came to an end around the 1940s, they all started to consolidate and then shutter, one by one. The Canadian axe industry fell hard as the chainsaw took over.

The silver lining to this quick fall is that (unlike the US) we didn’t have the period from the 70s on where axe makers held on making cheaper axes. We just imported them.

So if you find a Canadian-marked axe, you can be pretty certain it was made well. So I recommend that if you want a good quality Canadian-made tool, you make it a project for yourself and bring one back to life.


How to Identify a vintage Canadian axe?

The nice thing about identifying an old axe is it’s generally pretty easy – or impossible. There’s not a lot of middle ground.

Traditionally most axes were stamped with the maker’s name or mark, so the logo or design will be pressed right into the metal. This makes it very easy to identify and I have a list of brands to look out for below.

This mark can wear away with time or get covered up by patina, but it’s surprising how well they last even under decades of rust.

In later years basically, all companies switched to paper labels – often in conjunction with a simplified stamping, but sometimes just paper. The paper labels have all the info you need to identify an axe (if they survive), but as you can imagine they didn’t last long with use.

So if you find an axe with no stamp and no paper label, there is no way to tell.

And while logos can be found on handles, you still can’t know for certain because handles could be swapped out at any time. Can you tell if a handle was changed 80 years ago on a 100-year-old axe?


Vintage Canadian Axe Brands to look for:

The big players were always Walters & Welland Vale, but there were many options and it gets confusing. As the industry changed, many companies were bought out or merged, and there are Canadian versions of American companies (True Temper / Mann / Warren). I’m working on growing the list below and adding more details for a more thorough history.

Note: At least some Vintage Garant axes were made by Hults Bruks in Sweden (source)- I’m still trying to determine if any were actually made in Canada.

Ardex (Toronto, ON)
Ashdown’s (Manitoba)
BC Marine (BC)
Blenkhorn (Canning, NS)
Bradley Axe (Nashwaak Villiage, NB)
Campbell’s (St. John, NB)
Canadian Warren Axe & Tool Co. (St. Catherines, ON)
Canadian Foundries & Forging (Brockville, ON)
Dundas Axe Works (Dundas, ON)
E & H Broad and Co. (NB)
Garant (Montreal, QC)*
Howland’s Samson (Toronto, ON)
Howden’s Trueset (London, ON)
James Smarts MFG. Co (Brockville, ON)
Josiah Fowler Co. LTD (St. John, NB)
Kloepfer Hardware Co. (Vancouver, BC)
Lion Brand (Welland Vale Brand)
Mann Axe & Tool Co. LTD (St. Stephen, NB)
Marshall Wells of Canada (Made by Welland Vale)
Merrick-Anderson Co. (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Rixford (St. Paul, QC)
StrikeMaster (Unconfirmed – Gravenhurst, ON)
True Temper Canada (St. Catherines, ON)
Walters (Hull, ON)
Wajax (Montreal, QC)
Warnock (Galt, ON)
Welland Vale (St. Catherines, ON)

For more details on many of these brands please see the wonderful Yester Years Tools site by the late Tom Lamond. He did years of personal research to build an excellent resource.

Another great resource (I used for this list) on Canadian axe makers is a book that is unfortunately out of print called “Axe Makers of North America” 2nd Edition by Allan Klenman / Larry McPhail.


Where to find old axes?

Three different “Lion Brand” axes from Welland Vale (The left one after they became True Temper Canada)

I have probably got axe heads every way you can think of, and there are pros and cons to each. So if you are interested I suggest you check out my article on 9 ways I find vintage axes. It has plenty of bonus tips and watch-outs. Some of the most popular ways are:

1. Garage Sales / Flea Markets

Garage sales and Flea markets are the most popular way (I did a survey), and where you can find the best deals. It’s no guarantee and can be a time-intensive search, but you will have fun while you do it. A true thrill of the hunt.

2. eBay

This is the easiest way (by far) but will cost you the most – You are competing with the world. You can filter the search to just show axes in Canada which helps and cuts down on shipping fees. Mailing a 3-pound chunk isn’t always cheap. I’ve got some bidding tips in that article I mentioned above.  

3. Kijiji / Facebook Marketplace

Using Kijiji worked well for me when I lived in Toronto, but now that I live somewhere more rural – not so much. It’s a real hit or miss, you can get some amazing deals if you act fast, but other sellers have more eBay-like prices.

I got the old Garant (shown fully restored earlier) for $5.

4. Antique stores

It never hurts to look, but it can also be hit or miss. I’ve got some absolute steals because the shopkeeper doesn’t care about axes (any they are plentiful), and seen some ridiculous over price asks just because the axe is old.

I got the True Temper Lion Head shown earlier for $15 at an Antique store out east.

If I missed something or you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment below. I do my best to respond to everyone.


About the author:

I’m an amateur outdoorsman who loves axes – as a tool, the craft of restoring them, and the history. I got tired of only finding crap websites, so I set out to build a reliable one myself.

Jim B. – Owner, Creator


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11 Comments

  1. Hi
    I found a Garant stamped axe head at a flea market this past weekend . I was under the impression that Garant axes weren’t stamped . Could you give me some insight on this .
    Thanks
    Stan

    1. Most don’t have stamps, but there are 2 types I have seen. I believe they are early 60s or earlier. Both examples I have seen use the 60’s era logo on either the head or handle, and stamping is usually the first thing to go (to save money). I am trying to sort out a better timeline, but there isn’t much to go on.

      1. Thanks for the fast reply .I was also wondering at around what period Garant outsourced to the Chinese manufacturers . Would the stamped Garant with the circle G have been forged in China ? It’s a beautiful little 2 lber on a 24” handle

      2. How about the round spot on both sides of the head ….. I have the same on a 3.5 or 4 pound head with no stamp . By the shape I believe it’s Garant but those circles are almost identical to yours .

        1. The circle G stamp is the nicest one, and I think almost certainly Swedish made by Hults Bruk. I’m less confident about the ones with the circle on the side. They still seem decent, but have weird manufacturing marks (like the circle) that aren’t seen on other HB axes. But I don’t know if that means China. I have requests out with both companies, hoping to get details… But I imagine it’s a long shot.

          Edit: The newer heads are actually marked “China” – but there is a gap in the 70s-90s where it’s unclear.

  2. Hi, I am trying to identify an axe head, can I get your email so I can send you a couple of photos. Thanks Paul

  3. I literally stumbled upon your website while searching for suppliers of axe parts ie. replacement handles and wedges. Not many suppliers and most reputable ones are from the USA. Prices are also high. What justifies the price of a metal single triangular wedge @ $8.99 and a cheap barrel one @ $12.99? Any shopping suggestions? Really glad I read your article. Very informative. I have some older axe heads
    without makers marks that I was given by my ancient neighbour. They are probably from the 40s/50s, maybe older.

    1. We don’t have a lot of good options here – which sucks. I have found even the big hardware stores have stopped selling simple wedge kits.

      Last I checked, Rona and Home Hardware still (sometimes) sell wood and metal wedge kits for cheaper than you listed above. I have a few recommendations below, but feel free to email me if you have more questions – email address is on the about page.

      Handles
      – Home hardware (at least in Ontario) sells locally made handles that are decent and cheap. A little fat, but unlabelled and non-varnished.
      – Garant and Elgin handles can be found at most hardware stores and are actually a decent shape, but are fat and covered in varnish (buy in person, there are lots of duds)
      – There are a couple custom makers on Esty, but they are pricy

      Wood wedges
      – Not a lot of good options other than the kits or making your own

      Metal cross wedges
      I like the straight step wedges more than the barrel type. I find the barrel wedges harder to to drive all the way in, and are more likely to cause cracks. But you can always try with wood only.
      – You can find bulk packs of 10-15 on amazon or ebay, which drops the price per unit down a lot (that’s what I do)
      – Or again Rona/Home Hardware might have Elgin kits for cheaper

      Good luck, and let me know if you come across any good suppliers in your search

  4. I have a boatload of great old axes. 39 in total. Majority are 3 1/2lb. Many brands including “true temper”, “Collins”, “Howlands Samson” + many more. All are single bit (except a few Swede double bit which are 75+ years old). I’ve been selling many in the $75.00 range. Mostly on Kijiji & marketplace with great success. The majority of mine came from estate sales & mostly under $20.00 ea. I picked up and old Coca-Cola wooden chest for $15.00 which happened to contain 21 axe heads ( talk about a pot of gold ) lol. Some where in rough shape, but all have now been restored and all have new handles ( some hickory , some Ash which I made myself using a 36″ handle from 1939 as a pattern) I truly love swinging these “brutes” and have felled a number of trees plus split a ton of firewood with them.

    1. Awesome – always like hearing how others are doing out there. I really like Kijiji as well. Those “pots-of-gold” are getting harder to find – but they are still out there. Thanks for the comment

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