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, “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 fat and varnished
While they need 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 the shelf, but is hard on your hands and will contribute to your handle drying out (and loosening) over time.
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 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’s wood-handled 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.
The composite-handled splitting axes are fine, but still cheaply made.
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
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.
Broad River Forge
Broad River Forge is a real family-run business with a big reputation.
Owner Brad forges every piece by hand, and his daughters work on the grinding, and final fit and finish of these heirloom quality tools.
They have worked with the infamous Buckin’ Billy Ray, and are currently collaborating with experienced bushman Jordan Jonas (History Channel’s “Alone”) on a range of axes based on Jonas’ years of experience living in the Siberian Taiga.
They always have a range of impressive projects in the works and can be contacted for commissions if you are interested in getting a truly one-of-a-kind axe. Or at the very least they are worth following on instagram.
Now in St. Catherines, Ontario
Beautiful custom hand-made axes – no two are the same.
Paul Krzyszkowski is a blacksmith whose 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.
Ryan from VintEdge Tools finds and beautifully restores vintage axes. Including hand-carved handles and leatherwork. A great option if you want an heirloom quality axe that was made (and then re-made) in Canada.
He’s worth following on Instagram and can be contacted there as well.
Front Step Forge
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.
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 Canada was official “Canada”.
They 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.
If you are interested in the background of some historic Canadian axe brands, check out museum.axeandtool.com (work in progress). Here is a (not-complete) list of the bigger players below.
Allan Hills (Galt)
Ardex (Toronto, ON)
BC Marine (BC)
Blenkhorn (Canning, NS)
Bradley Axe (Nashwaak Villiage, NB)
Burgess Tool Co. (Ottawa, ON)
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)
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)
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 in 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.
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 (and 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.
Please comment below If I missed something or if you have any questions. I do my best to respond to everyone.