At the Forge with Wetterlings Swedish Axe Works
Founded in 1880, Sweden’s Wetterlings Axe Works may be the world’s oldest traditional axe manufacturer. Crafted by a small team of blacksmiths, their heirloom hatchets and axes combine centuries of Swedish heritage in forestry and steel-making with a dedication to utility and quality. We recently caught up with Wetterlings’ Julia Kalthoff to learn more about the company’s history, and how their heritage carries into the present.
“Wetterlings began as a collaboration between two brothers, Sven Axel and Otto Wetterling,” says Julia. “Sven Axel started making axes to supply Sweden’s booming forestry industry—at the time, the country was very rural and filled with forests. Otto, an engineer, studied new industrial technologies in America. His technical knowledge paired with centuries of Swedish steel-making and forestry tradition to make Wetterlings instantly prosperous.
“The company thrived for decades, making axes for the large part of the Swedish population that worked in forestry. Beginning in the 1940s, however, chainsaws began to overtake axes as the primary tool for woodcutting. Many forges tried to make cheaper axes to compete, but this era saw a lot of axe companies go bankrupt. Wetterlings took a different approach—they returned to their roots and started making heirloom axes especially for people who are seeking high-quality tools.”
Wetterlings is based in the small town of Storvik, located in an area of Sweden that Julia describes as “iron country”—a region with a long tradition of working with steel, similar to Pittsburgh in the United States. The nearby town of Sandviken is a hub for steel manufacturing, but the surrounding landscape remains rural. “The natural landscape of northern Sweden is still quite open,” she says. “We’re close to a lot of pine and spruce forests, which ties us to the country’s history of forestry.”
Today, a team of seven blacksmiths makes every Wetterlings axe, with some working at company for their entire lives. They’re a diverse group-- some have experience working in various areas of the metal industry, while others joined the forge to be a part of Swedish cultural heritage. It takes about two days to make a Wetterlings axe; the tools are completed in small batches using time-honored techniques.
Julia tells us, “Blacksmiths can be described as kings of the crafts because they make the tools that help other craftspeople do their best work. This creates ‘waves of craft’ and positivity for craftspeople around the world.”
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