Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Good, Better, Best Made

Once upon a time, when fixies were still novel and the whole "urban lumberjack" thing was still nascent, I devoted a fair amount of pixels to Peter Buchanan-Smith and his Best Made Co., which achieved considerable notoriety by painting the handles of ordinary axes and selling them to urban idiots at a considerable premium.

Well, the joke's on me because according to a recent article in the New York Times axes are still very much a part of the zeitgeist:
I felt rather smug about the New York Times being so far behind the curve--until I realized that I first discovered Best Made Co. thanks to an article in the New York Times.

The joke is on me again--and again, because Best Made Co. is apparently still going strong.

And Peter Buchanan-Smith, a graphic designer to the stars, was the champion of the fancy ax.

In 2009, he started a boutique ax line called Best Made Co., for which he sourced high-quality axes from another maker and painted the handles with colorful block and stripe motifs, evoking both Pendleton and Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom.” They were a sensation.

Today, the brand’s brick-and-mortar stores in New York and Los Angeles stock all manner of nostalgic but purposeful camping gear. Stalwart offerings are axes ($228 to $398) and hatchets (similar but smaller, $98 to $228). In-store events serve to culturally align the ax with third-wave coffee, houseplant collecting and listening to vinyl.

The last time I thought about Best Made was back in 2017, when I attended a Specialized event at their store in Manhattan, which was just as stupid as I thought it would be.  (I mean the store, not the launch event.) And as I mentioned in my subsequent post, back in 2010 Buchanan-Smith did address my commentary about him and Best Made, albeit through an intermediary:

Thanks so much for the link. I'll comment when he shows me his face, tells me his real name, or is willing to test drive my product... then he'll have grown a pair of balls big enough to slap down on the proverbial glass table... Thanks so much for sending the post. Always a pleasure to see Best Made inspiring such critical thinking. All the best, Peter

Here's the reply I invited the intermediary to share with Peter:

Thanks for forwarding. Admittedly I'm not a woodsman, nor do I have any real wood-chopping experience. However, when someone forwarded me an article about a person who takes axes "Made by a secret source in Maine," paints them, and sells them at prices starting at $180 naturally it piqued my interest, for we often see this sort of thing in the bicycle industry (frames and components that come from a single source but are sold at varying prices under various branding) and it's the sort of thing I enjoy writing about in a humorous fashion on my blog.

According to a reader the "secret source in Maine" is likely Snow & Nealley, as the ax resembles their Hudson Bay Camping Axe: 

They generally sell for about $75: 

Again, I'm no axe expert (ax-pert?), and if Mr. Buchanan-Smith's ax is actually some proprietary design that works far better than the Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Camping Axe then I certainly owe him an apology And even if it is simply a Snow & Nealey Hudson Bay Camping Axe that costs two to three times as much because it has a painted handle, the fact that people are attracted to them and want to pay for them is all that should matter to Mr. Buchanan-Smith. I'm merely a bike blogger, and the people who read my blog are generally not contemplating such a purchase in the first place. In the end, his success is what's important.

In any case, my face and name are no secret: 

and if he is serious about "test driving" his product I would gladly try it alongside a Snow & Nealley Hudson Bay Camping Axe and see if I can tell the difference (though as a non-woodsman he might have to highlight any differences that extend beyond the handle color since I'd doubtless miss any subtleties.)

Again, I'm merely a wiseass bike blogger and a "pop culture bedazzler," and Mr. Buchanan-Smith's success in his own world is really all that matters in the final analysis, but in any case please feel free to forward him this email. While Best Made's offerings are not for me, I certainly bear him no ill will and wish him all the best. 


Looking back at all this with 2020 just days away, I think about how two bros without balls bickering through an intermediary is what this past decade was all about.

Anyway, it occurs to me that there's something about Best Made I never understood until now.  See, my son recently joined the Cub Scouts, and not too long ago we went to the Scout Store up in Westchester to get him his uniform and scouting sundries.  Never having been a Scout myself, the Scout Shop was a new experience for me, and it was, to put it simply, awesome.  Pocket knives, camping supplies, handbooks on every conceivable subject...  And only now as I read this latest axe article do I realize that the Best Made Co. is just a Scout Shop for adult douchebags.  It's so simple!  I mean I was sort of circling around it when I mentioned merit badges in the Specialized post:
But I didn't really get it until now.

Nevertheless, the Best Made Co. does fulfill an important need, such as supplying accurate timepieces for under $1,000:

Sure, they typical Best Made customer is getting the exact time beamed directly from space via a smartphone, smartwatch, laptop, and tablet, but none of those items has an old-timey brass key or looks like a prop from a Wes Anderson movie.

(You could also buy a deck clock direct from the manufacturer for like $200 but that's just silly when you can spend five times as much with Best Made.)

As for the rest of the Times article, you can't swing an axe anywhere near it without hitting something to scoff at:

You can put an axe through a log, but an axe can't put a kid through college.


  1. Having money to pass on to our children??? Now, an axe...I can see swinging that.

  2. Scouting is a great thing and I hope there are biking merit badges by now. I don't think there used to be.

  3. I got the cycling merit badge back in 2000 or so. The badge was introduced in 1911 and was one of the original 57 badges, I believe. I love the resources the merit badge book lists:

    That merit badge contributed heavily to my life long passion for riding.

    As for Best Made, that companies success has been blowing my mind for far too many years. Now let me go grab my $1000 enameled metal toolbox with my one screw driver it it!

  4. I'm more of a "Bike Nashbar" kind of guy.

    Who remembers "Spike Nashbar"?

  5. Looking for flat trails...December 18, 2019 at 3:37 PM

    My 4 year old tot is throwing his mini-ax around - getting ready for a scholarship to the varsity ax-throwing team at __________ [insert name of college where ax-throwing competitions would be a thing].

  6. Yes, there is a cycling merit badge:

    And fuck that urban axe bullshit. It's a prop, an affectation, an otherwise fine and very useful tool that has been reduced to an "image piece" for those who lack any shred of originality. I hear they come with a gift certificate for a neck tattoo now. Collect all five!

  7. A Maine transplant, I cut firewood in my apartment building's backyard as a dominance display to the other people who live in my brooklyn apt building. The axe I purchased from the hardware store on Myrtle, $50.

    Really we just have an enormous oak tree that likes to drop normal-tree-sized branches, and it looks better chopped into firewood.

  8. What the hell is third wave coffee? I think we are up to four, actually:
    first wave - boiling grounds; second wave - percolator; third wave - drip through some type of filter - forth wave - pressurized hot water through fine grinds.

    I might have that out of order, and I might be missing a wave? I can't think of a process for extracting flavor and caffeine from roasted ground seeds that I'm missing, but my coffee history is clearly suspect.

  9. Wow, so I actually looked it up on "the Wikipedia" after posting...…..From now on I'm sticking with the first wave - "first wave coffee is focused on providing an accessible, low-price, consistent cup of coffee that can be corrected with additives like sweeteners or dairy creamers" - or nothing.

  10. There is a Cycling merit badge, which has been around since 1911. I was a Boy Scout and was not aware of this. Maybe there were no counselors in my area.

  11. Buck: Who said anything about that? I thought you might like to join us for some ice cream. Maybe your Bug here can join us. We can talk about burying the hatchet. You know what a hatchet is, don’t you, Bug?
    Bug: It’s an ax?
    Buck: Sort of, yeah, yeah. I got one in my car if you’d like to see it.
    Bug: [getting scared] I’ll pass.
    Buck: Fair enough. I like to carry it, you never know when you’re going to need it.

  12. Damn. Only 11 more shopping days until you have to start the count over.

  13. I'm waiting for the Jack Torrance (movie version) and Lizzy Borden models to come out.

  14. Thanks snob, your shit about Best Made is STILL so funny. I loved it then and I almost shit when i saw the article today in the NYtimes. Wish they would open the comments so I could spam it like we did to the minimalist guy, remember? Ha, this is why i've been reading this blog for over ten years.


  15. Actually a few axes axi? carried on my bike may go a long way in curing a few problems with those fine citizens driving 7000 pound single passenger STDs with crack dealer windows and obscene bright lights looking for big cats to jump out of trees on 'em. I would love to test one of those axi on a few of them

  16. Well, as to the fixie craze: I started riding fixed in about 2004, in the year of our Lob. I was influenced by Our Father Sheldon Brown.

    You see, I was under the impression that fixies were about curmudgeonly old men of a certain age, and being one, I partook. And I liked it.

    As to axes, artisanal or otherwise: For years I heated our humble home in this rural community with wood. Or more accurately, my beloved wife, a farm girl who grew up doing so instructed me in the ways of wood-to-BTU conversion.

    My weapon of choice when presented with cords of seasoned oak was a single bit axe. We were a machine, my mighty axe and I. Later, when the most available heat source was green locust, a splitting maul, wedges and a sledgehammer were the order of the day.

    Understand, this was not some flannel-clad hipster trying to be one of the cool kids. This was a desperately poor working man living in a small rural community trying to keep his wife and baby warm. But we're past that now. Our heating system has been upgraded. Yes, to a more efficient fossil-fueled system. Oh, and I still love fixed gears. And Threta Gunberg can kiss my ass. (When she turns 18, of course).

    The hills are alive
    With the sound of cow farts
    And steaks on the grill
    And a thousand beers...

    Maizee Hirohito (or whatever the Hawaiian congressthing calls herself)

    Take the "A" train.

  17. The team building exercise with my office colleagues this year was at

    They don't use axes at Flying Axes. They use hatchets. But it makes the dude-bros happier to say they throw axes instead of hatchets.

    The place has a bar. They serve alcoholic beverages. I drank beer and threw hatchets for two hours. The place in Nashville is generally not accessible by bicycle. So everyone drives to the place where they drink and throw hatchets. Hell, I was nearly t-boned in my car (I own it, no bank involved) by a woman speeding in an SUV while I was driving to Flying Axes last month. It was a close call.

    What a time to be alive.

  18. Surprised to read that the lumberjack mystique is still holding up. Hoping the trendsetters set the clocks back a little further to the frontier days, so wearing bandanas around the neck and Davy Crockett coonskin caps become acceptable again. Maybe it'd be worth the mirth to swing by the Best Made store dressed like Merriweather Lewis and peruse the artisnal goods. One up the smugly ensconced value-adder.

  19. Feck I hated Scouts. I think I quit after second class. The process and learning were fine but the people, at least where I grew up, we ucking fassholes. I didn't realize they had a cycling badge, but I don't think that would have made a difference.

    I still have my hatchet from scouts though; that may be the only thing I do still have. I still take it with me backpacking.

  20. I avoid the street on my bikecycle.December 19, 2019 at 9:55 AM

    I threw up some coffee over this:

  21. Beck, my standard cycling routes occasionally take me near the place where Merriwether Lewis died and was buried.

    And David Crockett Elementary School is about a mile from my house. It was named after the guy in the coonskin hat.

    None of this is anywhere near Brooklyn though, so, its all fairly unauthentic as a result.

  22. I've been happy with $30-$40ish Collins axes, having used them to deal with storm damage, as well as building a fun ski jump in the woods. I also have my deceased Father's backpacking axe and it is special to me.

  23. Hey wait, isn't Christian Bale with an axe in "American Psycho" the original NYC Axeman?

  24. Well, an axe (or several) will probably put Mr. Buchanan-Smith's kids thru college.

  25. I just duct taped a hatchet to the wall and sold it for 210K. Your move, Buchanan.

  26. Axe? Hatchet? Unless your splitting wood (and in which case you'd use a splitting maul or a sledgehammer w/ wedges), what you need is a saw. Axes are really quite useless for most "woods cutting" purposes.
    As an age 50+ rural homeowner who has a supplemental wood stove and a lifetime of acquiring tools, I have all the above tools, plus plus. If someone said you can only keep two, a chain saw and sledgehammer with wedges would be what I would keep; axe/hatchet would be last.
    Honey, the storm blew a tree down over the car- no I'm not reaching for an axe...

  27. After all that Best Made bruhaha (which would be an excellent name for a Best Made megaphone) I needed to purchase and axe for actual wood splitting, not just looking cool. Instead of $225 for a Snow & Nealey with racing stripes I bought the best rated axe on Amazon, the Fiskars SuperSplitting Axe for $60. It has a plastic handle and is the antithesis of cool. But dang it splits wood nicely. It's the 105 of axes.

  28. What would be the 105 of cars?

  29. 105 of cars would be a Honda Civic

  30. Billinrockhill: perhaps the Corvette?