Base Camp X: Bespoke Handmade Axes

Apr 22, 2014

Base Camp X is certainly one of the most intriguing, handcrafted brands we have covered to date in the Handbook. Armed with an unshakable will, a distinct vision and an untethered imagination, Graeme Cameron (above) has elevated a seemingly basic outdoors tool (an axe) into a symbol of  livelihood, legacy and artistry. No two BCX axes are ever exactly alike, and mass production is never an option due to the intense hands-on process that goes into creating each product. As a result, these artisanal axes are not cheap, and there is usually a 4-6 week wait for a custom order.  But the response has been overwhelming, and several well-known personalities one might not expect (including George Lucas and Dave Grohl) already own a custom BCX axe. Read on to learn more about this unrivaled Toronto-based company.

When was your company BCX founded and why did you choose the motto “Live your Legacy?”

I founded Base Camp X in May of 2010 after leaving Best Made Co. to follow my own brand vision. I co-founded Best Made with a similar brand vision in 2009, but needed to do things at my own pace and in my own way. Partnerships are a very difficult thing to manage between friends, especially over a long distance. My original vision for BCX was to create a deeper connection to the things that we buy, to purchase well-made product that is designed to last and can be handed down through generations. The axe is pretty timeless in its symbolism. It’s a great totem for legacy, so I coined the phrase: “This is not your Grandfathers Axe; It’s your Grandson’s.” The idea of making a conscious decision to purchase an item that would in effect be for you, but also for you to pass along, hence, “Live your Legacy.”  Don’t buy it and save it in a box for a future gift – use it, get to know it, build your own story with it and increase the value of it with that story.

Why did you decide on making axes the signature product of BCX? Also what does the name Base Camp X represent?

I grew up on a farm that my father rebuilt in the early 70′s and he was and still is an avid outdoorsman. He taught me the power and importance of the axe at an extremely young age. I was still in diapers when he took me out on our first canoe trip, so I was subject to quite a bit of axe lore around the campfire from those early years. It was part of my family heritage really. His father did the same with him. 13 years ago, I built a hand-hewn log cabin  on our property north of Peterborough, Ontario (shown below); this was when I really got to know the tool that became the totem for BCX, and before that Best Made. I used a double bit Cruiser axe that my dad gave to me, a set of Swedish chisels, a few different saws, some rope and that was pretty much it. Each log came from my property and was brought to the site under my own power, generally shouldered or dragged. So in effect I created Base Camp X out of my own sweat and blood. I herniated multiple discs in my lower back, but I finished it. The brand came after, so my sole intention was to simply build this home in the woods, to see if I had the mettle to actually do it. I was only out to prove one thing and to one person, and I did it.

So BCX is a real place. I never thought it would be something to found a brand on, but it was a big part of the motivation for Peter and I to create Best Made. Once I decided to leave that relationship and do it my own way, it became apparent that I needed to embrace the experience of the build even more and continue on. So the axes where a no-brainer choice for a signature product. Base Camp X is my personal place, a place where I dream, a place where I create, a place I will leave for my children and their children to follow.

Can you explain briefly how each axe is forged into existence?

There is a selection of different axe styles that we offer. The heads serve a variety of purposes and are sometimes used for different tasks and environments. My heads are from several sources and mainly consist of high carbon steel. We do both drop forges and hand forges. The handles are all built out of straight grain Hickory. It is the absolute best material for striking tools and can vary drastically in color and grain patterns.

The real magic for a BCX axe is found in the handle finishing. We spend hours hand-sanding and wet-sanding each piece until it is marble smooth, a minimum of 2 rounds of wet-sanding for each handle. I will not allow any belt or rotary sanders to touch these handles. Once the heads are hung and the handles are inspected, we hit each one with the signature BCX fire brand. Every brand is applied by hand, no machines allowed. This is how we ensure that every brand is unique on every axe. The fire branding is never perfect (as a laser-etch might be), and I really love that part, hand-applying red hot steel heated by fire to the wood. It’s a one shot deal. All of our stains are handcrafted and mixed with water that I collect from the lake at BCX. I have a particular spot off of my favorite island. Each axe has some physical Base Camp X in it. It’s a small detail and those are the ones that make us different. Each finishing coat is applied by brush. I won’t introduce spray guns into the operation as I want a physical connection with each coat that is applied.

You put a lot of effort and thought into being environmentally conscious -what are some of the processes you have in place for conserving nature and using recyclable materials?

We do our best to ensure the lowest impact possible on the environment with the materials and process, but of course we can always improve. I do my utmost to ensure that the people I work with as suppliers are doing their part also. One way to ensure that we are making a positive impact is to get behind the right environmental cause for the company. This fall, we will be making some announcements as to this direction with proceeds from each purchase being directed appropriately. Our packaging is derived from recycled materials. This is where the majority of waste for any company is generated. I would like to think that most of our customers are actually keeping the boxes that we ship in; it is not designed to be thrown away. We avoid plastics, use cardboard boxes with vegetable ink branding and starch based filler.

What other products do you make in addition to axes, and are there plans to expand into even more categories?

The axes are our signature of course, but we carry some unreal Khukri knives that we have hand-forged for us in Nepal. I have used the Khukri for many years in place of the ever popular and often requested hatchet. I don’t like hatchets at all and a Khukri is much safer. The handmade and stitched leather bound Legacy Journal is a very unique and popular item, even the paper is handmade. Handwriting is something that I feel very strongly about preserving, so I wanted to offer a vessel to carry such a personal art form. We also have fire pistons, fire Bowls, Tomahawks, cut throat razors and a set of handmade throwing knives that we call “The Furies.” There are a ton of products just waiting to be released, but I definitely believe in taking the time to never rush a project or a product – it’s not a race. The limited slingshot and ‘Water Axes”(paddles) will be releasing very shortly.

A current focus that I have really enjoyed is developing product art like the “Kraken Titanis” axe (shown above) and “Poisonwood,” a hand-turned black walnut bat with a hand carved white oak spike. The Kraken Titanis is truly remarkable. It’s our monster of an axe called the Titanis with a hand sculpted Kraken (thought to be mythical, but discovered off of the coast of Japan three days after I released the images) adorning the head. This axe is not for chopping. It’s pure art even though it still carries the Titanis bite.

In your own life, what have been some of most memorable nature/outdoors experiences?

By far, my most memorable experiences in the outdoors originated at summer camp in Algonquin Park. I spent every summer from the age of 8 until 20 at Taylor Statton Camps on Canoe Lake.

10 years from now, what do you envision for BCX?

All I want is to be able to look back and not curse myself too much for the moves I am making today. I believe so strongly in my direction, because it’s my direction and not one being dictated by other equity holders or by following trends. I am the sole decision maker in this venture and maybe by then I will have opened up again to the idea of a partner, but for now I am prepared to lead from the front and have my hands in everything that we do. A few things in the works currently are the development of our Base Camp X Forge facility, which is going to allow us greater flexibility in production and development. We also have one of the most talented furniture designers in Canada working here and developing directional growth solely around him is happening too.

Lastly, in your own words what do you feel differentiates a BCX product from everything else on the market?

It’s not necessarily the obvious things like product design or quality. There are so many talented people and companies out there, it really blows my mind. Not a day goes by where I don’t see a new talent that I want to work with on a project. I believe the difference is in the experience really, be it customer service and care, exposure to new images, ideas and design over social media platforms like Instagram or via inclusion in the process of “Custom” design. Engaging a customer is what keeps a customer and ultimately makes them an evangelist for your brand. A big part of “The BCX experience” is just that – being recognized and appreciated.

For more information about Base Camp X, visit basecampx.com


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