The time before Gränsfors Bruks AB
The first concrete evidence we have about an axe forge in Gränsfors dates from the mid-19th century. In 1868, scythe smith Johan Pettersson (JP), aged 33, moved with his family and his brother Anders Pettersson (AP), aged 18, from Älvdalen to Gränsfors and set up Gränsfors Scythe Forge. Johan Pettersson probably also made axes in his scythe forge, which he ran until 1900. In 1871, younger brother Anders Pettersson bought another scythe forge in Gränsfors, which in 1902 formed the basis for Gränsfors Bruk’s Axe Forge. Anders also forged both scythes and axes.
The latter part of the 19th century marked the start of large-scale logging operations in northern Sweden and demand for forest tools, above all axes, exploded. Around 400,000 people worked full- or part-time in the forest at the peak of the logging.
By the end of the 19th century there were around ten axe factories in Sweden turning out large quantities of axes. The most well known axe forges, from the south of the country upwards, were in Forserum, Kölefors, Åby, Arvika, Säter, Storvik, Gävle and Edsbyn. Although axe exports were high from an early stage, the biggest demand remained up north, which is how the idea came about to build a new axe forge north of the existing ones. The chosen location was of course Gränsfors.
Focus on product development
One major reason why Gränsfors Bruk has survived in the face of tough competition from chainsaws and copies is its crystal clear strategy, with a focus on product development.
Gränsfors Bruk has always kept a step ahead of its copiers and driven the development of new models. Almost all the information available on axes and axe design was studied. Old axes with different appearances and functions were analysed, practical tests were carried out with a wide range of axes and many old axe forgers and axe users were interviewed – always with a view to staying a step ahead of competitors and leading the way in axe knowledge and product development. Without the many thousands of hours spent amassing knowledge in our professional field, it would have been difficult to make the decisions on change and investment that followed.
As well as providing a solid foundation for the company, the accrued knowledge also resulted in The Axe Book, which now accompanies every axe sold by Gränsfors, and the Axe Museum, which has proved a goldmine for product development ideas. In the 1990s, Gränsfors Bruk started working with independent experts and many of the heavily copied models were quickly replaced with new models offering better design and function. None of the eight models available in 1987 were still around by 1990. The Swedish Carving Axe was produced in collaboration with craftsman Wille Sundqvist and others in 1994. In 1995, Gränsfors Bruk developed and launched the Hunter’s Axe, which was consciously made so different from other axes that the design was able to be protected under intellectual property law. The Hunter’s Axe was named an ‘Excellent Swedish Design’ in 1995. That same year is when Gränsfors Bruk started selling its axes with a 20 Year Product Guarantee. In 1996, Gränsfors Bruk launched a new range of broad axes and other tools for log-building. 1997 saw the arrival of a new, smaller Carpenter’s Axe and the earlier version, which had been copied, went out of production. By this time, eight new models had been introduced since 1990.
The whole range of axes for splitting wood was replaced in 1997-1998 and a brand new type of splitting axe and maul was launched, with a steel collar to protect the handle. The Swedish National Testing and Research Institute declared Gränsfors Bruk’s new Large Splitting Axe ‘Best in Test’. 1998 also marked the appearance of the American Felling Axe, developed jointly with US canoe builder and woodsman Geoffrey Burke. The Gränsfors Mini Hatchet came out in 2000 and was an instant success. A range of sharpening tools was launched in 2003, as well as the Gränsfors Small Splitting Axe. Over the period 2000-2006, various replicas of historic axes from the Iron Age and Viking Age were also developed, under the title of Ancient Northern European Axes. Now they are simply called Gränsfors Bruk’s Ancient Axes. In 2008 came the Outdoor Axe in partnership with survival expert Lars Fält*. The Outdoor Axe is now protected by a patent.
* Lars Fält established the Swedish Armed Forces Survival School and has trained the Swedish Army Ranger Battalion for 35 years.
Over the past 25 years of Gränsfors Bruk’s history, product development has been critical to the company’s survival, an ongoing process that must never stop.