Book & DVD Review

Axe Makers of North America, A Collection of Axe History…

book12.jpgAxe Makers of North America, A Collection of Axe History & Manufacturers
By Allan Klenman and Larry McPhail

Soft cover, 160 pages, $24.95
Maine Historical Society
489 Congress St., Dept. TK
Portland, ME 04101; 207-774-1822
http://mainehistorical.stores.yahoo.net/index.html

If you are like me, the first edition of this book (published in 1990) had sold out long before you even knew it existed. Once it was out of print, prices started rising quickly and it is now rare to find an original copy for less than $175.

Allan Klenman is probably the leading expert on axes in Canada. He recently teamed up with Larry McPhail, the leading American expert on the same subject, to totally update and expand his original reference. The axe industry has been radically changing since the 1990’s and most of the Canadian and American makers are now gone. The good news is that there are still thousands of older axes out there to collect and use.

Along with the hundreds of American and Canadian axe brands covered, the book also includes a chapter on the “foreign makers.” For the most part, this is limited to Swedish, German and Australian companies.

All chapters are illustrated with both original catalog drawings and modern photos of axes the authors have collected. The mint condition Sager Puget Sound Faller on the cover is a great example of how something as common as an axe label was once turned into an art form. If you have an interest in the tool that really opened the American wilderness, jump on this book before it becomes as rare as the first edition.

book22.jpgTHE KEEN EDGE OF PERFECTION: A History of the Morseth Knife
By James R. Beall with Gordon Morseth Sr.

Hardcover, 205 pages, $55
Saviolo Publishing
P.O. Box 2675, Dept. TK
Mandeville, LA 70470; 866-792-0115
www.saviolopublisher.com

If I have one complaint about many of the books that have been published on custom knives, it is that most are long on photos and short on actual information. I often have the feeling the main goal of the author is to increase the value of his personal collection rather than provide any real history of the maker. If you are thinking about writing a biography of a custom knife maker, I suggest you should read The Keen Edge of Perfection first. Here is an outstanding example of how this type of reference should be compiled.

For those who are not longtime custom knife users, Harry Morseth was one of the pioneers in the field. After emigrating from Norway as a teenager, he started making knives part-time as a hobby from sawmill planer blades in the early 1920’s. When the demand for his knives grew, he sought out another source for blades. While it is not a standard practice in the U.S., Norwegian knife makers have long preferred to buy their blade blanks from specialists in the craft. Harry went back to Norway in the late 1930’s and made arrangements to import blanks from both B. Knudsen and Brusletto. Eventually, the laminated Brusletto blanks became the standard blade material for all Morseth knives.

The entire history of the Morseth shop, from Harry’s original sawmill blades through the laminated Brusletto knives, his grandson Steve Morseth taking over, A.G. Russell buying the company and Bob Dozier making the final knives is covered in great detail. Along with excellent photos of each stage in this history, there are many interesting stories concerning the knives and their users. This one’s a true winner!

book31.jpgKNIFE SKILLS ILLUSTRATED, A User’s Manual
By Peter Hertzmann

Hardcover, 255 pages, $29.95
W.W. Norton and Company Inc.
500 Fifth Ave., Dept. TK
New York, NY 10110;
800-233-4830
www.wwnorton.com

The author of this book teaches both knife skills and cooking at Sur La Table stores around the U.S. It quickly becomes obvious that Mr. Hertzmann is not so much concerned with knives as with the skill to use them properly.

In the author’s opinion, the two most important blades in the kitchen are an 8-inch or larger chef’s knife and a 3-1/2-inch paring knife. He seldom uses any of the dozens of other specialized kitchen blades offered by cutlery companies. While I would agree with him that a large collection of knives doesn’t make up for a lack of skill in using them, I tend to find a few other patterns very handy to have. I especially disagreed with him on the subject of 6-inch utility knives. The classic kitchen utility is a narrow-bladed version of the chef’s knife and it is one of the most often-used tools in my kitchen. If he had suggested a three-knife battery of the paring, 6-inch utility and 10-inch chef’s knife, I would have been in much closer agreement with him.

Once the knives are selected, he covers sharpening, cutting boards and the proper hold for slicing, chopping, dicing and mincing. I was glad to see he isn’t one of those cutlery snobs that put down the ChefsChoice electric knife sharpener. I consider this machine the best option for the average home user to keep their blades razor sharp.

The heart of the book is the 30-chapter section covering cutting everything from shallots to leg of lamb. One unique feature of this book is that it offers a mirror chapter of each section for left-hand use of a knife. I can see myself referring back to these chapters often in the future during my own culinary adventures.

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