Restoration turns rusty ax heads into functional art
When Paul Flanigan saw a finely restored ax a few years ago, he thought to himself, “I can do that.”
Today, Flannigan’s Whitefish Stumptown Axes with their old heads and well-made handles can sell for hundreds, and in some cases thousands of dollars.
What began as a way to keep himself occupied while looking for work has morphed into what Flanigan calls a “professional hobby” as he transforms corroded, rusty ax heads into beautiful, functional works of art.
“It was something that I started to really do to help with my mental health and ended up creating a passion out of chaos in my mind. It was a great creative outlet but it turned out to be something I really enjoyed,” Flanigan explained of the origins of his endeavor. “Often these things are fitted in people’s homes, but my axes are always made to be used. Whatever people do with my axes, it’s up to them. I just enjoy making them.”
The story of what would become the hubs of Stumptown begins in Seattle three years ago. After 11 years running a bike shop in Virginia, Flanigan found himself looking for work after he and his wife moved to the Emerald City as part of her job.
When Flanigan thought it would be an easy job search that turned into a months-long ordeal, he found himself battling frustration and a bout of depression.
As a way to protect his mental health during that difficult time, Flanigan decided to find a hobby where he could use his hands to make something.
It is not clear exactly how he expected.
“It would be fair to say that Stumptown Axes started with a sewing machine,” Flanigan explained. “I wanted to be able to physically make something and also prove that I understood marketing concepts. When I was struggling with this project, I noticed an expensive ax someone had brought back. I decided I wanted to make one for myself and went from there.”
With an old, rusty ax head and a walnut board from an area lumber yard, Flannigan set to work.
Happy with his first attempt, Flanigan began to improve his process. His friends soon noticed.
He laughed: “I looked at the finished handle of the first ax and thought, ‘Wow, that doesn’t look terrible.'” I look at it now and realize it wasn’t as great as I thought it was, but I used it for a while and ended up giving it to a friend.”
The first ax took a month to restore. The second took two weeks. On the third day, Flanigan was proud of how they turned out. Friends started asking about doing some projects for them. Soon friends of his friends were asking for axes. It wasn’t long before the orders started pouring in.
When Flannigan and his wife decided to move to Whitefish, a quick look at the area’s history provided the perfect name for his start-up business – Stumptown Axes.
“There are a lot of people all over the country and the world doing this kind of work and a lot of them have very similar names. I wanted to make sure the name I came up with was unique and that the history of the area provided the perfect idea,” he said.
Flannigan started his project with a website, social media accounts, and around 30 k followers. These days, he has over 50,000 followers following his latest creation.
For the past two years, Flanigan has been scouring the area looking for antique ax heads for his projects. From finds at antique stores to auctions, yard sales, barns, and even ones dug out of the fields, he’s always on the lookout for his next project.
Working out of his garage-turned-workshop, Flanigan continues to hone his skills while enjoying the freedom of working from home.
“I’ve had a storefront forever with my bike shop and I don’t want to do that again. Not that I don’t like customers, but doing it this way gives me more freedom to work the way I like. That way, I don’t just have people browsing.” . “If I’m doing a project, it’s because someone wants me to do it for them.”
For those who want to learn more about Stumptown Axes, Flannigan’s latest venture, or perhaps unload a pile of rusty old ax heads, visit his website at Stumptownaxes.com or find him on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.