In a small blue building near Bug Light Park in South Portland, tucked behind a marina and a storage facility, is a small team pouring their hearts into the art of ax making.

Brant & Cochran was honored as Maker of the Year at the annual South Portland Business Awards last month, a new award for businesses in the city that produce handmade items or contribute to local artisan markets.

“It’s a great honor and it really speaks to our makers,” said one of three co-owners, Steve Ferguson, at their shop on Tuesday. “We’ve gotten lucky and found some talented folks.”

The ax makers radiated their passion for the craft, with laser-sharp focus and wide smiles during a Forecaster tour on Tuesday.

“It’s a testament to the work our makers have done,” co-owner Barry Worthing said. “Not just the work, but the commitment.”

Each of the business’ six makers handles every ax at some point in the process, Worthing said, and that ensures they’re delivering the best product they can.


“The quality control is just integrated naturally into the entire process,” he said.

The small business at 110 Breakwater Annex has had little trouble attracting customers in the form of collectors, individual users and retailers, and keeping up with demand has been a challenge they are taking steps to overcome.

“We’re making 25 to 27 axes a week,” Ferguson said. “We’re 20 weeks behind on orders. We need to make between 60 and 70 a week in order to keep up with production.”

That would bring the waiting time down to four to six weeks, they said. One way to do that would be to double or triple the number of makers but, while still open to adding to their team, they’re relying on a different approach to increase production: a newly installed induction forge.

“This new induction forge heats the metal up in about 90 seconds,” Ferguson said. “It takes about 20 to 25 minutes in a gas forge.”

The heat radiated by the gas forge is enormous, so much so that on hot summer days they have to stop production by noon, if not earlier. The heat from the induction forge, on the other hand, can only be felt within a few feet of it.


A new forging press, used to shape the ax heads, is also in place. Alloys are now shipped to them in rectangular form, rather than cylinders, further cutting down production time.

Efficiency aside, Brant & Cochran is also committed to tradition and prides itself on its handmade method, “a nod to the makers of the past,” Worthing said.

Some of their ax handles come with a marking to measure 2 feet.

“They used to saw a notch at 2 feet because they would use it to find 4 feet,” Ferguson said.

“Everything is in factors of four for lumber, like a cord is 4-by-4-by-8,” Worthing explained.

Each ax also is engraved with the initials of the primary maker and the date it was produced, just like an ax made in 1948 hanging up in the shop.


They have also created T-shirts with the crests of old ax-making companies.

“They used to put paper labels on axes,” Ferguson said. “We saw a bunch of these labels of all these companies that went out of business in the mid-60s.”

Ferguson attributed many of the manufacturers’ closures to the rapid development of the ax’s arch nemesis: the chainsaw.

Brant & Cochran was founded in 2015 and started out at a shared maker space, the Open Bench Project, in Portland.

“We had an 8-by-8 space. That’s how our business started,” Ferguson said. “That was a good beginning for us where we could run into really talented people who helped us along the way.”

The current facility is undergoing a buildout to accommodate the new forge and other equipment. Part of that project will involve a maker space for others.


“Nine, 12 months to start up a business or try something out, because that’s what got us going,” Ferguson said. The maker space will be bigger than the 8-by-8 they had, he said.

Ferguson’s brother, Mark, is the third co-owner.

It’s not the first time the Ferguson family has used Brant & Cochran as a business name. The brothers’ grandfather, Leland Ferguson, was a master mechanic in World War II who worked restoring and selling military surplus machine tools after the war. That Michigan business transformed into the tools and supplies company Brant & Cochran and their grandfather became a silent partner. The ax-making company’s logo is based on matchbooks made by the original Brant & Cochran.

Being the first business to be named South Portland Maker of the Year was an honor, the co-owners said, and they’re happy businesses like theirs will receive recognition in the future.

“We’re glad to be the first one and I think it’s a great idea,” Ferguson said. “There’s probably a bunch of other little companies we don’t know about. There are people everywhere making crazy stuff.”

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