SOUTH PORTLAND — In his company’s winning the Inaugural Maker of the Year title at South Portland Business Award, Mark Ferguson, co-owner of Brant & Cochran, attributed the success to the unwavering dedication of their team and the steadfast support from Maine’s vibrant maker community.

“Winning this award recognizes all the blood, sweat and tears that our talented team and Maine’s maker community supporting us have expended on our quest to bring craft axe making back to Maine over the last nine years,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson elaborated on the company’s hallmark craftsmanship, emphasizing their specialization in crafting Maine pattern axes, a homage to the state’s axe-making heritage. He said, “We are making Maine pattern axes. As one of the centers of axe production in the United States, Maine had its own pattern – the Maine wedge. A Maine wedge axe has a big thick heavy poll which is the top of the axe and from the eye of the axe the head there is a straight taper down to the cutting edge. It was an effective tool bringing down monster white pines in the Maine forest.”

Drawing inspiration from a bygone era, the design of their axe harkens back to the 1930s Maine wedge pattern axe. Ferguson said, “The design of our axe is based on an axe head we borrowed from the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum.” This historical homage extends further, with each axe bearing the initial of the head blacksmith, such as “W” for Keegan Whitford, along with the year of manufacture.

With a team comprising skilled makers, Brant & Cochran combines time-honored techniques with modern efficiency, ensuring the impeccable quality of each axe. Ferguson said, “We have six makers on our team; some are more specialized in the metal shop forging; others in the wood shop hafting and finishing the axes.” He said this collaborative approach underscores the company’s ethos of craftsmanship and collaboration.


However, their journey hasn’t been without challenges, particularly amidst the upheaval of the pandemic, he said. “In some sense we are still trying to catch up from the spike in demand and concurrent production bottlenecks caused by the pandemic. We now have a great team assembled but have reached a production limit with our current shop setup. We are working with the University of Maine’s Advanced Manufacturing Center and Manufacturing Extension Partnership on designing new machines and processes to allow us to triple production and finally keep up!”

Brant & Cochran gained recognition for businesses in the city that either handcraft items or contribute to the local artisan markets. Courtesy photo/@spmartin4

Recent advancements, such as the induction forge and state-of-the-art hydraulic presses, have significantly enhanced production efficiency. Ferguson said they have been using propane forges which take about 15 minutes to get a cold steel billet up to forging temperature. In addition to the expense of propane, the heat thrown off by the forge makes it nearly impossible to work in the shop on hot summer days. Ferguson said, “The induction forge is electric, does not heat up the shop like a gas forge and heats a cold steel billet to forging temperature in 3 minutes. So the induction forge is a game changer for us.” Such innovations underscore Brant & Cochran’s commitment to marrying tradition with modern technology to meet the demands of the present.

Addressing the current production backlog presents a challenge for Brant & Cochran, yet the company approaches it with determination and resilience. “We are going into uncharted territory just as we did when we started this business 9 years ago,” Ferguson said. “There are no axe making machines to buy, no user manual. We are making this up as we go along so we have daily successes and heartbreaks. The team never asks can we do this, but how are we going to do it.”

As the company expands production capacity, Ferguson remains resolute in its commitment to upholding the family’s legacy of excellence. He said, “Our company is founded on three pillars: tradition, craft and quality. These were also central to my grandfather’s business and working life and my father’s hobby of making furniture. ‘If you are going to do something, do it right,’ was always drummed into our heads. We’re trying to meet that challenge every day.”

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