The first thing any carpentry apprentice does is build their own wooden toolbox.
It makes sense. You’re learning to work with wood, you will need somewhere to keep all your chisels and saws. So you build a toolbox.
The first thing anyone wanting to chop logs does is make their own wooden axe head
Or perhaps better put
But why couldn’t it be the case, for as HFBK Hamburg student Bastian Austermann demonstrates with his Splitting Wood project, such is eminently possible.
What began as project exploring the borders of what was possible with wood by asking if it was possible to use wood to chop wood, has ended in the affirmative.
Crafted from guayacan, Lignum Vitae, a tree species found in South America and the Caribbean and acknowledged for its strength and durability, the axe head is resilient enough for splitting logs, but not felling trees.
Nor has it been tested in long term tests and so no-one is really sure how durable and long lasting it is, but then most of us don’t spend all day everyday splitting logs, and so the actual use time is likely to be limited.
A pure handicraft product, and potentially not the cheapest or most practical of axes your ever likely to encounter, at the moment Splitting Wood is unquestionably an object for showing off to your neighbours and relations, for keeping in your weekend house as a reminder of life’s simple pleasures, or even – and given the lightness of the axe – taking with you on a weekend trekking or cycling tour, assuming that is you can be certain of finding logs for splitting on your way. Or put another way, it’s the sort of object we can imagine the likes of Nils Holger Moormann would take with him before spending a weekend in his Walden.
Truly interesting would be if the axe head could be developed to allow for chopping down trees, or at least removing branches, and if a form and material can be found to allow for effective, cheap, semi-industrial production and thus make it an object for everyday use, not least because part of the beauty of the work is that should the axe head break, you can burn it. No waste. No fuss.
But more importantly Splitting Wood by Bastian Austermann is a lovely example of what can happen when designers undertake well planned and well thought through material research projects. It needn’t result in a commercial product, just new understandings, new perspectives and new lines of enquiry.